Monday, March 20, 2006

Home Again

"You see how well they treat us." my friend told me as we neared the entrance to the new checkpoint terminal that divides Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

As we approached a voice boomed across the PA system from inside; "Move to row number three! Have your ID's ready for inspection!"

Yes,I'm home again.

We walked up to a metal turn-stile. Above it hung a red and green light to indicate when one would be permitted to enter the area. My friend and I stood waiting for the soldiers to let us in. The light stood at red. Then, suddenly, the light flashed green and my friend moved through the turn-stile. I remained on the other end, unsure if I should proceed. "Come on. Come with me" my friend called out. I cautiously pushed the handles on the turnsitle and moved ahead.

All around I noticed various things in the terminal; New cement floors, rails that guided you along to where you needed to go, and an odd sign that said "Please Keep the terminal clean. Thank you." And above us, in the center of the terminal, stood a sniper on a catwalk with his rifle at the ready.

Yes, I'm home again.

A young soldier sat in a small booth with bullet-proof glass. He looked on non-committal and barked out to see my friend's West Bank ID and permit to enter Israel.

He never glanced at mine.

From here we moved forward to the X-ray machine. A sign hung that told us to place our bags, and anything with metal onto the conveyor belt. A Haji (An older Palestinian woman), in front of us had difficulty proceeding through the metal detector and kept setting it off. A soldier stood off to the side telling her that she had to go through again and again. Two others stood by snickering and looking on in her direction.

Yes,I'm home again.

Finally, we came to one last turn-stile with a soldier waiting in another bullet-proof booth. My friend produced the West Bank ID for inspection once more. The soldier entered the number into the computer and then slid it back. When I began to show him my passport, he waved me off with his hand.

As I began putting my passport away, I glanced over to my right to see a long row of similar booths and turnstiles, stretching the length of the corridor with people repeating the same humiliating process that my friend had to endure.

Yes, I'm home again.

Walking out of the terminal into the warm Sun I looked over to see a sign in yellow with a list of DO's and Dont's on it. I cannot remember all that it said but one thing stuck out; As I scrolled down the list I saw the two words at the bottom; "THANK YOU"

One man, noticing that I was looking on at the sign, leaned forward and said; "This is the new occupation."

Yes, I'm home again.

My friend and I boarded the service (Taxi) that would take us to The Old City of Jerusalem. I sat down next to an older man and we struck up a conversation in Arabic. He asked where I came from. I told him I use to live in Palestine but had to return to America because my sister had passed away. But now, I had returned.

"Welcome home," he said. "You see how they treat us? Like animals!"

"Ah yes" I thought. "I'm home again."

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