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Deema Amereh, Student, R2E Campaign, Bethlehem University, 22 October 2008
Last week I was too late; my exam had already started. I was angry, nervous and confused. It took me twice as long as usual to reach the university because once again, an Israeli soldier decided to ruin my day. Moments before the exam I’d been in the checkpoint while a soldier was checking my ID. It seemed that he was in the mood to manipulate me and to make me lose my temper.
“It is Ramadan, ha! And it is the month when you have to fast,” the soldier said.
I distinguished from his dark skin and his facial expressions that he was a Bedouin Arab. It frustrates me to see an Arab serving in the Israeli army. I often ask them if they feel proud, but until now I can’t find a clear answer.
“Yes!” I replied to the soldier.
“Are you in a hurry? Let’s have some chat,” he said.
I was burning inside, in thirty minutes my exam would start. “Please do your job,” I answered with a loud sharp voice.
“I am sure that you are hungry, take this biscuit from me,” the soldier said.
“Are you manipulating us to prove your loyalty to Israel? You are an Arab Bedouin, no matter what you do; no one will forget your real race.” I replied with a cold nonchalance.
Maybe if he was not Arab, I would not try to provoke him.
He did not answer and did not let me pass. I ignored him for awhile, but I had an exam and it was about to begin. “I have an exam, I need to pass,” I requested the soldier.
He looked to me as if I was nothing, as if my problems didn’t concern him; he was testing my patience. “Let me pass, my exam has started,” I said angrily.
“I won’t let you pass unless you take this biscuit from me,” the soldier said just to make fun. I took it and passed. Then I threw it in his face and kept running as fast as I could.
Moments later, even as I began to write my exam, I couldn’t get over what had happened to me. I was nervous and I couldn’t concentrate. While I was running from the checkpoint to reach the taxis for Bethlehem University, I was reminded of the most humiliating situation in my life, which had happened to me at the same checkpoint three years before.
It was my first year in Palestine and at the university. I had come to Palestine from Saudi Arabia where I had not faced any similar difficulties in life. Because of this, when this situation happened to me, it shook me deeply.
After a long day at the university, I was going home with my friend. We had to pass by the metal detector in the Bethlehem checkpoint in order to go to Jerusalem. It kept ringing after we walked through, so the soldiers there asked me to go into a room in order to check my clothes. The soldiers were making fun of us. Although they were talking in Hebrew and I couldn’t make out the exact words, but I could understand that they were making fun of us from their laughing and gestures.
I entered a weird room which had four doors and cameras. No one was in the room but me and the cameras. I was so scared and I needed someone with me. A moment later, my friend also entered the room, I thanked God that I was not alone anymore and she was there.
They began speaking to us by microphones. We could not see them. They asked us to go to the front door. They opened it automatically and we entered another room with another four doors. Then they asked us to go to the right door which was very wide and eerie; it was very narrow and unlike any door I’d seen before.
Then we entered the room which had an almost four-meter-high window with two female soldiers in it who were laughing. The room had no ceiling, but it had very high walls. There were cameras connected to all the soldiers’ screens, so they could see what was happening in the room we were held in. “Take off your veil,” the soldier shouted in an insulting voice.
“How shall I take it off with all these cameras?” I responded. She was above me; for the first time in my life I felt just like a dog in a cage, without my own will. The soldiers raised their guns in my face, “take off your veil.”
I didn’t have a choice, I couldn’t go back. Where was my right to refuse this abuse? I took it off and they asked me to take off my clothes in front of all these cameras. In addition to that, I was wearing tight shorts under my trousers; even though it was clear there was nothing under the shorts, they asked me to take them off too.
They also asked my friend to take off her clothes. Finally, after a long period of suffering in there, they allowed us to pass. We left the checkpoint with feelings of deepest shock.
In that exam, I had the first F in my life; even though I was prepared for it, I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened to me. I’ve never been able to forget and last week as I was once again taunted by a soldier at the same checkpoint, I realized what a great violation of my rights is occurring.
It was clear that it was not a routine check, but they intended to provoke us and to treat us like beasts. At least they could’ve respected my beliefs and checked my clothes without all their cameras. Situations like this, which we have to face daily, are stealing our right to have a normal education. Don’t we have a right to refuse these abuses? Don’t they have to respect our beliefs as we are respecting their own?
Yes, we have the right, as humans, to choose, to refuse and even a right to express our feelings. Unfortunately, it’s been four years since that happened, but my rights, along with those of Palestinian students, are still being violated. And these situations are ongoing. Can’t anyone hear our voices?