Checkpoint: A Documentary

Rarely have I seen a documentary about Palestine that is so realistic. No commentary, no voice over, and no editing, just the sights and sounds of many checkpoints scattered across the west bank and the Gaza Strip. Filmed all by Israeli director Yoav Shamir.

At first I thought it might be one sided, however the camera hardly focused on the Palestinians but rather the Israeli border police, serving as narrators and even encouraging the filming at times. This documentary is so powerful as it really shows how ugly these daily crossings can be for Palestinians who have to work, study, go to doctors and hospitals, visit family, every day between the A, B and C territory zones.

In one scene Palestinain teenagers from Bethlehem are harassed by patrol police, asking them questions on end just so they can look them over. One of the Israelies says “Bethlehem girls are the best looking girls I’ve seen, except for Israeli girls of course”. In another powerful scene one Israeli is asking off camera almost, why they are filming, to which another Israeli responds “they are here to film the animals. Like Discovery channel.” Refering to the residents of Nablus as monkeys he goes on to say “they are all locked up today”. Elsewhere a bored Israeli shuffles through a handful of I.D. cards and says “Fuck them all. Jews are the best”.

In yet another scene a foreign “activist” of sorts is tagging along with a bus of school children crossing into Jenin. As the children are taken off the bus and the bus checked, an Israeli border policeman questions the man and why he is with them. The man says he has heard of the problems Palestinian school children have had crossing into Jenin and he just wanted to see for himself; he feels sorry for them. “You don’t feel sorry for me?” says the Israeli, “because I have to be here?”. Meanwhile all the children have gathered around the other camera, wanting to be on film, all of them smiling and laughing in a shy manner. As they load all the children on the bus to finally let them pass the patrol man, obviously irritated at this foreign man’s sympathy, decides not to let him through. “Jenin is closed today” he tells him. When the man inquires why, they tell him there’s a curfew. “Just now?” he asks. “Yes” they say. But he waits at their permission to just stand and watch that the children do pass through.

There are many other scenes like these throughout the film. The constant boredom the border police have, almost taking pleasure in the humiliation and frustration they inflict. Some of the younger Palestinian men resist casually with the desire of not wanting to go to jail. Others, like a much older man who is well experienced in these matters, takes a seat, lights a cigarette and whispers to the cameraman in Arabic “film this, film this. let them see what they do to us”. An Israeli says “I don’t care if the Chief of Staff sees this”. A younger man wants to get home after spending a whole day in town to get medicine. He went to work sick, he says, and only wants to go home now. The Israeli takes his I.D. and heads into the checkpoint booth. Outside it is pouring rain and cold as the Palestinian man bends his knees and waits for permission to go home tonight. “Let him wait” one Israeli says to the other. And so he does.

The waiting is a central theme in this film. The Palestinians are waiting to go home, to go to work, to go to classes, to go anywhere, but they wait: anger and frustration fueling their discontent. Women and children turned away at the door and you hear a Palestinian man wondering out loud if these children are also terrorists. “Terrorists don’t come through the checkpoints. Isn’t that right?” he says.

It’s a brilliant film that everyone should see. Especially people who always hear about the checkpoints but have no idea why they’re so bad. This is a documentary that should be in everyone’s dvd collection.

Bottom Line: 5/5


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