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Why West Bank Palestinians avoid traveling at night

Something so basic, so normal, so human — like going home late from work, visiting family or a loved one in another town — becomes an overwhelming and frightful task in the face of the occupation.

An IDF checkpoint in the West Bank [illustrative photo, by Ahmad Al-Bazz/ Activestills.org)

Last night, when I was headed from Ramallah to Bethlehem, I went through a checkpoint. As the service taxi I was on slowed down and approached the checkpoint, I saw an unusually large number of soldiers. There were two armored jeeps and a police car. I counted more than 10 soldiers. They were searching a small car. A man, presumably the driver, was on the ground on the side of the road, handcuffed and blindfolded.

The scene was disturbing to say the least. A ripple of fear ran through the passengers on the service taxi, even though the soldiers didn’t stop us. Everyone craned their heads to see what was happening. Once the man was out of sight, passengers continued to shift in their seats and speculate about what was happening.

The image of a human being, bound and left on the ground, stayed with me all night. When I woke up this morning, I wondered about the man. What happened to him? Was he detained? How will he feel driving at night in the future?

A lot of Palestinians I know don’t travel between West Bank cities at night. For one, public transportation shuts down fairly early in the West Bank. Secondly, the army seems to be more active at night than it is during the day (although, the daytime is difficult in other ways – as I wrote about here) and this creates an environment of fear that is especially pinned to the night.

A Palestinian colleague explains to me that the tendency not to travel or go out at night started during the First Intifada, “when there were curfews, when people stayed in and parents were overprotective because going out meant facing soldiers.”

“It’s that fear which is…” he trails off and taps his chest to show how it’s been internalized. He says that when friends ask him to go out at night, it’s reflexive for him to suggest they stay in instead. “When you grow up like this since you’re a kid it affects you. The generation that is young now is the one that grew up with this.”

But, as the scene at the checkpoint last night suggests, it’s not just the people who came up during the Intifadas. On a personal note, my partner, who holds a green ID, was coming to visit me one evening and was taken off a service taxi at a checkpoint and arbitrarily searched by soldiers. Something so basic, so normal, so human — like going home late from work, visiting a friend or family or a loved one in another town — becomes an overwhelming and frightful task in the face of the occupation.

Related:
Stepped up Israeli harassment leads to clashes in Abu Dis
The occupation testimonies, part III: inside the checkpoint
Armed with M-16s, Israeli teenagers detain Palestinians

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  • COMMENTS

    1. klang

      For one, public transportation shuts down fairly early in the West Bank….why is that? perhaps iran could subsidize additional public transportation since they have spent 17 billion in syria the last 2 years

      Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        Russia is supporting Iran and Syria just as we are supporting Zionist National Socialism (but we call it “Israel”). Except Israel has its own objectives. Once Israel controls the region, using the lives and limbs of our U.S. sons and daughters to do the fighting for them, they will have little need for the U.S. except as “useful idiots”.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Philos

      The army operates mostly at night because it has the tactical and operational advantage as well as technological. All modern armies train for operating night. In the case of the IDF they simply get to practice it on real human beings and because you have bored officers who are bored of policing civilians and want to give themselves something to do that feels soldierly even if it mostly involves scaring the crap out of civilians

      Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        “Scaring the crap out of civilians” in a deliberate and organized manner is called “terrorism”, and the people who do it are called “terrorists”. Even if it’s God’s Chosen People.

        Reply to Comment
    3. I guess commenters on blogs just end up repeating themselves, so I guess I do too. So, to say again: I recall a memoir by an African American civil rights activist raised in the Jim Crow South. If you were black, he said, it was best not to be in certain parts of town after dark, certainly so if not a local. Of course, when traveling, it was best to know where you could go if in a town and where you could find lodging before dark. This lead to information networks across towns (“watch out for that sheriff, he’s bad,” etc.) and an openness to accommodation when an announced traveler. And this network in turn predisposed the emergence of latter civil rights resistance networks across towns.

      This social and State policing had two rationales: the social control of blacks (be where you belong) and fear of itinerants, especially males, unconnected in the known but unspoken discriminatory employment economy. Having produced truncated lives, one was afraid of them.

      The West Bank case is not identical. There really were bombers. But the travel control described in this piece extends well beyond purported such, leading to information networks similar to the Jim Crow South. The IDF creates a latent network and then sees it as evidence of dangerous collaboration. One detains travelers, these later more sympathetic to IDF resistance. Over time, the IDF creates what it feared was there.

      Organized black violence in the South was very rare. There was no analog to suicide bombing. I believe those opposed to Occupation fail themselves by not discussing suicide bombing and cultural ways of blocking its formation. There is evidence that the probability of such actors is declining. Thousands pass the Wall gaps on work days with no realized violence. At the end of Ramadan, the security apparatus let in an great number of people with little over checking–including young men seen scaling the Wall, with no check at all! This does not mean bombing is not possible. But it does mean something is changing. I know the right uses bombing as a blank check; even so, the history of bombing cannot be ignored.

      I know this is something of a hijack comment. The internalized fear and repression which arbitrary travel detention induces can also give rise to common experience for building social political resistance. With that resistance, in my view, must come a Palestinian never again over suicide bombings. I don’t know how one gets there. It could be described as a failure of rage rather than condemnation of the past. What I do know is that bombing is the IDF trump card, and arbitrary detention to some extent is exactly what they want. So you use what they give you and create something new. Easy for me to say.

      Reply to Comment
    4. rsgengland

      When the palestinians arrive at negotiations in good faith, without trying to negotiate Israels destruction, there will be peace and the Arabs will be able to travel whenever in their own state.
      Abbas and his crew, and Hamas, represent an administrations that are corrupt, illegitimate and unrepresentative.
      Both of the palestinian administrations have overstayed their electoral mandates, and could not deliver anything other than hgte and violence.
      Let them have elections that they would probably lose if they are transparent.
      The winners would undoubtedly be more reactionary and unpalatable than the current lot, but at least they would be legitimate and have a mandate.
      And Israel would know who she has to talk to, and their feelings.
      The local Arabs want Israel destroyed; most have been explicit in their demands in that direction; and no Arab could negotiate peace with Israel and survive in the present climate.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kyle

        “When the palestinians arrive at negotiations in good faith, without trying to negotiate Israels destruction,”

        Yawn. Same old thing these apologists keep coming back to.

        Apparently allotting 22% of the land of Palestine to the Palestinians, and allowing the refugee families to return to their homes (if a jew from Siberia is entitled to live in Palestine, then the Palestinians who were expelled by jews certainly are) would be enough to “destroy Israel”.

        Basically it’s just stalling for the purpose of stalling, with a hefty dose of anti-Palestinian sentiment, as well as a general hatred of Arab people, thrown in.

        “The local Arabs want Israel destroyed; most have been explicit in their demands in that direction; and no Arab could negotiate peace with Israel and survive in the present climate.”

        This sounds like you just quoted from some likudnik propaganda manual.

        I do admit, it would be insane and impossible to create a fair and lasting peace with people like you dominating the Israeli side.

        Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        “Within their own state”? Have you seen Naftali Bennett’s map for the Palestinian Archepeligo? Arab islands in a sea of The Jewish State. What a joke. But wait, Bennett is serious about it. That’s how The Chosen People view it. Wow.

        Reply to Comment

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