When anti-Israel groups want to demonize Israel on college campuses they set up mock checkpoints, dress in IDF uniforms and force students to walk through the checkpoint on their way across campus. As students pass the “checkpoint” they are harassed, pushed and yelled at. They are told that this is the humiliating experience that Palestinian Arabs are forced to endure every day. With no context to think otherwise, most students believe that this is the actual daily Arab experience in Israel. The security needs that necessitate the checkpoints are never mentioned.
Without sounding too self-promoting, I direct a program called If Not Us. The program takes American students studying in Israel on trips to Judea and Samaria. Among many educational points the program makes two arguments. First, that Jews have full rights to live and govern the heartland of their historic homeland. Second, that Israel treats Palestinian Arabs fairly and with full human rights. This is the first year of the program and 250 students have already participated in the program.
Part of the program takes students to Israeli checkpoints to watch what occurs as Arabs and Israelis are checked. Participants hear an explanation of the rules and policies of the checkpoints and then they watch to see whether the soldiers at the checkpoints are abusive to those that cross through. Our program’s contention is that there are no Israeli policies of abuse at the checkpoints.
Those who assume that Israelis abuse Palestinian Arabs at checkpoints have never actually witnessed abuse. While there are isolated incidents of soldiers losing their cool, those episodes are outliers and do not reflect the policies or experiences of the average Palestinian Arab that crosses an Israeli checkpoint. The policies at the checkpoints are fair. Israeli soldiers are fair and preserve the dignity of those who encounter soldiers at the checkpoints.
Yesterday I took a group of 50 college age students to the Hizmeh checkpoint on Jerusalem’s Eastern border. The checkpoints priority is security. The soldiers check cars, packages and people for weapons and explosives. We watched as an Arab was ordered out of his car with his packages and escorted to an office. He was told to leave his packages on the ground near the soldiers so they could be inspected. He had six or seven grocery bags consisting of heavy white plastic bags with lighter blue plastic bags containing what looked from afar like produce. Two young soldiers approached the packages to check them. Out of sight of the owner’s vision, I assumed the soldiers would simply dump the contents on the street and leave them for the owner to clean up. I was apprehensive of how the group would take it. I happily watched as the soldiers inspected the packages with as much care as if they belonged to their own mothers. The soldiers left the packages exactly where the owner had left them on the ground.
Lest you think the soldiers were careful because of our prying eyes, we waited at a hitchhiker’s stop across the street and were there for long enough to stop drawing attention. I was proud of the exemplary behavior of our soldiers. The group was impressed with the care shown by the soldiers and understood that they were watching the true policies of the Israeli army.
We can be proud of our soldiers, their behavior and the Israeli army’s policies. They are fair and respectful. The checkpoints inhibit free passage, there are long lines, and constant reminders of Israeli control. I don’t expect Palestinian Arabs to be happy at the checkpoints. I wouldn’t be happy if I thought someone had taken my land and forced me to cross security checkpoints, but there is a difference between being unhappy and being mistreated. Israel faces real threats from a geographically close population. Checkpoints are necessary to ensure that terrorists do not enter main population areas. Soldiers check ID’s to make sure terrorists on watch lists aren’t trying to enter illegally, they inspect vehicles, packages and people’s pockets – all in an effort to ensure that Israelis remain safe. I’m gratified that our soldiers are able to balance our security needs with respecting Arab dignity.