Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Palestinian Passover Seger

I didn't celebrate Passover this year, which is unfortunate, because it's my first spring in the Holy Land. I've enjoyed two Passover Seders in my lifetime, one in Amman (among my American study abroad friends), and one in New Orleans with fellow teachers. I know I could have appealed to friends in Jerusalem or Jaffa, but I decided to forego the fishing for invitations, and continue celebrating the Christan Holy Week, which overlaps with Passover this year. Last Sunday I walked with thousands of local and visiting Christians down the Mount of Olives to mark Palm Sunday, and tonight I'll be staying at my pastor's house on the Mount of Olives and attending a sunrise Easter service at a church on the Mount.

I saw my friends' Passover (Pesach) posts on Facebook, they were all so joyous. I think I really would have had fun at a Seder in Israel.

Yesterday I'd been debating whether or not to go to Jerusalem early to hang out with my friends from my congregation, but then I learned on the news that the checkpoints into Jerusalem have been closed since Thursday night and will be through Saturday. I was really caught by surprise, even though I remembered the closures on Yom Kippur. Was I supposed to plan ahead and get into Jerusalem before Passover? Would I not make it to the Mount of Olives for the Easter service? I was really frustrated because I'd been looking forward to this for weeks. My friends had crossed over on Thursday and I thought I was going to miss out on everything. I asked my boyfriend about the closure, and he said not to worry, I would be able to get through because I'm an international. That makes sense, unfortunately. It's only West Bank Palestinians that can't get through on Jewish Holidays. On the news they said the closure would last until Saturday, and on the internet I read until Sunday, which meant he probably couldn't join me and my friends for the sunrise service.

He has a permit to enter Jerusalem, so he's been security checked and stamped "ok," not a threat to Israel. He speaks fluent Hebrew. He's traveled to more countries than most people I know and flown through Ben Gurion airport and has more Israeli friends than most Palestinians I know.
But today, his permit is worthless. The security check he passed doesn't apply today, because today is a Jewish holiday. I know there's a history of Israel being attacked on Jewish holidays, I expect that to be the first response to my complaining about movement restrictions.
I just wondered as I rode the bus out of Ramallah toward Qalandia checkpoint at how much this mentality is fueled by facelessness. People want to feel safe while they celebrate their holidays, but at what cost? Today they buy into the unpspoken justification that even the fraction of West Bank Palestinians who have been deemed safe to enter Jerusalem are not safe today. On Thursday they were safe, but today they are not safe. Like the prisoner Khader Adnan is not safe today but he will be safe on April 17th. Like there is any real justification.
So today I experienced Passover the Palestinian way. Not with a Seder, but with a seger, which means closure in Hebrew. It was another word Palestinians preferred to say in Hebrew, like the word for checkpoint, machsom. Maybe it's a way of saying "that's their thing..."
The lane for busses going into Jerusalem was closed, so everyone got off the bus and made their way to the chicken run, as my mother called it when she visited. Between my mother's claustrophobia and my grandmother's pacemaker it was an especially nerve-wracking experience. So we squeezed into the iron-barred rows and waited in line for the light above the revolving door to turn green and allow four people in at a time. Several old women had to take off their shoes and people were groaning and looking around impatiently. I asked the man behind me, "al-yom, bas Jerusalem ID?" Only Jerusalem ID's today? My boyfriend had asked me to check to see if there were people coming through with green West Bank ID's, but I only saw blue. The man asked the man next to him, "seger?" and the other one shrugged. He said he thinks so, but it wasn't announced. They were Jerusalem residents, so they had the privilege of not knowing.
I showed the soldier my driver's license, since I'd forgotten my passport in Ramallah. I considered that they would reject my entrance, and I had this whole "forget about Pesach for one moment, there's this Christian holiday called Easter and I'm supposed to go to church!" schpeel ready, but when I pushed the card onto the window and told her I'd left my passport in Jerusalem, she just furrowed her eyebrows and waved me through. I don't think she even wanted to deal with that card, but my blonde hair probably played a small role in her apathy. I walked out of the checkpoint and onto the 18 bus. When we got to East Jerusalem, I asked the driver, "fi seger fil hawajes?" using the Arabic word for checkpoints. He said yes. "Bas al-yom ou bukra?" Just today or tomorrow? He said he didn't know exactly and for some reason, I found that infuriating.
I walked out of the bus feeling heavy. He's not holding out for any good news, he knows the drill. But I still have to text him that there is a seger today and I got through the checkpoint without my passport. His security clearance is no good today. He's having devious and dangerous thoughts today. I wondered if there could be an extra security check to be declared safe on Jewish holidays.

It didn't immediately occur to me why I saw this seger on the news. There was a seger on every major Jewish holiday (Neri Livneh-"Where were you for the seger?") but they didn't get this much news coverage. Then I realized that because Passover overlapped with Easter this year, the seger seemed to especially inhibit Christians during their holiday, and that was just a killjoy. The other segers were probably justified for security reasons, but don't mess with Easter! Another example of a bandaid being stacked on a gushing wound....I was told it was the European Union that donated the cages that protect Hebron Palestinians from settlers who throw garbage and rocks from their apartments above the marketplace. I just feel bad for those settlers now, being deprived of such satisfying targets...they must have so much pent-up frustration.

I don't know if there's anything I can say to challenge this "security trumps all" mentality. It just seems to me like this seger is in place so that someone can check off that Israel tightened security, not because it accomplishes anything. Or maybe our case is just regrettable, and the vast majority of those permit-holding people kept out of Israel today are actually thinking devious and dangerous thoughts. I have no proof, just one story.

I've never had my movement restricted. I don't know how it feels to be closed in by a checkpoint because of the color of my ID card. But I remember the day he learned the word “restless” in English and it’s been on the tip of his tongue ever since. I watch the suitcase by the door slowly filling up day by day. Until the U.S. visa. Until the Jordanian passport. Until the seger lifts, but he doesn’t really care. It's adi, normal. I remember the day I learned that in a way, Palestinians are more free than I’ll ever be with my magic blue passport.

Though it would be nice to see him at Easter service.