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Dema El Hellou, Student, Bethlehem University, 9 February 2009
In a desperate effort to calm my nerves to concentrate in the last hour of my tawjihi exam, I found myself moving my pen between my fingers as if it was dancing. It was an Arabic exam. I was supposed to get there like all the students, two hours earlier, but, unfortunately, I was able to catch only the last hour of it.
The instructor seemed to understand and sympathize and said: “Sorry, this is our daily life; you have to deal with it. It happens with many people every day, but you know the rules; you have to hand in your paper at the exact time just like the others. Though I totally understand what a terrible morning you had, I have been through this many times myself.”
The clicking of her heels on the cold, hard exam room reminded me of a situation I’d been through an hour ago, when a soldier at Kalandia checkpoint was walking in front of me causing similar sounds with his boots in order to scare me, as if there is anything scarier than being threatened by a gun held over your head.
This event was the conclusion of many harassments I went through that day, but the image of the soldiers supporting their friend while he made fun of me was unforgettable.
Their sound while they were making fun of me by whispering to each other silly jokes about me and my pale face, was very annoying and confusing. It was as bad as the sound of bees buzzing around in their hive. Scary, confusing and it seems as if it lasted forever.
I closed my eyes hopefully, trying to escape that horrendous memory, but it was not going to happen and my exhausted brain and soul took me back through the events of that day from the beginning. It’s funny how we try to escape from real events, but they chase us and invade our privacy in our most sacred and private places causing the deepest cuts ever into our minds and hearts.
It began as I was about to pass Kalandia checkpoint to get to the bus station to go to school. I remember the cold air slapping my face and chest, surrounding all of my body. I remember that on that particular morning, a few steps before the checkpoint, I put my hands in my pocket to get my ID to show it to the soldier.
I have been doing this for years; it is a part of my daily life. If you don’t get your ID from your pockets before you reach the checkpoint, the soldier standing there will scream in your face saying: “haven’t you seen the big label above your head you Palestinian savages? It says take out your papers for checking, in three languages!”
I reached the checkpoint. There was a man standing in the long row before me, a typical Palestinian man, wearing traditional Palestinian costume, with a wrinkled face on which I could see the misery he suffers in his daily life. The old man was stopped because he was holding a West Bank ID and had no permission to pass.
The irony of the situation hit me at that moment – I realized how silly life can be for us as Palestinians. For this poor man, it would be easier for him to go to another country, but it is almost impossible for him to pass a 20-meter checkpoint and reach the other side in order to go to Jerusalem, which is only 20 minutes away. People travel all over the world to practice their hobbies, and this poor man can’t even reach a mosque to practice his natural right and belief to pray.
Finally, it was my turn. One of the soldiers was looking at me from head to toe and it was very obvious that he noticed I was in my high school uniform and asked me in an ironic tone: “Are you in a hurry?”
I answered: “Sure I am, I have an exam to take that starts in 25 minutes and will decide my future. Its my formal tawjihi exam.”
Another soldier said in a sarcastic tone: “Well you still have the rest of the day.”
The first one asked “Whats your name?” Even though it was mentioned in my ID.
I answered, telling him my name, and then he said: “Do you want to pass today?”
“Sure,” I answered.
Then the soldier took a piece of paper and threw it in front of me on the floor, and in a superior tone he said: “Pick it up.”
I refused to do so, and he repeated it in a more angry tone. He said : “Pick it up!”
And the third time he yelled at me, but I didn’t change my attitude and I refused to do so.
All of a sudden, I felt a strong pain under my knees and I realized that the soldier had just bent my legs by hitting me with his boots on the back of my knees. He put his gun over my head and shouted, “Pick it up you slave or you will have no head for the rest of your life.”
I had no other choice. I picked it up with eyes full of tears and tried to pull myself together again as I walked toward the bus station and swallowed the situation and left it sealed inside me. I blocked it out and pretended I was fine. We have to pretend or we’ll die of anger. We have to pretend to maintain our lives.
I tried to catch the last piece of hope; my education. I reached the exam one hour late but tried to do my best. I had studied hard for it. Besides, that’s the kind of a character you build when you live under such circumstances; you will learn to swallow until you die.