Surrealism is a cultural movement best known for producing visual and written works juxtaposing unexpected elements and non sequitur sometimes bordering on the absurd. Often surrealism taps into the subconscious and the world of dreams and of the imagination.
This story was published in a report by the B’Tselem--The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. The reporters were the field observers of Machsom Watch--an Israeli organization that monitors the checkpoints.
“What can I do with all this cheese in the sun? Come on soldier, let me pass the cheese. Look it’s getting ruined.”
“You can’t take your car into Nablus [a town in the West Bank]” said the soldier. “You don’t have a permit for the car.”
“I don’t have a permit for the car? But, you can see for yourself, I have a permit from the…ministry of agriculture…I am allowed to pass my cheese, I have sheep, I make cheese from them and sell it in Ramallah [another town in the West Bank] where they use it for knafeh [a pastry filled with cheese]. Every week I transfer the cheese in my car to Nablus, from Nablus I go to Huwara checkpoint and then I head to Ramallah. And now you, a bunch of new soldiers, tell me that I need a permit to enter with my car into Nablus. If you would let me I would bypass it, I don’t even want to enter Nablus, I just want to get to Ramallah. How do you want me to pass all this cheese, on my back?” said the cheese man and pointed at the buckets that were full of hard salty cheese.
“I don’t care how you pass it, get into your car and drive away, I don’t want to see you here again without a permit for your car.”
The cheese man sighed in desperation and turned around to look for a car that had a permit to enter Nablus.
After half an hour the cheese man found a car with a permit to enter Nablus. It took another thirty minutes to transfer the buckets from one car to the other, and another thirty minutes waiting in line. The soldier inspected the car for five minutes and sent them back to Beit Furik [a small town in the West Bank].
“What’s the matter,” we asked the soldier, “This [sic] car has a permit to enter Nablus.”
“Yes it does,” the soldier said, “but the permit allows the car to enter empty, it hasn’t got a permit to transfer merchandise.”
After twenty minutes he [the cheese man] found a car with a permit to enter Nablus and to transfer merchandise. It took twenty minutes to move the buckets from one car to the other (by then they have become experts in this) and thank god the car passed the checkpoint and entered Nablus.
After an hour we left to Huwara checkpoint. We parked at the faraway parking lot and walked to the checkpoint. From afar we saw buckets of cheese being moved from one car to the other.
…We came close. It was the same man that was at Beit Furik. He passed the checkpoint into Nablus, but the car he was in didn’t have a permit to exit from Nablus, he started moving the cheese to another car that had a permit to transfer merchandise from Nablus through Huwara and head to Ramallah, so at the exit from Nablus, he started moving the cheese to another car that had a perm,it to transfer merchandise from Nablus through Huwara. He got out of Nablus and then had to move the cheese again from one car to the other.
“What’s the matter,” we asked, “doesn’t this car have a permit to transfer merchandise?”
“Yes it has,” said the cheese man, “it has a permit to transfer merchandise.”
“So why are you moving the cheese from one car to the other all over again?” we asked.
“It doesn’t have a permit to pass through Za’atara. I’m swapping it with a car that has a permit to pass through Za’atara in the direction of Ramallah.
Although this story has some elements of surrealism, it is not a work of fiction. It is not the fruit of a vivid and creative imagination, and it is not a dream lodged deep in the subconscious. It is a typical story of the daily experience of millions of people throughout the West Bank. A trip that normally should take thirty or forty five minutes can take up to two or three hours. Sometimes people have to turn around and go home without completing the trip, only to try again the next day.
One has to wonder about the purpose of this seemingly bizarre and arbitrary situation which makes an otherwise surreal and perhaps even comical episode to become a common, sad and humiliating experience.
We are constantly told by the apologists of the occupation that the checkpoints are for security reasons. We are told that Israel has an obligation to protect its citizens against “terrorists” bent of destroying lives as well as the state of Israel. Never mind the fact that Israel boasts of the fourth strongest military in the world.
Is the cheese is a security threat? Is the only way this threat can be eliminated is by finding the right car with the right permit to transport it? Obviously, the concern is not about security. It is clear that the purpose of these checkpoints, located deep inside the West Bank, is to harass and humiliate the Palestinians and to disrupt any semblance of a normal life. The checkpoints are there to demonstrate who is in control: that the Israeli authorities and military can do anything they please whenever they please.
In the West Bank and Gaza, surrealism has become a way of life, but the result is not meant to be a work of artistic expression but rather a means of doling out misery, poverty, anger and violence.
This is an article I recently wrote for a local publication--an alternative publication still struggling to see the day.