Arriving in Jerusalem, the first thing I noticed was the growth of Ma’ale Adumim, the main illegal Israel colony surrounding Occupied East Jerusalem. Over the past two years, Ma’ale Addumim had been expanded and new residential housing built, the idea being to expand the settlement so it cut off Occupied East Jerusalem from the rest of the Occupied West Bank.
The following day, I made my way to Ramallah to visit Palestinian friends. My friends in Ramallah had told me the section of the illegal wall between Jerusalem and Ramallah had been completed during my two year absence and that Qalandia checkpoint would be unrecognisable to me.
One friend offered to meet me when I got to Ramallah. In my naivety, I thought this meant he would be meeting me at Qalandia checkpoint (known as Atarot checkpoint to the Israeli Occupation Forces). When I had been here previously, you needed to get a bus to Qalandia, then get off, walk through the checkpoint and then flag down a service (shared taxi) for the last part of the trip into central Ramallah. All up, two years ago, the trip could take anywhere between half an hour and an hour to complete, depending on how the Israeli Occupation Forces were feeling that day at the checkpoint.
However, Mohammed explained to me, no he would meet me at central Ramallah bus station as the bus from Jerusalem will bring me straight to Ramallah.
On Saturday, I walked up to the bus station just outside the Damascus Gate in Occupied East Jerusalem to catch the mini bus to Ramallah. The station looked little different from what I remembered from two years before. Once on the bus, we took the familiar route towards Qalandia, however, when we reached Ar’ram, a suburb of Jerusalem, the bus driver suddenly did a u-turn. At first I thought it was because he didn’t want to go through the checkpoint, but within minutes I realised it was because he could not reach Qalandia by this way anymore, as the 8 meter concrete Apartheid Wall now ran through the middle of Ar’ram ensuring that one side of Jerusalem was cut off from the other.
The Apartheid Wall, which was only half built when I had been here previously, was now complete and ran all the way to Qalandia. When we reached Qalandia, gone was the familiar sight of hundreds of yellow services dotting the road side, the mad traffic chaos that I remembered and the hustle and bustle of haggling over fares to Jenin or Qalqilya or Tul Karem. Instead, in its place was an almost sterile area, that include two massive roundabouts and watch towers perched high on hill embankments towering over the checkpoint. Two years previously, the checkpoint consisted of two long walk ways, one into Ramallah and one out, as well as barrier that vehicles would have to pass through. On the walk way which you had to traverse to leave Ramallah, you need to exist through a turnstile gate and then walk to the soldiers, who were usually leaning on a barrier made from military equipment.
Today, the old checkpoint structure has been replaced by a modern looking structure that reminded me the toll booth structures located on the Hume Highway going out of Sydney. From what I could see no camouflage netting or barb wire or gridding, instead, it was clean, sleek and modern looking with tall columns and small booths with windows.
The bus I was travelling on quickly approached the checkpoint, slowed down but did not stop and was quickly waved through. Eight minutes later, I was in downtown Ramallah, the whole trip taking less than 20 minutes to make. I was stunned by the “convenience” of it all. No longer did I have to change transport several times or walk through a checkpoint or deal with the intimidating military netting or barb wire or turnstiles, instead, I was able to reach Ramallah with the minimum of hassle.
As I passed through the new checkpoint, I noticed that there was also to the right of the checkpoint was a newly built car park that reminded me of any car park you would find in local suburban shopping centre in Australia. My friend later told me that the checkpoint was there for those Palestinians who were able to get work permits in Israel. They could drive to the checkpoint, park their car and then enter a separate area where their permits would be checked and they would be waved through to work.
With the trip to Ramallah seeming much easier to accomplish then it seemed to be two years ago, it would be easy to forget that all of this “convenience” was courtesy of the Israeli occupation.
Yes, there was no longer the chaos and shambolic nature of Qalandia checkpoint, there was no longer the intimidating looking densely enclosed “military” looking checkpoint and it now only took 20 minutes to get from Jerusalem to Ramallah. But all this convenience came at a price.
The price of deepening of the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and the strengthening of what Zionist leader, Vladimir Jabotinsky, called the “Iron Wall” in order to ensure the ongoing colonisation of Palestine.
In 1923, Jabotinsky, wrote that it was necessary to create “an iron wall which the native [Palestinian] population cannot break through”. This “Iron Wall” wrote Jabotinsky, would ensure that Zionist colonisation could and would continue in defiance of the wishes of the indigenous population.
The Iron Wall, he wrote, was necessary because:
“as long as there is a spark of hope they can get rid of us [the Zionists], they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left. Only when not a single breach is visible in the iron wall, only then do extreme groups lose their say, and influence transfers to moderate groups. Only then would these moderate groups come to us with proposals for mutual concessions. And only then will moderates offers suggestions for compromise on practical questions like a guarantee against explusion, or equality and national autonomy”.
The new checkpoint and new car park are not temporary structures, they were permanent structures which it is clear are built for long term use. They are built with the continuation of the occupation in mind. They are built with the continuation of colonisation in mind. They are built with the continuing caging of the Palestinians in mind and they are build with the hope that the Palestinians will accept the illegal and brutal occupation both mentally, as well as physically.
The pristine new checkpoint and car park now may make it more convenient to travel from one occupied area to another, but what the Aparthied wall reminds us every time we pass along it, is that the occupation continues. The face of the occupation may be less harsh now at Qalandia, but behind the new paint, the new roundabout, new windows and structures, the brutality of the occupation continues. Palestinian land is still being stolen, olive groves are still being destroyed, men and women – both young and old - are still being arrested, Gaza is still under siege, women are still giving birth to children at checkpoints and the movement of 4 million Palestinians is still being controlled by the Israeli state.
And this is where the truth of the matter lies: the only group who is truly being convenience by these new structures and checkpoints, no matter how modern and clean they look, are the Israeli occupiers who hope to colonise the minds of the Palestinians in order to ensure there is no resistance to their ongoing colonisation of Palestinian land.
However, as Jabotinsky recognised, “every indigenous people will resist alien settlers as long as they see any hope of ridding themselves of the danger of foreign settlement”. And despite or more correctly, in spite of, 40 years of brutal Israeli occupation and the growing “Iron Wall” around them, this hope has not been lost by the Palestinian people. Instead, they continue to resist and call for a free Palestine, to be free of occupation and to be free of Zionist “convenience”.