HEBRON: Checkpoint syndrome
December 13, 2003
HEBRON: Checkpoint syndrome
by Rich Meyer
The taxi fills up in Hebron and starts for Jerusalem. At the Etzion
checkpoint, CPTer Greg Rollins introduced me to my seatmate--a Palestinian
professor of molecular biology who is supervising a group of graduate
students working in a genetic engineering lab at Hebrew University.
He translated for us the parts of the conversation that we couldn't
understand at the next checkpoint. In the initial questioning at the
checkpoint, the Israeli soldier asked our driver for the new newspaper on
the dashboard. The driver refused, so the soldier said, "OK, then pull over
there to the side and wait."
After about ten minutes, our driver noticed a ranking police officer. Our
driver told him, "Those soldiers are making me wait here because I wouldn't
give them my newspaper." The officer called the two soldiers and came to
our van. In front of the soldiers, the officer began his lecture to our
driver: "If a soldier asks you for your paper, you give it to him. If he
asks you for your undershorts, you give them to him, then claim for them
later. At the checkpoint, the soldier is God, and anything he says to you,
you obey. Now, give him the newspaper. OK, now you sit here till he's ready
to talk to you."
This week I read in several papers about a new book out by an Israeli
soldier called "Checkpoint Syndrome." He talks about the effect of being
young, armed, totally unaccountable, and backed by the full power of the
army and state. The main question, he says, is "What are MY limits to my
violence? No one else makes any." Here at this checkpoint, I was seeing
that absence of limits to which he referred.
After a few minutes, the soldiers gave the paper back. Then they came
around to the side door, opened it, and asked for everyone's ID. At that
point, as our passports came forward with the Palestinians' IDs, the
soldiers realized that they had two Canadians and two US citizens in the van
along with the Palestinians.
"Rollins? Gregory Rollins?"
Greg stepped out. "Where's the other Canadian?" the soldier then called.
Bob climbed out. "Richard Meyer?" I climbed out. "I have an appointment in
twenty minutes at the US Consulate," I said to the soldier. "What should I
tell them about why we
"Why didn't you come out right away when I called?" "You called for the
Canadians first. I came when you called my name."
Then the soldiers had a short conversation with each other while they looked
at Kristin Anderson's passport: "What can we do to get this pretty face out
of the van?"
"Ask for her visa."
"But her visa's right here."
The soldiers gave us our passports back, we climbed back in, and we drove
on. Just a twenty-five minute stop.
"It happens like that every other day," the other passengers said.