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Tearing Down the Points of Humiliation

Fathiya Akafi is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, who at the age of 62, is a wife, mother, grandmother, and an activist.

Not afraid to be different, wearing beige pants, a short blue sweater, and sneakers, - so unlike women her age – her bright red hair stands as a beacon of her uniqueness.

To understand Akafi’s activism today, one must first understand her past.

Her family is from Miska, a small Palestinian village which dated back to the seventh century. The residents of the village were expelled in 1948 by Jewish forces. Her family resettled in another village just a few kilometers away.

“Every time I pass the destroyed village I feel sad. All that is left is a wall of the village mosque and part of the boys’ school,” she explains.

It is this sentiment that pushed her into activism.

She was invited to volunteer for Machsom Watch when one of their volunteers heard her speak passionately at a checkpoint about her grandmother’s wish to die in her (original) house. “Stand strong on your land,” she encouraged the assembled Palestinians. “Don’t let it be stolen, as happened in 1948.”

Machsom Watch (Checkpoint Watch) is an all-woman non-profit organization established in 2001 by Israeli women who oppose the occupation of Palestine, and the existence of checkpoints in Palestine. Approximately 200 women observe the checkpoints daily, and send reports of abuses to government and UN officials.

According to the UNOCHA in Sept, 2011 there were 522 roadblocks and checkpoints, and hundreds of flying (non-permanent) checkpoints throughout Palestine.

They severely disrupt travel for the Palestinians, separate villages, and make short trips unbearably long, and are the sites of many abuses.

Once a week for the past nine years, Akafi visits the checkpoints with an Israeli volunteer. She is the only Arab volunteer.

I recently accompanied her on a drive............

As we stood at Habla agricultural gate, a bus full of children, and two men, one on a donkey cart, passed. “You notice that the soldiers checked the man but not his cart?” she pointed out. “Just last week they would not let clothing for a new born baby pass. They claimed it is not permitted,” she said.

Leaving the checkpoint, we pass ancient olive groves which grace the dry landscape. Every year, the olive harvest results in violent attacks on Palestinian farmers by Israeli settlers.

At Huwwara, once a busy checkpoint, we were approached by two soldiers, our presence there questioned. The checkpoint is now closed, but the illegal, notorious settlements of Itamar and Bracha still sit on hilltops above it, protected by soldiers in the watch tower.

Akafi recalls the day an Israeli soldier claimed that a child had thrown a rock at his jeep, and closed some shops in the village of Huwwara. He took the IDs of all of the people around, and ordered them to stand in the pouring rain. “By the time we arrived, the people were soaked. There were no children around,” she contradicted him.

“We took pictures, and he refused to return the IDs unless we deleted the pictures. I told him we will not delete them, but will send them to his superiors. After a few words between us, he put the IDs on a ledge, and sped off,” she said in frustration.

Akafi takes note of a flying checkpoint. She receives a phone call from Bethlehem, a complaint that a woman is permitted to pass through the checkpoint, but her young son is not, even though he is on her ID.

“This is difficult work, and I often go home feeling very disturbed,” Akafi says angrily. “Sometimes I see 200 – 300 people standing in line, pregnant women, people being thrown into a hut for something small; and men being told to open their jackets from a distance to show they are not carrying weapons. It makes me burn up inside,” she says.

“There is no justice in the world. When people are tortured, students are late for class, and women give birth at checkpoints, where is the justice?” she questions.

“I am not optimistic about the future. This is a right wing government, and getting more right wing,” Akafi complains.

“Everything we do, even if it’s small, has an effect! We have succeeded in getting seats and coverings for those who are being held, instead of leaving them sitting on the ground, in the sun or rain,” she explained. “We try to make things easier for the Palestinian people,” she continued.

“In the summers, we bring children from Palestine to Israel for the day,” she says. “Some of them have never seen the sea, but it’s their mothers who eagerly throw themselves in the water.” “We also show them where some of the destroyed Palestinian villages once stood, she smiles.

We arrive to ‘Azzun ‘Atma, a village encircled by the Apartheid Wall. A line of Palestinian workers forms, single file, at the edge of the street. Cars from a nearby settlement speed past, dangerously close. “In the mornings, sometimes we stand here for two hours waiting to get through,” a worker told us with disgust.

Of four soldiers only one was checking IDs. Akafi threatened to call the humanitarian office. “They ordered that the workers should stand in the street,” a soldier retorted.

“Some soldiers say letting the Palestinians through checkpoints is like herding sheep,” Akafi fumes. “When I ask if they would like their parents to be treated this way, it’s as if I shake something in them,” she continued.

Akafi believes that the voices of women are louder than those of men. However, she feels frustrated that “women in my community are not politically aware. It is a challenge to get them to participate in activities like this.”

Akafi realizes the long term effect of the checkpoints on the men, women and children of Palestine – she wants them torn down. “I want to do something to help, instead of sitting doing nothing,” she says defiantly. I am going to work until the end!”

***UNOCHA - UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
www,machsomwatch.org

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

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Comments

Nusrat Ara's picture

Loved your story. Beautifully

Loved your story. Beautifully written . The story brings out the plight of people and the hope and work of one woman ( even though she says she is not hopeful). A wonderful read.

Love

Nusrat

noreens's picture

Hi Nusrat, I am so glad you

Hi Nusrat, I am so glad you read and enjoyed my article! Fathiya really impressed me because she is so unique. While so many of us complain about the inconveniences of the checkpoints, she is actually doing something to relieve the hardships. The problems here are so BIG but at least she is trying to do her bit instead of watching from the sidelines.
If we give up, we admit defeat. Thanks for reading it!

Love,
Noreen

MaDube's picture

Your story made me really

Your story made me really sad, although it is beautifully written. It painted a true picture of what life for Palestinians is like and it got me wondering why Richard Goldstone would oppose John Dugard's assertion that the situation in the Occupied Palestine territories is just like South Africa under apartheid. The difficulties in movement you talked about, the arbitrary arrests, the abuse and the torture are terrible just as they were in South Africa before 1994.

Thank you for this moving tale and I hope the fate of the Palestinians in and outside Israel changes soon.

noreens's picture

Thanks for reading it! The

Thanks for reading it! The things that go on here are unbelievable. Reading about it is one thing, but actually seeing it is another. Life here is very sad.

Leslie Stoupas's picture

Inspiring!

Thank you for sharing the story of Fathiya Akafi. She is an inspiration both in her fearlessness in standing up for human rights in the face of the checkpoint guards and in her willingness to work cooperatively with women in the other side of the fence. Her work made me think of an article I read a few weeks ago about unarmed and nonviolent peacekeeping and how necessary it is as a humanitarian force to stop violence. However, your article takes this one step further by showing how stopping violence in a powerful but peaceful way makes us see the human being who is standing in front of us, not as a friend or enemy, but as a being with the right to respect, freedom, and livelihood. Inspiring work both from Fathiya Akafi and from you for capturing her inspiring story!

Leslie Stoupas

noreens's picture

Hi Leslie, Thanks for reading

Hi Leslie,

Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment! I admire her for her uniqueness, and also for her lack of fear, I always feel butterflies in my stomach when I get to the checkpoints, not because I am doing something wrong, but because I feel powerless at them, But she goes right up to them without any fear. She's doing a great thing!

Noreen

BlueSky's picture

Our Heart

I appreciate so much that "Akafi believes that the voices of women are louder than those of men." Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the UK once said: "If you want something said, tell a man. If you want something done, tell a woman."

The reason our voices are louder is because our protest is not just in our words, but is backed by all of our actions. Our words are back by our industry, our sacrifice, our passion, our perseverance, our focus, and most of all, our inclusive bent.

Thank Noreen for a story that speaks to our heart.

noreens's picture

Thanks for reading and for

Thanks for reading and for your nice comment. I think all of us at World Pulse probably feel the strength of our voices, otherwise we would not be here. And yes, women can work wonders when we put our minds to it!

noreens's picture

Thanks for reading and for

Thanks for reading and for your nice comment. I think all of us at World Pulse probably feel the strength of our voices, otherwise we would not be here. And yes, women can work wonders when we put our minds to it!

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Mesmerized

I was mesmerized by your story. The true day to day horrors visited on the Palestinian people need to be told to a global audience. So much discussion is stifled in the United States around this issue. Thank you so much for sharing. I encourage you to cross-post your story to any other blogs you might have!

Kind regards,

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

noreens's picture

Thanks so much for your

Thanks so much for your encouragement, Rachael!! You're right..........so many people in the States don't realize what is happening here. I wonder how many understand the actual facts........the basis of the problems. I have learned an incredible amount since I have lived here, and I am still learning.

I am hoping to talk to Fathiya again but this time with her Jewish partner, and write a longer article for a magazine that I contribute to in England.

Thanks again!
Noreen

R's picture

Warrior Women

Hi Noreen,
Your fantastic title 'Tearing Down the Points of Humiliation' aptly describes the frustration and anger, but most of all the horrendous humiliation suffered by the Palestinian people every day, and which you have so capably captured as the undercurrent of your profile of Akafi. She, along with each of her comrades at Machsom watch, is indeed 'the stuff that heros and warriors are made of'! I also love the way that your factual, yet descriptive style of writing evokes Akafi's brave and gutsy character and brings her to life on the page. Well done Noreen...It's a pleasure to work with you and I'm really looking forward to Assignment 2!

With Love and Light
Rosemary

noreens's picture

I'm so happy to have you as

I'm so happy to have you as my editor .......and new friend. I enjoyed writing this story and sharing it with you, and learning new tips - even as my eyes were closing at 2:30 in the morning!! But together we turned it into a nice article. I'm looking forward to assignment 2 also - I think I have a good subject for it. Thanks so much for your support!

Love,
Noreen

Paulina Lawsin's picture

THank you for sharing this

THank you for sharing this story Noreens. It gives a reader like me who is not knowledgeable of the events and situation of the Palestinian people a glimpse of their everyday life. It's a sad story and I pray that the practice of queing, inspection and discrimination will end. Soon.

Keep on writing.

Paulina

noreens's picture

Hi Paulina, Usually when I

Hi Paulina,

Usually when I write an article I try to add some historical information for those who don't know the situation well. I'm very glad that I was able to pass that on in this article. It is very sad to see what happens here. I'm happy you read my story. Thanks!

Noreen

Maddy M.'s picture

Dear noreens, thank you for

Dear noreens, thank you for sharing this story. It really makes me burn up inside to hear all the injustices and human rights violations happening against the Palestinian people and the complicity/hypocrisy of the International Community and UN. I can't even imagine the humiliations and violence people have to go through at the checkpoints evey single day and the pain of seeing their ancestral lands and livelihoods destroyed.

We certainly must tear down those points of humiliation and the walls of misinformation regarding what's really happening in your land.

In solidarity,
Madeline

noreens's picture

Thanks Maddy! The ruins of

Thanks Maddy! The ruins of some old buildings are still standing. I read a lot and hear stories from the older people. I often try to imagine how life was years ago. The sad thing is that none of it - the buildings, the villages, the life, etc - can ever be brought back. Makes me really sad that I have to read about lives and places that no longer exist.

Thank you for your support.
Love,
Noreen

Nancy WiseWoman's picture

Great Article!

This is a very good article, Noreen. It inspired me! I love that you put in a description of Akifi who is a 62 year old redhead! I thought that your use of examples and quotes was very powerful and I learned a lot that I didn't know about life in Palestine and Israel. I thought that your use of the word "humiliation" in the title was very accurate and expressed what is often the purpose of these checkpoints. That humiliation can tear down people's spirits very quickly.
Thank you. This article is a good exposition of what goes on in the name of safety and is really meant to intimidate and destroy.

Nancy Cosgriff

noreens's picture

Thanks for reading and for

Thanks for reading and for your nice words! Today I went to the West Bank. There are two checkpoints just a couple of minutes from the town where I live that I can return to Israel through. One is in the picture at the top of the story. What you don't see in the photo is that just a few yards away from it is another checkpoint. We used to pass through that one very quickly. However the last time I went through it, we waited 1 1/2 hours to pass. We tried to go through it today but the line was so long so we turned around to go to the checkpoint which is in the photo. The drive to reach the point that was just a few yards away took us 25 minutes - we pass through an Arab village and pass by a settlement. All of that was to go to the checkpoint next to it to return to my town which is only a couple of minutes from the checkpoint. It would not have taken me even a minute to walk from checkpoint to checkpoint. It is just ridiculous, and causes a lot of anger and frustration. (I hope what I wrote made sense!!)

Noreen

Nancy WiseWoman's picture

Yes, it makes lots of sense.

Yes, it makes lots of sense. I can't imagine the frustration and anger that you and others must feel about all of this. It is truly horrifying and absolutely pointless. I send you good energies and hope for a better future for you and your children!

Nancy Cosgriff

mrbeckbeck's picture

Great work Noreen

This is a beautifully written, informative piece Noreen. It is heartbreaking to think that these injustices happen so frequently, but I am glad to know about Fathiya and the women she works with that are taking steps (even if they're small) to make a difference.

I will recommend this article to anyone interested in seeing a focused story about life in Palestine and the trials imposed by checkpoints. Thank you!

Great work,
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

noreens's picture

Thanks Scott!! The steps

Thanks Scott!! The steps that the ladies from Machsom Watch make are small, but at least there are people monitoring and reporting abuses of Palestinians. The problems here are too BIG for any one organization to conquer - governments need to do that - but they are not sitting back and watching and saying "It's not okay, but do it anyway." Monitoring the checkpoints is not a solution to getting rid of them, but a solution to letting governments and people like you and me know the realities of life for the Palestinians, and doing what they can to ease their way through the checkpoints.

Welcome back from your vacation!
Noreen

Monica Clarke's picture

How I wish I could meet ma Akafi!

How I wish I could meet Fathiya Akafi!

I know the anger when you describe the inequities faced by the people at the hands of ignorant border guards. I've been there so many times. The feelings of distress and immasculation hang over in one's psyche for years afterwards. Yet Akafi is prepared to face this daily. What a wonderful woman.

And of course I think of apartheid South Africa and its borders between people, borders of railway lines, rivers, high gates, security guards and dogs, which remain in a society still starkly economincally and racially divided despite the change in the laws.

I also think of my wonderful Jewish comrades in South Africa, who gave their lives to get us through our barriers, who got on the buses with us in our bus rides of defiance, who refused to serve in the army when conscripted, refused to stand with guns outside school walls because they identified too deeply with the struggle to be false about their own privilege.

I know they are there, too, Israelies in anger observing the unfairness in occupied Palestine, there where we can't see them, supporting you and their Palestinian brothers and sisters, their children and their suffering - and I know they are there wanting to shove the gendarmes out of the way to make the lives of people easier, to tear down the border posts, but they, too, cannot do this without the right political muscle .......

My prayer is that you will encounter more and more of them in your work, that your side will be strengthened by them as they individually (for it will never happen that they do it all together) - as they individually stand up to be counted against the evil of apartheid. I know they are there, and I know that the magnetism of your strength and determination of direction as you walk with people like ma Akafi, will attract the right people to you in the people's fight for freedom.

With much love and admiration from Monica in France

Monica Clarke, Writer & Storyteller, bringing human rights alive.
I wish you 'Nangamso', that is: May you continue to do the good work which you do so well.
(A blessing from my ancestors, the Khoikhoi, the first people of South Africa).

noreens's picture

Hi Monica, Come visit me here

Hi Monica,

Come visit me here and I will gladly take you to meet Fathiya! You are right - there are many Israelis who stand by the Palestinians during demonstrations, house demolitions, evictions, etc. And there are many human rights organizations made up of Israelis. Lots of good people around - just the politics gets in the way, and we have a long way to go.

Love,
Noreen

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