Another morning, another encounter with Machsom Watch. Unlike yesterday, they weren't here to provide a tour, but to monitor the checkpoint from afar. The checkpoint was opened on time, and was moving along nicely when two school buses approached. The bus drivers were next in line when one of the ladies complained, "Shouldn't you be letting them in? The children are in danger as they're playing around the road." I responded, "Once the group inside is finished ma'am, they're next in line. You're right however, the children shouldn't be playing in the road and I don't really understand why the bus drivers would leave the doors open to put the children in this kind of danger." She looked at me, and didn't utter another word. Within a few minutes, they had driven off. The check point was closed 90 minutes later as per regular procedure.
The check point was reopened for an hour during the early afternoon hours. Within 30 minutes, I noticed two people filming a lot of children, who were clinging onto the fence that allows cars in. I approached my friend and asked him what was happening, "They're filming us 'mistreating' the children as we can't let them in." What had happened was one of the school buses that had come in earlier had been used for a school tour, and these children were waiting at the check point for a bus that was running very late. With the children continually irritating the Palestinians on line, as well as jumping on the cars, my friend approached one of the cameramen and said, "You do realize they're only doing this, and endangering themselves, because you're filming?" He shrugged, and I started to seethe - we were becoming the 'bad guys' in a Pallywood production. I tried asking some of the Palestinians to help calm the children down, but their efforts made no difference. After twenty odd minutes of film, the two English speaking cameramen were off. Almost instantly, the children went to the area where they could sit and were silent. It was surreal. Were they asked to behave like this, or have they been taught to behave like this? I don't really know, but sadly, I know my friend and I will be on some news show in some country portrayed as cruel, soulless Nazi wannabes.
I believe the IDF can combat this phenomenon by placing cameras at every check point. This would ensure there is ample evidence of 'normal behavior' videos and 'camera assisted' behavior videos.
The evening shift for this check point was as usual hectic. Large groups of people were going in and out from both sides, and it was moving along smoothly. In the last few minutes, one of the girls from the Military Police wanted to test the newbie to ensure she was checking documents properly. She asked a man, who with his wife, if they could switch documents without explaining why. His face soured, and he said, "I find the suggestion disrespectful and am not up for these games." She said ok, and let him pass. When he returned to get his car, I stopped him and said, "I'm sorry we offended you earlier. We just wanted to check something out, and meant no offense whatsoever." He was in a rush, and I'm not sure if he understood what I was saying, but thanked me and went to get his car. One of the men who was next to him, a shepherd who we see every day came over, "I want to say one thing. We're not stupid - we understand why you're here, and we know it's not easy. But we're human beings, and wanted to be treated as such. Though he felt disrespected because of the misunderstanding, it is important that you tried to explain the situation and clear things up. Thank you."
Check points continually place soldiers in difficult situations. Most are well aware of the positive and negative implications of their presence, and that ensures we handle our responsibilities at a high level. Though following the rules, as we did earlier with the school children for example, is imperative and can come off as 'harsh' and 'unnecessary,' we must still remain empathetic and sensitive to the population we're dealing with. Whether it's chabdehu ve'chashdehu (respect and suspect) or keeping children away from a checkpoint for a certain period of time, respect and common decency don't take much effort and may even have an overall positive influence on those we interact with.