Saturday, March 28, 2009

Deliverance and Daily Bread: Prayers in Qalandiya Checkpoint

When I stepped into the Qalandiya checkpoint, my fingers found their way to the rosary I carry in the right-hand pocket of my jeans. The last time I passed through this checkpoint, which stands between Ramallah and Jerusalem, was a two years ago when it was still being turned into the full-scale "terminal" it is today. Even at noon on a Wednesday, Qalandiya was crowded and the line was long. In the midst of this crowd of people all wanting to get through as quickly as possible, many with frustration and resigination on their faces, I felt confused and a little anxious. I needed something to hold onto, some tangible symbol of the hope that felt so far away.

Qalandiya checkpoint is a sprawling complex, but the entrance to its heart - where soldiers check IDs and bark commands through static-filled loudspeakers - is a narrow corridor not more than two feet across created by metal fencing. As I stood in in the passage way, feeling like a caged animal, I ran the beads through my fingers and began to pray.

Standing in a checkpoint designed to humilate the words of the "Our Father" finally made sense to me. In the middle of violence and injustice, there is nothing else for which to pray. Daily bread. Forgiveness. Deliverance from evil. These are all that matter.

The soldiers open the turnstile for a few minutes at a time. I passed through while the green light flashed and put my bag on a convayer belt. Next, I stepped through a metal dector. When it beeped, I took my keys and rosary out of my pocket and placed them on a tray before passing through the metal detector again. Then I pushed my passport up to the glass window between me and a young Israeli soldier. After she checked it, I turned to retrieve my bag.

I was walking toward the exit, eager to stand in the open air again when a smirking Israeli police officer demanded my passport. He checked my visa and then looked up into my face. "You look angry. Why?"

"I think this is a good reason to be angry," I replied, struggling to keep my voice even as a guestered toward the checkpoint around me. I was angry, but felt more like crying than shouting.

"So you're angry," he said. "That's fine." He grinned again and handed back my passport. With nothing left to do or say, I walked away.

The truth is, I felt ashamed of my anger. The Palestinian men, women, and children standing with me in the interminable line were nothing but calm. Who am I to be angry, a white American? Back on a crowded bus, I took a deep breath, as though I'd been holding mine all through the checkpoint.

The bus driver started off towards Jerusalem, driving along the 25 foot hight apartheid wall. Written on the wall in black spray paint were five words that caught my eye: "People are stronger than walls."

I smiled to myself, pullled my rosary out of my pocket, and started to pray again.

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