I was reporting in 2008 from Jerusalem for SBT, then the second largest Brazilian TV network. I had crossed the wall and went into Palestinian-controlled areas. As I’m returning to Jerusalem and about to cross the checkpoint, I see a woman pleading with an Israeli soldier. She was about 26 years old, very sweet-mannered, wearing a hijab and a white uniform. She was carrying two large duffel bags, and kept beseeching the soldier in English. I stood there watching for a moment.
“Please,” she begged, “this is a document issued by your government. It’s written in Hebrew. You just saw me leaving. You know I work at the hospital.”
The soldier acted like the woman was another part of that wall – no reaction whatsoever. He wouldn’t even look at her.
“Please,” she begged again, her hands and head making the unmistakable gesture of someone who asks for compassion. She tried the same plea in Hebrew. Then she asked almost in tears “Why does this give you pleasure?”
I was baffled. I laid my camera bag on the ground and asked her to explain what was going on. She told me that she worked at a Jerusalem hospital (Hadassah, I think) and that every week, in order to help provide some work to a poor Palestinian family, she would go around the hospital collecting uniforms from nurses and doctors, would put them in those two big bags, would drag those bags across the wall and take them to be washed in Palestine. The family who owned the laundry survived from those weekly batches of uniforms and would have no means of sustenance otherwise.
“Why is he not allowing you to come back?” I asked.
“For no reason. I have all the permits. They do this to me every week. They take note of my documents, let me leave with the bags, and when I come back with the batch of clean uniforms they make me walk along the wall just to see me carry the weight. They make me walk for miles, and laugh amongst themselves, until I end up back here, and then the same soldier who didn’t let me in hours before will finally let me cross. It’s a type of pastime for them.”
I wanted to cry. Instead I asked her in Arabic, hoping the soldier wouldn’t understand, if I could tell that story to Brazilian viewers, if she minded explaining it all again on camera so our audience would understand about the subtle ways of killing a people. She smiled and said in English “Be my guest.”
But as soon as I set up my tripod and pulled the mic with my TV’s logo out of my bag, the soldier said “Come in, yalla, come in. I let you.”
The woman then looked at me with a tilted head and an apologetic smile. “Sorry,” she said, “Do you mind? I want to come back in, but I think this will spoil your reporting.”
I told her not to worry: “I’m actually happy,” I said. “I think it’s the first time I see journalism help someone.” We then walked together to a cab, carrying her bags, and I saw how heavy they were. We were both crying in silence, half of me in utter admiration for her fortitude and self-constraint, the other half in sheer amazement at how she has always managed not to grab the soldier’s gun and shoot him in the face.