Testing the Waters—
Palestine & Israel, 2006
Journal, March 18, 2006—At Kalandia checkpoint
The story of Osama R. Shweiky, resident of East Jerusalem.
I was coming thru the Kalandia checkpoint yesterday morning, and stopped to photograph the decrepit toilets for what seems to be my ongoing Kalandia collage series. When a man emerged from one of the toilet sheds and seemed to be following me. My first thought—he was security and would ask me why I was photographing the toilets. I kept him within my peripheral vision as I stood idly outside the waiting area looking thru a fence at the ongoing construction of this mammoth checkpoint, now euphemistically called a terminal.
He approached me and in a soft voice said—may I speak with you sir?
I expected a plea for money, maybe a craftily concocted story like those of my neighbor Don about his wife suffering a car accident and he’d raced out of the house without his wallet and now needed a few shekels to ride a taxi to meet her.
—Last night as I was coming home in East Jerusalem I was in a taxi accident. Several Israelis and Palestinians were injured, me included. Emergency vehicles came quickly, both Palestinian and Israeli, but the soldiers who also came quickly wouldn’t let the Palestinian ambulances pick us up for two hours.
—Although my home is in East Jerusalem for some reason the ambulance took us to a Ramallah hospital. When treated and released, I discovered I’d lost my identity papers and mobile phone during all this confusion. Now, when I try to get back thru the checkpoint to go home, because I have no papers, the soldiers won’t let me thru. I’m stuck on the Ramallah side. I arrived here at 4 this morning, nothing to eat, I’m cold, and I don’t know what to do.
He told me all this in a matter-of-fact manner, occasionally grimacing in a way that resembled laughter, but I think he was close to tears the entire time. He wore a light gray soiled jacket, a light gray sweater, baggy dark pants, and no hat. He seemed to be limping. The morning was cold.
I offered to go to one of the soldiers to explain his case.
—Do you think this might help? I inquired.
—It might, or it could make my case worse. If they learn I’ve been talking with you, a foreigner, about this problem, they might get angry. I don’t know what will help. I don’t know what to do.
—Can I give you money?
—Oh, please no, I don’t want money. I only want someone to listen to my story. That is what is most important to me now.
I explained to him that I was a photographer in this region for 3 months to learn about the troubles and make photos that might show people in the States what is happening here. I asked—may I photograph you so I can tell your story?
—Yes, of course, he said, smiling.
Later that afternoon, with the tour group Bob and Maurine Tobin were leading for Sabeel, as we waited in the bus to be cleared thru the checkpoint, I asked the Tobin’s if I might tell this story to the group.
After finishing the story, Angela informed me that Machsom Watch, the Israeli women who monitor checkpoints, are here every day at 4, except Friday. They might be able to help. With permission, as the bus waited in queue, I jumped out to look for Osama to tell him Machsom Watch might be able to make a few calls and get him thru. He wasn’t there.
Despite the relative isolation of Kalandia checkpoint, it is a magnet for internationals. The day before I met Osama, a small group from the International Solidarity Movement poured red paint, symbolizing blood, on the caterpillar bulldozers and road graders used in constructing the checkpoint and wall. They also fell to the ground, suggesting the many Palestinians who have been killed at checkpoints and because of the wall.
And on the evening of meeting Osama, the Sabeel tour came to Kalandia for a candle light vigil. The tour group of some 40 was joined by people waiting for us, another 15 or so, and we stood silently for about 30 minutes, then sang several songs, concluding with the ubiquitous “We shall overcome.” Passersby stopped and looked surprised. Eventually 3 soldiers came over and stood nearby, purpose unknown. I wished again to meet Osama and help him find a way to get home.