The Purpose Of Checkpoints
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
“….The Zaatara checkpoint, where I was waiting, is one of dozens inside the occupied Palestinian territories, restricting the movement of people and goods….I looked at the two young soldiers arrogantly manning the checkpoint, with dozens of people awaiting a sign from them….
“[A soldier] shouted at a woman holding a crying baby. He ordered her to dump her bag’s contents on the ground…..While we waited in a long queue under searing heat, Israeli settlers in air-conditioned vehicles bypassed the checkpoint in their special lane.
“Israel says these measures are vital to stop suicide bombers from flooding into Israeli cities to terrorize the civilian population. But I can’t imagine a suicide bomber standing in a long line deep inside the West Bank, waiting for soldiers to check his ID and car. Determined people can always travel through the hills, avoiding the checkposts.”
– Fareed Tamallah, identified as a Palestinian “peace activist,” writing in a May 25, 2006, New York Times Op-ed.
“This morning, IDF forces arrested a suicide bomber and an aide who were apparently on their way to a terrorist strike within Israel. The two were caught at a surprise checkpoint put up near Nablus….
“Yesterday, as a result of intelligence passed [to the army] by the General Security Service, many checkpoints were put up in the Nablus area. This morning a battalion of the Haruv Brigade spotted the bomber and his aide north of Nablus. The two threw a bag with the bomb in it out the window of their car and tried unsuccessfully to escape. The bag, in which there was a powerful explosive charge, was exploded by sappers of the security forces.”
– MSN Internet news, May 29, 2006
I can assure you that the above news item did not appear in today’s May 30 Times. Why should The Times have published it? It was an incident, after all, in which no one was killed or even wounded. Dozens of Israeli lives may have been saved because of it, but surely one can’t expect The Times to run a story every time a life isn’t lost.
But one can expect even The Times to refrain from publishing blatant anti-Israel idiocy, not only in its own news and feature articles, but in its op-eds that are written by others, too.
Presumably, The Times has one or more op-ed editors. What exactly went through such an editor’s mind when he read Fareed Taamallah’s statement that, “I can’t imagine a suicide bomber standing in a long line deep inside the West Bank, waiting for soldiers to check his ID and car.” Was the editor fast asleep? Why didn’t he or she get on the phone to Mr. Taamallah at once and say:
“Listen, this sentence of yours is absurd. Of course a suicide bomber would be unlikely to stand in a long line deep inside the West Bank waiting to be checked by Israeli soldiers. That’s one reason the checkpoints are there. If they weren’t, what would keep suicide bombers from driving merrily along main highways instead of having to seek out arduous (and, because of Israel’s security fence, increasingly impossible) alternatives? Do me a favor and rewrite those words, please.”
In fact, Mr. Taamallah’s entire op-ed is absurd. Take the poor woman with the baby, the contents of whose bag were dumped on the ground. One sympathizes with her. There should have been a table to dump them on, and one hopes the Israeli army will acquire some for its checkpoints.
But just suppose for a moment that a nice soldier – a most non-arrogant soldier – had felt sorry for the woman and waved her on without emptying her bag. And suppose it soon became known that at Checkpoint X there are nice Israeli soldiers who do such things. How long does Mr. Taamallah – how long does The New York Times – think it would take before a suicide bomber approached such a woman and persuaded her to stick his bomb in her bag? Would our bomber mind “standing in a long line deep inside the West Bank” then?
Indeed, Palestinian women have been caught at checkpoints with bombs in their bags and clothing, just as have Palestinian schoolchildren. The next time Mr. Taamallah sees a schoolchild with tears in its eyes because a checkpoint has made it late for school, he might think of that.
And because the woman with the baby and the child on its way to school are checked thoroughly at checkpoints, and because this takes a long time, and long lines of cars back up on major roads that have good visibility, a suicide bomber who spots such a line ahead of him has plenty of time to turn around and try a back way. And it is precisely when he does that he can be caught at a surprise checkpoint like the one near Nablus yesterday, when coming around a bend in a narrow road he suddenly runs into a barrier that is seen by him when it is already too late.
The checkpoints are a major source of frustration and indignity to the West Bank’s Palestinians and it is understandable that they are resented and hated. It is even understandable that Fareed Taamallah – who, “peace activist” that he may or may not be, clearly doesn’t lose any sleep at night over dead Israelis – should seek to denounce them in a less than honest manner. But The Times owes its readers more. The purpose of the checkpoints is to save Israeli lives, not to embitter Palestinian ones, even if they end up doing both. Surely that’s part of all the news that’s fit to print.
Mr. Halkin is a contributing editor of The New York Sun.