Palestinian American scholar Edward Said has said, “No cause, no god, no abstract idea can justify the mass slaughter of innocents.”

What is the significance of going through a checkpoint in Palestine? The need to know took me 14 years ago, to the Levant (ascribed to the east of the Mediterranean), or the Mashriq, as in Arabic. What took me there was my quest for peace. Could I find it hidden somewhere in the tattered Israel-Palestine relations?

At the Israel Consulate in Mumbai, I met with relevant people with my proposal of creating a special Israel-Palestine Peace issue for Gallerie magazine. Peace is urgently required here after years of conflict that has taken so many innocent lives. They listened patiently and firmly said, “No, that is not possible. If you do a Gallerie issue dedicated just to Israel, we will support you. You cannot include Palestine.”

I left the office determined to create an issue not on Israel, but on Palestine. A week later, I applied for a tourist visa to Israel and got it. Within the next few days, I flew to Amman in Jordan, and had a car arranged to drive me to the Jordan-Israel border. Travelling by road from Amman in Jordan, I arrived at the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge, one of the three Israel-Jordan border crossings. Crossing over was easy for an Indian with a tourist visa, although I received several suspicious looks from the guards.

On getting through, I stayed two nights in a West Jerusalem hotel. A sense of demographics fell into place: the Israeli, the Palestinian and the Christian minority; who belongs where and who occupies what that is clearly not theirs.

On the third clear-blue sky day, I hopped on to a bus to East Jerusalem in Palestine, where I met a cultural activist for coffee. She graciously arranged for me to stay in Ramallah for three weeks in a beautiful hillside residency for writers and artists. That stay opened windows to another world; a world of checkpoints and the reality of Israel’s inhuman arrogance.

The Holocaust during World War II, from 1939-1945, which resulted in the persecution and killing of six million Jews, has had unequivocal global condemnation of the Nazi regime. However, the Holocaust devastatingly turned a large section of the Jewish community into the very executioners they were victims of.

The creation of Israel, too, witnessed thousands of Palestinians being dispossessed of their homeland during the “Nakba”, or catastrophe, of 1948.

Since its founding, the Israeli state has undergone a far-right shift, embracing ethnonationalist Zionism. With the support and funding of powerful Western countries, especially the United States, Israel has kept the Palestinians in a state of siege for almost six decades.

The Hizma checkpoint in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in November 2020. Credit: Reuters.

A nine-metre wall snakes through Palestinian territories with forcibly occupied settlements created at strategic locations to divide its people, herding and blocking them into the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

To negotiate this complex terrain, the Palestinians must cross checkpoints guarded by arrogant and hostile young Israeli soldiers who specialise in humiliating the Palestinians as they go about their daily routine to their workplaces, schools, to hospitals, or to meet family.

I would watch with grief as we stood in the queues, where even old women were treated like trash. Twice, when being driven from Ramallah to Bethlehem by an artist friend, we encountered these harsh guards and my friend who was strong and fearless, argued with them when they tried to intimidate her.

Unfortunately, they reduced her to tears, and as a witness, I could only try to calm her down. I couldn’t reprimand the guards much as I would have liked to as I was an alien in their colonised land.

The checkpoint is a narrow corridor of metal girders with cameras watching as the Palestinians walk in single-file, like framed-for-life-convicts. In their own land, the Palestinians must possess mandatory IDs issued by the Israeli government. Today, their land is diminishing, as is their identity.

Even time is no longer theirs – stolen by Israeli checkpoints.

While Israel justifies its inhumanity as security measures, political scientist Norman Finklestein argues, “How can Israel, one of the leading military powers of the world, conduct these decades-long siege on a territory that is 1/5th the size of Albania and has a population of half that of Kuwait? Also, if the world can legitimise an Israel nation, why can they not accord the same to Palestine?” The question of course, has layers of messages beneath, with the omnipresence of ancient ghosts of greed and power.

Palestine is essentially a land of farmers and fishermen, traders, professionals and a large community of creative people and intellectuals. During the Nakba, there was a mass exodus of some 800,000 Palestinians who fled to safe regions. Those who were left behind are being systematically decimated or terrorised into leaving their homes and land so settler Israeli families can occupy them. Those in exile, a group of artists, cultural workers and academics amongst hundreds of families, are being prevented entry into Palestine by Israeli authorities.

Palestinians scuffle with Israeli settlers in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in November 2022. Credit: Reuters.

Clearly, the destruction of the Palestinian society is necessary for the creation of a larger Israel. Within this tyranny of logic, it is remarkable how the Palestinians have sustained their sanity and are conducting their lives with heroic stoicism and dignity (other than the making of a series of suicide bombers pushed to the edge of desperation and the creation of Hamas which rose from the ashes of their tortured lives. There is no justification of course, for the October 7 violence perpetrated by Hamas.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and the diaspora in exile, breathe a stifling air of stolen freedom. While excavating and exploring the art and culture of Palestine, a people imprisoned in their own land, I discovered gems within their creative forces; artists, writers, thinkers, poets, musicians, dancers, theatre people, photographers and filmmakers from the homeland and the diaspora are activists in the truest sense. Their work, a form of resistance, emerges from wounds of loss and displacement.

“The wars will end and the leaders will shake hands, and that old woman will remain waiting for her martyred son, and that girl will wait for her beloved husband, and the children will wait for their heroic father, I do not know who sold the homeland but I know who paid the price,” wrote Mahmoud Darwish, considered Palestine’s national poet.

The years of conflict have killed thousands and now, scores are being killed every day in Gaza.

It is a utopian thought, but there is the hope that reason, humanity and compassion soon prevails and that peace is understood as more critical than power, war, religion, land acquisition and bank notes – before more innocents die.

While some of the leading world leaders are shifting from their all-out support for Israel, the hope remains that a collective and definitive uproar will enable the mapping of an equitable homeland for both – Israel and Palestine. Blood has stained their pages of history for too long. The tormented cries of crushed children echo in the air.

Hopefully, the current checkpoints in Palestine morph into peace points where the Israeli military armed with guns and hostility are replaced by pilgrims of peace.

all roads led to Palestine even those that didn’t…
and there, i saw
the arrogance
of checkpoints
crucify Christ
a hundred
million times
since his crucifixion
in Golgotha.
i heard
stones trapped
in the wall
whisper they are
pawns of madness –
and would rather
be a roadway
to Ramallah.
i saw
mute olive trees
bearing fruit
and pain,
slain, for
daring to
grow on
occupied land.
i heard
sea waves
chant the beauty
and truth
of Darwish’s words
and echo
the wisdom
of Said’s mind.
i saw
soldiers clean guns
with memories
of the Holocaust,
to kill with ease
and erase
the last hope
of a Palestinian child.
i saw
America condone
a history of crime
with the cowardice
of silence,
while Zionists
danced in the
settlements of Hebron.
i heard
the silent howl
of the wind
laden with cries

of the dead
and despair
of a nation waiting
to be born.
all roads led to Palestine even those that didn’t…

Bina Sarkar Ellias is poet, writer, art curator and founder-editor-designer-publisher of Int Gallerie, since 25 years.