You meet people here in Palestine who ask: what’s happened to the Palestinian resistance movement? In her book on nonviolent resistance to the occupation, Palestinian Quaker Jean Zaru argues that this is a movement that is, if not growing, at least not gone away. Very early one morning last week, I had the chance to witness what she meant at Qualqilya checkpoint, on the border between the West Bank and Israel. Unlike others I had seen before at the roadside, this one is entirely pedestrian. First, let me quote what Jean Zaru says.
‘The word sumoud in Arabic might best be translated as ‘steadfastness’. It plays an incredibly important part in Palestinian culture and self-identity….To practice sumoud means to remain steadast on one’s land and, more generally, to remain steadfast in service to one’s homeland and to the struggle for freedom. For example, given the current grave circumstances, just waking up every morning with the determination to carry on with one’s daily routine and to hold fast to one’s humanity in spite of the challenges and dangers to movement – walking through military checkpoints to get to work, driving your children past army tanks to get to school, taking your herd to graze despite physical ad verbal abuse of Israeli settlers – is to practice sumoud or to be samid or samida.’
At Qualqilya checkpoint in the pre-dawn dark, crowds of people (almost entirely men) arrive with lunch bags to queue, leaving their trucks and cars in the park near the lamplit tents selling coffee and falafels. There are three stages. First is the line along the wire to the turnstile into the shed. Once through, there’s the snaking line from turnstile to permit check. After that comes the metal detection machine.
The turnstile opens at 4.30am. Queuing starts an hour before. On busy mornings, the whole procedure can take as much as an hour and a half. And all that people can do is wait, shuffle along, and wait again – all the time in the knowledge that something may get stuck or go wrong in the stages that follow, either to themselves or the ones in front – with the serious risk of missing the transport at the other side. And day after day, they submit themselves to this frustrating ordeal in order to go to work.
The morning I was there, we counted 2,700 people going through the turnstile as dawn rose in the two hours after we arrived at 4.30am. Outwardly, none of them were protesting. No-one was losing their temper. On other mornings, other things do happen. People lose patience and push. But last Tuesday morning, nearly three thousand Palestinians were nonviolently resisting the temptation to give in to despair and rage and simply getting on with what they had to get on with.
Jean Zaru (2008) Occupied with nonviolence: a Palestinian woman speaks. Fortress Press (p71-72)