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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

This should simplify my life... so why am I nervous?

My daily commute takes me through several make-shift and permanent check-points.  This is a part of life when one lives and works on opposite sides of the so-called 'Green Line'.  In the past I have taken advantage of the stops at these roadblocks to occasionally drop off cookies, cakes, drinks and other goodies for the soldiers who have the unpleasant job of checking the cars. 

However, over the past year or two the larger permanent check-points have changed staffing and are now manned (and womanned) by a government-appointed civilian security service (i.e. people who get paid to do the unpleasant job).  While this has lessened the need for me to deliver cookies and other snacks (don't worry... still plenty of soldiers to spoil along my route), it has made me feel more and more as though I am passing through an international border or airport security screening (which is essentially the same thing).

To cope with this I sometimes poke gentle fun at the men and women who sit in the booths at these crossings.  They sometimes just say 'hello' or 'how are you?' in order to be able to hear if my response is accented or if I appear nervous. 

But they also often ask "Where are you from?". 

My inner civil libertarian bristles at this invasion of my privacy.  When that happens I usually ignore the intention of the question (which is to find out where I live) and answer, "I'm originally from the U.S.... this guy over here is English... the two soldiers in the back are Australian and the young lady behind me is originally from Hadera".  Some find this amusing and wave me through with a smile... while others become visibly annoyed. 

I enjoy both reactions.

On the one hand, I know that they are just doing their job... and an important one at that.  But I also hate feeling like I am crossing an international frontier when we haven't given away the land (yet).

This morning as I rolled up to the checkpoint I smiled and said good morning.  The young woman in the booth responded, "Where are you from?", which prompted me to go into my routine of introducing the real and made-up nationalities and home-towns of the passengers.  She got the joke and smiled.  But instead of opening the gate, she asked me if I passed through the checkpoint frequently.  When I nodded 'yes', she asked if I wanted a Ministry of Defense sticker for my car so I would pass more quickly through checkpoints.

Even though I had decided over a year ago not to get such a sticker when it was offered to residents of my town, for some reason today I said yes.

She waved me over to a table off to the side where a government official checked my registration and ID card to make sure they matched, and then placed a little sticker (with a serial number) inside the upper left hand side of my windshield.

As I drove on towards work, my eyes kept darting to the yellow sticker.  It didn't have any words on it... just a bright yellow arrow pointing in both directions, which I suppose is designed to suggest freedom of movement. 

Almost immediately I flashed back to the period preceding the disengagement when the police were routinely pulling over and turning around anyone with an orange flag on their car (and even anyone who appeared to be religious) in order to keep them from attending perfectly legal peaceful demonstrations.  All I could think as I kept glancing at this little yellow emblem on my car was 'boy, it'll sure be easy to identity who the settlers are now'.

On the one hand, this little sticker could simplify my life and speed my passage through any and all roadblocks I might encounter.  But on the other hand, the possibilities for abuse are almost limitless.  Not only will police and other government officials now have a handy way of identifying who I am (a settler) and where I live (which is none of their damned business if I'm peacefully driving on roads paid for with my taxes)... but once it becomes widely known what this little yellow arrow emblem represents, settler's cars could become easy targets for vandalism from people who take violent exception to 'the occupation' and those they view as 'obstacles to peace'.

Don't tell me this couldn't happen.  There were many reports of cars with orange ribbons and flags having their tires slashed in the country's center during the summer before the disengagement.  And I recall one particular article on the 'Walla' web site where an anonymous thug suggested readers break the windows of cars sporting orange ribbons... with the helpful defense tip that, if caught, they should tell the police they thought there was a baby locked inside.

Sadly, as wonderful as this country is (especially as compared with the ruthless civil and human rights conditions in our neighboring countries), abuses of power are commonplace here, and victims of such abuse are often rebuffed with impenetrable bureaucracy while the abusers are given relative slaps on their wrists.

Once again, I find myself on the horns of a dilemma.

Posted by David Bogner on February 24, 2009 | Permalink

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Perhaps making sure that these same stickers are given to as many people who do not live in "settlements" would go a long way to assuaging your concerns? I'd tell anyone who comes through to request such a sticker, so it's less about where you're from and more about showing that people can travel freely between parts of Israel.

Posted by: Ezzie | Feb 24, 2009 4:09:17 PM

That'll teach you to be so insouciant at the checkpoint.

Seriously, though - it seems to me that someone up to no good would be more likely to target your car on the road leading to and from the checkpoint, no matter whether your car has the sticker or not.

Posted by: Ari | Feb 24, 2009 4:17:52 PM

it has made me feel more and more as though I am passing through an international border or airport security screening

My mom says the same thing whenever we go to Israel and visit my grandparents, who live across the green line. She says it always feels like they're about to ask her for her passport.

Posted by: Erachet | Feb 24, 2009 5:55:51 PM

So what happens if you scrape the sticker? Now that you have it, are you stuck with it?

Posted by: Karl Newman | Feb 24, 2009 6:57:01 PM

When you mentioned yellow sticker, I imediately started thinking of some other yellow badge that had to be worn in the not so distant past. I don't know what it means, but there has to be a better way for them to do this.

Posted by: rescue37 | Feb 24, 2009 8:25:32 PM

rescue 37 Echo that thought...

Posted by: Ken | Feb 24, 2009 11:53:51 PM

The sticker is to make it easier for an Arab who wants to enter Israel to commit an act of terror to choose a car to steal for transportation.

Posted by: Mark | Feb 25, 2009 5:47:11 AM

What? They didn't tattoo a number on your forearm, too?

Posted by: Bob | Feb 25, 2009 6:05:31 AM

Mark has an extremely good point...I think I would get rid of it...

Posted by: Naomi | Feb 25, 2009 9:41:29 AM

Ezzie ... From what I understood, one of the reasons they checked my ID and registration is to make sure I did live in the 'shtachim'. I don't think someone can get the sticker if they live inside the green line. I could be wrong about that.

Ari... That they could do based on the color of my license plate, which is different from many (but not all) of the Arabs.

Erachet... Your grandparents are obstacles to peace??? Kewl! :-)

Karl Newman... If you scrape it off the thought police come and arrest you. No, seriously... nothing would happen. And what I've basically decided is that if I get even a whiff of cars with stickers being targeted for 'special attention' from the police or other governmental authorities, I will have it off my window in a nanosecond.

rescue37... That thought crossed my mind too. Of all the colors, I have to believe there were other, equally suitable choices.

Ken... :-)

Mark... actually, considering that Arab-run money and document counterfeiting is rampant in Judea and Samaria, it would be much simpler to manufacture stickers than steal cars with stickers.

Bob ... I'm actually not a cynical about this as some of my more right wing friends (those who see a shabaknik behind every bush). I honestly think the genesis of this sticker idea was to help speed the travel of people living over the green line through the various check-points. I also think some of the goal was to make the job of the people at the check-points a little easier... after all, they are bound to stay sharper and more focused if they can eliminate a large portion of the cars from those that really require close scrutiny. However, as with any registration with the government, the potential for abuse is always there and the Israeli government does not have a solid history of resisting such temptations.

Naomi ... Hi Naomi. See my response to Mark. He makes a good point, but the ease with which such stickers could be forged renders it somewhat moot.

Posted by: David Bogner | Feb 25, 2009 10:00:09 AM

Israel is great at coming up with innovative hi-tech products.A sticker is low cost but not very innovative.

Posted by: Ed | Feb 25, 2009 6:27:32 PM

Ed, when it comes to government, it's all about low cost.

It seems to me the sticker is neutral enough- no lettering, a simple symbol- that you don't have to worry about much. And I assume that, say, a contracter who lives in Israel "proper" and works over the line could get one too. And yellow is just more visible.

Posted by: Nachum | Feb 26, 2009 5:57:45 PM

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