Checkpoint 56

To walk through Checkpoint 56 is no straightforward process for a Palestinian. Even the term “walking through” seems limp and devoid of truth:

There’s standing

and waiting,

some leaning

and retracing of steps.

There’s standing

and waiting,

some leaning

and retracing of steps.

There’s standing

and waiting,

some leaning

and retracing of steps.

And….

The journey through begins at a turnstile, one you will most likely have been waiting at for a while that you’ll only pass through when the Border Police care to look up from their conversation or cigarette. If you’re with friends or family, expect to make the next journey by yourself as they wait their turn. Your entrance is now locked and you’re at the mercy of some young recruit. You’ll walk down a restricted path roughly a meter wide, before arriving at a container. Inside this container, you’ll find to one side, behind a bullet proof window, those who are now completely in control of your actions, watching your every move as you make your way through the metal detector ahead. Be sure to take everything out of your pockets and prepare to be asked to lift your shirt to show those watchful eyes you only have skin underneath. This becomes a back and forth until the Border Police are satisfied you’re no threat. Now you’ll have to show your ID, which must correspond to a number on one of the many pieces of paper in front of them. If you don’t have a number, prepare to be turned around, if you do, you’ll have to be patient as they search and just hope they have all the pages this time. Once your numerical identity is confirmed you’ll be able to exit the container, walking again down a restricted path before exiting through another turnstile.

Checkpoint 56 has become a symbol of the Occupation. A fortified structure, surrounded by metal fencing with a looming watchtower, it stands at the top of Al-Shuhada Street, a once bustling market street that is now closed to Palestinians and on the edge of H1 Hebron. Concrete blocks damaged by time and violence are placed meters away, indicating you’re about to enter an ominous zone. Clashes take place here, with the concrete blocks being used as a prop by soldiers to fire tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. On September 22nd, 2015, an 18-year-old Palestinian girl, Hadeel al-Hashlamoun, was shot 9 times by the Israeli Military at the checkpoint, with many eyewitnesses claiming they never saw the knife she was accused of having. Such is the lurid history of this checkpoint and it barely touches the surface. This mass of concrete and metal embodies restriction, cruelty and control, serving as a constant reminder of the grip Israel has over Palestine.

Hundreds of Palestinians have to pass through Checkpoint 56 everyday, but not everyone can pass. Over the last year, changes in military policy have created even further restrictions on Palestinians trying to access neighbourhoods on the inside of the checkpoint. Most affected is an area called Tel Rumeida, once home to 500 Palestinian families, with only 50 remaining today, and now the site of two Israeli settlements. It was in this neighbourhood that Abdel Fattah al-Sharif was shot in the head while lying incapacitated by Israeli Army medic Elor Azaria, a crime for which he received a postponed 18-month sentence. Now declared a ‘closed military zone’ only those who have been assigned numbers can access this area through Checkpoint 56. In contrast to the settlers who live illegally in Tel Rumeida, Palestinians are forced to register themselves as residents with the Israeli forces. This registration procedure has been taken to extremes by the military, with the invasion of Palestinian households to determine who lives there and using the number of beds present to match the number of residents noted on their forms. If your world doesn’t revolve around your residence near to 24 hours a day, then you won’t go on the list. And even if you are registered, but fall within the category of male, aged between 15 and 35, Checkpoint 56 will be blocked to you during Friday prayer and to all during enforced curfews.

These dehumanizing tactics implemented by Israel resemble all too well tactics used by past fascist regimes. In response, local human rights organizations, popular resistance committees and Palestinian political parties, have come together to start the campaign “Dismantle the Ghetto, Take Settlers Out of Hebron,” which is purposefully meant to draw parallels with apartheid in South Africa and ethnic cleansing by Nazi Germany. The campaign launched in 2017 as part of the commemoration of the 23rd anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre. Hisham Sharabati, a key organizer of the campaign, speaks of Hebron as “a microcosm of the occupation” and “a severe model of colonialism and racism that contradicts human values.” On 22nd February, 2017, the campaign held a Palestinian flag raising ceremony outside Checkpoint 56, followed on the Friday by a peaceful march that soon ended in a cloud of teargas as Israeli soldiers met the demonstrators not even half way to their destination. Speaking-up as a Palestinian in Hebron is met with threats and violence; two organizers of the rally had their homes raided by the Israeli military in the early hours of the morning on the day of the demonstration, being told that they and other activists would be arrested if they partook in any of its activities. Checkpoint 56 is used by the “Dismantle the Ghetto” campaign as the image of the occupation: Two hands are super-imposed over a photo of the checkpoint, trying to tear through its metal exterior. The hands are surrounded by blood dripping onto those concrete blocks. It’s a stark image, and one that is meant to draw attention to the brutality of psychological warfare, the human beings whose future it taints and the lives stolen by the State of Israel.

Checkpoint 56 is one of 96 in the West Bank and 18 in H2 Hebron. There are 472 obstacles to movement in total, that’s 472 ways Israel diminishes the rights of Palestinians, 472 ways Israel prevents lives from flourishing and freedom from being attained. This year marks 50 years of Occupation with many asking “when will it end?” And it is a question that should be on everyone’s lips, when will it end? Because it should end and needs to end, for the sake of Palestinians and for humanity, we all need to look up. In the words of Lilla Watson, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.”

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© 2015 With love from Hebron.
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