At checkpoint, brides cry and laborers camp out


Young women sob in their wedding gowns. Laborers stretch out on the ground and sleep after the toil of a workday within the Green Line, and nursing babies scream endlessly. In the pitch-dark, sighs resound from injured people returning from medical treatment and rehabilitation centers. There is a continuous roar of tanks and planes, and the staccato whirr of machine guns opening fire for no reason. Scores of cars line up bumper-to-bumper, and people’s eyes are blinded by dust blowing from the dirt roads. Frightened, apprehensive souls await the road’s reopening so they can return to their homes.

These partial images combined paint a complete picture of the ordeal endured two days ago at the Abu Hawli and Al Matahin checkpoints in southern Gaza, which were closed by the Israeli army in the afternoon.

Muhammad Kallab, 25, from Khan Younis, was sitting in the backseat of a car with his bride, whom he had brought from Gaza city. He appeared angry and high-strung as he got out to walk along the envoy of wedding cars, peering into the faces of his relatives and friends, asking them to remain calm and patient. He suddenly relaxed himself when he saw another bride and groom nearby, also waiting for the road to open. The Israeli army was detaining yet another car carrying a bride between the Abu Hawli and Al Matahin checkpoints. Hours passed, and by midnight the brides and grooms had no other choice but to go home and wait for the announcement of the checkpoints’ opening.

While the image of those brides suffering on their wedding night is heart-wrenching, others underwent circumstances even more bitter and bleak. Numerous laborers who work within the Green Line were unable to sooth their workday pains other than by reclining on piles of sand to rest. Abdel Fattah, a laborer whose face and hair was covered with dust, said, “I try as much as I can to snatch a few moments of sleep.” He announced that he would wait until morning when the checkpoint opens to return to work within the Green Line.

Elsewhere near the checkpoint an old man sitting in his wheelchair mumbled supplications, praying for the children screaming in hunger and unable to sleep in their mothers’ arms due to the clamor.

Tayseer, a laborer from Rafah, said, “The tortuous daily journey has become unbearable.” He arrives at the checkpoint by one in the morning in order to reach his workplace within the Green Line, and when he returns in the evening the road is often closed, forcing him to sleep at the checkpoint until morning and then return straight to work.

Umm Majid, carrying her six-month-old baby, said that she had decided to go to Khan Younis, where her husband’s family lives, because his mother wanted to see her grandchild. She had been patiently awaiting this visit and following their arrival time by cell phone. But as the hours went by and midnight approached, the baby became irritable and began to cry from serious discomfort. Umm Majid and her husband decided to return home.

Abu Zakariya, a fellow citizen waiting at the checkpoint, angrily asked himself, “Until when will this torture go on? Is it reasonable for pregnant women, brides, and children to spend their nights in such crowds and in front of all these people when they might need a bathroom or a place to pray, or even a place to nurse their children? How is it possible for them to do that here, in pitch-dark, without public facilities, and in this pervasive state of fear?”

Abu Abdel Salam, also trapped at the checkpoint, said, “Despite the continual suffering at checkpoints, the satellite channels don’t show real interest and make do with misguiding Israeli statements that claim the siege is being loosened. This suffering is becoming a serious threat to the lives of citizens, particularly in psychological terms.” He emphasized that the matter requires intensified efforts from all parties to expose Israeli violations against the Palestinian people.

Translated by Jennifer Peterson from Al Hayat Al Jadida on September 6, 2002.