I received an email today from a very courageous young American. She is one person making a big difference.
Anna Baltzer, a Jewish American activist, was born in Berkeley, California. She graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Mathematics and Economics. She first travelled to the Middle East while studying in Turkey on a Fullbright Grant. She travels to the West Bank every year as a volunteer for the International Women’s Peace Service documenting human rights violations. She supports nonviolent resistance to the Occupation. She is the author of Witness in Palestine: A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories. For more information see www.annainthemiddleeast.com
Her email said, "I wanted to let you know that I'm returning again to the Middle East, this time visiting refugee camps in Syria & Lebanon as well as Palestine. I'll be sending reports out and wanted to invite you to publish any of them if you think they would be compelling for readers."
This is the first in a series of articles:
When I first visited the West Bank in 2003, checkpoints were controlled by young Israeli soldiers, nervously clutching their weapons and yelling at Palestinians to stay in line. When I returned in 2005, I found many checkpoints replaced by metal turnstiles into which Palestinians were herded to wait for soldiers to push a button, letting them through one by one or sometimes not at all. Each year I return, the method of control over Palestinian movement is further institutionalized, most recently Israeli terminal-style buildings, entirely separatingsoldiers from the Palestinians whose movement they are controlling.
I first encountered one of these terminals after visiting a women's cooperative in Tulkarem to purchase embroidery to send home. Because there are no reliable postal services in the West Bank, and because I did not want to risk the products being damaged or confiscated by Israeli airport security if I transported them in my luggage, I knew I would have to send them to the US from a post office in Israel. I had traveled from Tulkarem to Tel Aviv once in the past by taking a shared taxi to the nearby Einab junction, where I had walked from the Palestinian road to the Israeli one and caught transport into Israel.
This second time, I was traveling with my backpack and six plastic bags full of embroidery, and I assumed the trip would be as straightforward as it had been in the past. When I arrived at Einab junction, I found a large new building, fortified by several layers of metal fences, walls, and gates. The first layer reminded me of rural parts of the Wall—wire fence reinforced with electric sensory wire and razor wire with a heavy iron gate. The gate was open but nobody was on the other side. I walked through and came to two large iron turnstiles surrounded by a wall of iron bars. The turnstiles were locked. Frustrated, I put down my six bags to rest for a moment. Maybe someone would come back? I waited, but still there was nobody.
I called out. "Hello? Anybody there?"
"Please wait a moment," a staticky voice above me blared. I looked up to find a speaker attached to the turnstile.
I didn't have much choice but to wait.
Whoever was operating the turnstiles didn't seem to be in much of a hurry, so I took out my camera.
"Excuse me!" the voice snapped.
"Yes," I answered as I took my first photo.
"Please put your camera away immediately!"
"Please let me in immediately," I answered.