These are images Americans rarely see, images that express what a working life under occupation looks like – images contrasting our SUV-congested commutes with the cattle-herding backlogs Palestinians navigate to work every day.
Images like the ones that follow are important because they reveal starkly just one of many reasons why the status quo in Israel and Palestine must change. They are important because they express a truth in visceral terms, in terms that impacts the brain's emotional core, where the capacity for language does not reside, but where our decisions are made. And they are important because they cast our own experiences in an entirely new light.
This diary has been inspired by Porter Speakman, Jr.'s recent photo essay in +972 Magazine, from which one of the following images comes.
The commentary is my own.
(Update: so sorry for pulling this while it was on the Rec. list. A Kossack pointed out that one of my images did not have a fair use copyright. The diary is now back up with a suitable replacement and a check to make sure all other pictures are in order.)
Background on this diary's formation: yesterday, as I drove with my wife and girls, beginning a holiday trip along the East Coast, we encountered late-afternoon rush hour congestion near New York City. Stuck in traffic, the girls hungry, the parents tired, we complained. We complained about our delay. We complained about all the pollution being generated, we being just as guilty as everyone else. And we complained, or wondered, rather, about how people could live like this, stuck in cars on the highway, horns blaring. So oppressive.
Then, last night, upon reaching our destination, listening to a news broadcast warning U.S. citizens about travel delays, about the hardships July 4 revelers might face, I read Porter Speakman, Jr.'s recent photo essay, and I knew one thing: this should be shared. Particularly now. As many Kossacks travel, get stuck in traffic, get lost in our narrow, congested travails on the road.
PHOTO #1: The photo below is from Porter Speakman, Jr. (who is the producer/director of the documentary "With God on Our Side") which was taken at the Bethlehem checkpoint going into Jerusalem.
This is what rush hour looks like for Palestinians at dawn, many of whom begin lining up around 3 a.m. for a checkpoint that opens around 5 a.m. But some line up even earlier. I once met a Palestinian taxi driver working in East Jerusalem who told me that he would get to this checkpoint at one in the morning and sleep at the head of the line against the steel fence so as to be in Israel in time to pick up Jewish and Palestinian Israelis for their rush hour commutes.
For many Palestinians trying to get into Israel for work, this is what rush hour looks like. It consists of standing in line, often for hours, as Israeli security personnel check residency papers, work permits and medical documents (for those who need a hospital in Israel proper).
There are no HOV lanes.
No air-conditioned commutes with NPR playing softly.
No mass transit – no trains or buses or cabs to hop into that take you, door-to-door, to your destination.
And there are no rest stops or gas station bathrooms. Instead, there are holding pens, often packed tightly. And if you need to use the restroom, you must do as the men in this picture are doing: you must find a space, climb out of line and relieve yourself, then hope to be allowed back in by your fellow "commuters."
Photo #2: This picture, taken by michalska1, is from the inside of the checkpoint:
Photo #3: this picture was taken by "delayed gratification," and shows the formation of the Bethlehem checkpoint line along the security wall:
The scenery is not a cityscape. Or a retention wall. Rather, it is the barrier separating family from family, family from friends, the barrier separating Bethlehem from points west, where these men and women are trying to commute to work. Upon the wall is one of many iconic pieces of graffiti that spans this stretch: the dotted lines of a coupon cutout, the scissors open, playfully saying, Cut here.
Photo #4: This photo, taken by tsweden, shows the reverse commute in Bethlehem:
Upon returning home after work, Palestinians must repeat the procedure, lining up and waiting to cross back into Bethlehem, to return home. The process is not as laborious as the waiting going into Israel, but it can still mean standing, after a long day of what was most likely manual labor, for an hour or more.
Photo #5: Here, taken by jonas_k, is perhaps the image that remains as one of the most influential and inspiring for me. It is not of a checkpoint, but of what I consider to be Banksy's most iconic image sketched in the West Bank, not far from Bethlehem:
This image speaks to many things for me, but I'll leave it to stand on its own, and for it to speak for itself.
May there be resolution to this conflict, and the establishment of two states for two peoples, such that both Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims and Christians and all peoples living in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel can live in peace and security.
So that rush hour in the region will never look like this again.
Author's Note: I want to state here that, as a Jew who has been victimized by Palestinian terror, I understand intimately the security needs of Israel, and the motivations that are behind the security wall and these difficult checkpoints.
This diary is not an attack of Israeli security.
Instead, it is a statement, in images, of how things cannot continue this way, for both sides. For this is not true security for anyone.