On the way to Ramallah, written in big white block letters on the wall that separates Israeli spheres of control from Palestinian ones, is the phrase CTRL+ALT+DELETE.

Start over.

But from when and for what purpose?  That question is left up to the observer: from before the wall, before Camp David, before Oslo — one really can’t be sure.

The wall, the most visible sign of occupation in the West Bank, does not divide the West Bank from Israel proper; it is all built on land captured post 1967. It divides the West Bank from itself.

Around Jerusalem, some Palestinian suburbs are included inside the wall while others are not, leaving many of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents – all of whom have IDs that entitle them to Israeli citizenship – with a daily commute that requires them to pass through Kalandia checkpoint.

At the checkpoint, all people between ages 15-50 are required to get out of their vehicles and submit themselves to a search that – depending on the mood of the presiding army officers – can take a few minutes or a few hours. For those who endure the checks daily, it’s a frustrating and humiliating affair.

For Palestinians who only have West Bank IDs, even those with close family ties in Jerusalem, passing through is prohibited. Brothers and sisters, fathers and sons and grandparents and grandchildren  who have different IDs  are unable to see each other without obtaining special permission. And such requests are often denied. It was striking to witness this firsthand.

I think that every person and every nation has a right to security and dignity, but the wall isn’t offering Israel any greater security. All borders, even those that are closely guarded, are permeable. And the wall is surely stripping many Palestinians of their dignity.

As a person with some Palestinian ancestry but ultimately as an American citizen, I was struck by how this was the first time I had been on the opposite side of the power relationship, how for once in my life I saw why the rest of the world often views our security measures with suspicion and cynicism.

Now I understand why the world looks very different from the bottom.

I returned to Jordan a few days ago and will go to Egypt tomorrow, which I’m sure will add to my struggles to understand a region that for me – as for so many Americans – is shrouded in myth and misinformation.

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