From late 2000 to 2004, the most common form of Palestinian resistance to occupation has simply been getting there — refusing to allow Israeli checkpoints and sieges to shut down daily life. The unlikely symbols of that resistance are checkpoint workers — van drivers and porters — whose impromptu services allow other Palestinians to get there.

For almost three years, from March 2001 through December 2003, the final leg of a commute between Birzeit University and Ramallah meant a one- to two-kilometer walk across the Surda checkpoint. Commuters would disembark from transit vans that jammed both ends of the no-drive zone. Skirting rubble and concrete blocks, they would trip down the valley and hold their breath as they passed the Israeli soldiers, before finally trudging up the incline to the vans on the other side. Thousands made the walk every day. In the morning, the flow of fashionably dressed students on their way to the university crossed the flow of villagers heading into Ramallah for work and the services that can only be found in a city. In the afternoon, the pattern would repeat in reverse. Those who got thirsty along the way could grab a drink from a roving peddler. Others who had forgotten groceries could stop at one of the makeshift stands nicknamed “the duty free.”

On the worst days, trigger-happy soldiers suddenly prohibited pedestrian traffic, and students and villagers were stranded on the wrong side of getting to work or home. More commonly, soldiers would drop in at the checkpoint for a few hours, to toy with the droves of walking commuters, stopping all — or a select few — for interminable identity card and baggage checks. As often, they would “organize” the drivers and peddlers by ramming their vans or stands with their jeeps. Over three years at the Surda checkpoint, three Palestinians were shot to death by the Israeli military, another two died in accidents among the crush of vans, at least one man died of a heart attack as he was wheeled across on a stretcher, two babies were born behind a rubble mound and untold numbers of young men were beaten by soldiers, often in full public view. No one has counted the numbers of injured at the demonstrations staged in futile attempts to clear the checkpoint away.

Over the same 2001-2003 period, the UN Office of the Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs documented the near constant presence of more than 600 army checkpoints and roadblocks that strangle communities throughout the West Bank. But in the last 18 months of its existence, Surda became a strategic nexus within this larger web of closures. After the army sealed the al-Jawwal checkpoint northeast of Ramallah, Surda became the sole point of transit for West Bankers entering and leaving the city. Then, after a brief hiatus between July and October 2003, when the Surda checkpoint reappeared, it became the hub for people and goods moving between the northern and southern West Bank. Surda also became a magnet for dispossessed workers from throughout the West Bank seeking to earn a living from the thousands of commuters passing through the checkpoint every day. There was good money to be made.

Getting There

During the second intifada, neither the Palestinian Authority nor political groups have provided the population with the frameworks of mass organizing that were so crucial to civic resistance in the 1987-1993 uprising. Instead, the military thrust of resistance groups has primarily condemned the majority to the role of an audience. At the same time, Israel’s use of collective punishment during 2000-2004 has been more total and more savage. The world witnesses the tank invasions and aerial assassinations, but rarely sees the relentless everyday of “internal closures,” whose impact has been to create a crushing regime of sanctions that has forced 60 percent of the population into poverty. But collective punishment gives rise to collective experience and meaning. Checkpoints, ironically, have become the “public spaces” of this intifada; it is at places like Surda where most Palestinians have a constant and direct confrontation, as members of the collective, with the Israeli occupation. It is at, and in relation to, checkpoints that the society has developed new meanings of resistance and ad hoc forms of civic organization.

The emergent ideology of civic resistance is a variation on the old nationalist theme of sumud or steadfastness. In the 1970s, sumud meant refusing to leave the land despite the hardships of occupation; now, it connotes something more proactive. Its new meaning, found in the common refrain, “al-hayat lazim tistamirr” (“life must go on”) is about resisting immobility, refusing to let the army’s lockdown of one’s community preclude one from reaching school or work. The collective memory of how years of general strikes during the first intifada backfired, helping to destroy businesses and the education of a generation of schoolchildren, has led schools, universities and workplaces to adopt “staying open” as their rallying cry. In so doing, they helped set the framework for the society to follow through with the collectively understood, but individually achieved, daily resistance of simply getting there.

But checkpoints do not merely thwart mobility; they create a great deal of chaos. It is not simply that goods cannot reach the market, or students their schools, but that the circuits through which the host of social relations flow, that make commerce and education possible, are shattered. Initial attempts to recreate these circuits are individual and ad hoc, but over time, informal systems begin to emerge. In Palestine, in the absence of mass organizations, networks of informal sector workers have stepped into the gap. Thus, the unlikely symbols of the new steadfastness are not “national institutions,” but rather the sub-proletariat of Ford van drivers whose semi-criminal bravado is summed up by the ubiquitous Nike “No Fear” stickers plastered on their rear windshields. Once derided as a menace on the roads, the drivers and their subculture exemplify the uprising’s ethic of getting through anything, by any means, to anywhere. The same thuggish hyper-masculine subculture has provided the informal systems that have made “getting there” possible. Thuggishness (zar‘aniyya) has become a crucial force for everyday resistance and organizing at checkpoints — not just to deal with crowds and traffic jams but also to deal with the thuggishness of soldiers given tremendous leeway in dealing with the civilian population.

Thugs Against Chaos

The privately owned Ford vans, which dominate Palestinian mass transit, can legally carry seven passengers and are licensed to work on a set route under a local taxi office. Within a week of the roadblock’s appearance at Surda, the army also blocked the two possible detour routes for vans traveling between Birzeit and Ramallah (what became known as al- Jawwal and al-Mahkama checkpoints). So van drivers blazed new trails across agricultural tracks within the area caught in the net of closures, but the terrain would not allow for the creation of a final detour route into Ramallah. The Fords were forced to drop off and pick up passengers at whichever end of the Surda checkpoint they had reached, instead of completing the route. But, for months, it was impossible to regularize a new pickup and dropoff point, because the road was often “half open,” with soldiers allowing one lane for both directions of traffic. The massive traffic jams that ensued finally led many commuters to walk through the checkpoint, rather than wait senselessly for hours to pass through on wheels.

The system was in total disarray. While registered Fords continued to assemble at their official stands at the end of each route, independent cowboys were showing up at the checkpoint and carrying away the licensed drivers’ passengers and livelihoods. The Birzeit drivers, the largest group of drivers in the area, at some point gave in to the new reality and began to group at the checkpoint, with their old organizer Abu Ahmad, at the helm. But the checkpoint was now a lawless frontier that neither they nor Abu Ahmad could handle. They needed a thug.

Ziad, in his late thirties, is a driver from Birzeit village. Like most men his age, he had worked in construction inside Israel until the permit system imposed during the 1990s forced him to look for work closer to home. With the compensation pay from his former Israeli boss, he bought a secondhand, eight-seat Mercedes and worked as a driver on the Birzeit village-university line. When the roadblocks and closures began, Ziad seized the new opportunities and began to work the off-road wadis and tracks forged between besieged villages. It was dangerous and punishing on the car, but the money was much better than on his regular route. Then a better opportunity arrived. As Ziad tells it: “The drivers came and asked me to deal with the thugs, because I’m the biggest thug of all! The drivers said, ‘We need you to organize the line for us at the checkpoint. There are guys from the Jalazun [refugee camp] and the villages who are stealing passengers…. The Birzeit drivers tried two or three times to deal with them, but they weren’t scared.” At first, Ziad refused to intervene. “Do I want a confrontation, a war? What do I need with this mess? But life is made of opportunities, and when someone needs you, you can exploit it and benefit.” He demanded five shekels per car. “They came back and said, ‘Take six shekels, but fix the line for us.’”

Ziad went straight to Jalazun, just over the hill from the checkpoint. There he spoke with members of the local Fatah tanzim, who told him they would back him against the troublemakers. “Once, twice, three times I’d warn them and then I’d be forced to use my stick. I didn’t let the drivers down. The guys in Jalazun backed me up and the line was organized.”

The Ramallah side of the checkpoint posed different problems. With the route cut in two, the number of vans had to be increased by at least one third to accommodate the extra journey between the checkpoint and the city. In to meet the need stepped drivers from outlying villages whose licensed routes elsewhere had been cut off. On the Ramallah side of the checkpoint, the Palestinian Authority, specifically the Ramallah governor and the municipality, could also wield some clout. The governor appointed two organizers, one for the vans and another for private taxis. Then al-Jawwal was sealed, and the drivers who had been serving that checkpoint, the majority from Jalazun camp, descended upon the Ramallah side of Surda. Abu al-Abed from Jalazun had been an organizer of the Jalazun vehicles at al-Jawwal. “But when we got to Surda-Ramallah it was controlled by these drivers from [the village of ] al-Mazra‘a, and they wouldn’t let us work. The place was a mess, full of traffic jams and people stealing turns. We got into a fight. You know, in Jalazun — well, we have our own way of dealing with things.” The battle reached the governorate in Ramallah, and the governor hammered out a deal between the warring drivers. The compromise set a quota of vans from each village, but gave the highest quota to Jalazun, and put Abu al-Abed in charge.

Ziad and Abu al-Abed were able to take control of either side of the Surda roadblock because they had tough reputations, but also because they had local weight behind them. The same hard-nosed culture of resistance that has made refugee camps the front line of each intifada produces the collective ability to fight and win turf wars with neighboring communities — here over the limited resources offered by a checkpoint. The governor calculated that a man from Jalazun could bring more muscle to bear than anyone from the local villages. Though the Birzeit drivers are the largest group of drivers in the area, Ziad knew that he would not be able to organize the Fords without the backing of the right people in the camp.

Growth Industry

Checkpoints have caused crushing joblessness and simultaneously created the one growth area of the economy. For 15,000 shekels ($3,500), an unemployed youth can buy a used Ford and exploit the public’s need for transportation. As the remaining powers of the PA do not extend beyond the cities, young men can go into business without paying the dizzying array of licensing fees and permits that cost almost as much as the vans themselves. A main role of Ziad and Abu al-Abed was to keep these unfair players away, or, as time went on, to allow them a small quota when extra vans were needed at the end of rush hour.

Controlling the drivers with permits could often be more complicated. The Surda checkpoint blocked the road at a narrow point between a steep hillside and a drop to the valley below. It was a great challenge to squeeze enough vans onto either side of the checkpoint to handle the thousands of commuters, while at the same time allowing the vans to load, turn and move out quickly without creating gridlock, particularly at rush hour. An added problem was that drivers were tempted to bypass the queue of up to 150 vans in order to get their turn sooner and thus have a chance to make extra runs in the day. The description of this practice as “stealing a turn” expresses the degree to which having a turn and making money are one and the same thing. Drivers rated their income in terms of how long it would take them to get that turn — a wait that was often measured in hours.

Ziad explains:

You know what a disaster is? If the driver takes five to ten minutes to load and turn his car, six or seven drivers are waiting behind him. So two or three of them start taking passengers, jumping their turn. You get a traffic jam as they get stuck, and then a clever one comes in from the side and steals a turn. But I have to keep them moving, a minute or a minute and a half to get in and get out; otherwise, you had the ones behind picking up and then you had a disaster to turn them. The one who drives in and steals a turn, I had to get him out, too. Otherwise, they would all be stuck. But when I saw him next, that would be it. I would send him out of the line early or catch him at the top and make the passengers get down. And there was no respect there, you can’t. An old man driver comes, he takes his time, it makes a mess. It was really difficult, since he’s older than me and I have to respect him. But no, I had to treat all of the drivers the same. If I wanted to keep it moving, I had to be stubborn.

If controlling the vans was a balancing act between being tough on the drivers but keeping them happy by keeping the lines running, coping with the soldiers was much more troublesome. Vans and taxis were forced into a constant game of cat and mouse with army patrols. Occasionally, when no soldiers were in sight, drivers needing to get their cars to the other side would drive at breakneck speed through the rock-strewn openings left for the exclusive use of army jeeps. Those who were caught were punished according to the whims of the soldiers on patrol. Cars might be smashed by an army jeep or the driver might be beaten. The lucky ones only had their keys and identification cards confiscated for the day. Over time, the soldiers grew to learn that Ziad and Abu al-Abed were responsible for organizing the drivers. “When they would take the keys and IDs and leave the drivers without work, they were not going to be bothered to look for the owner,” commented Ziad. “So they would come and throw [the confiscated items] on me, because I know all the drivers.”

More ominous for the organizers was when soldiers tried to implicate them in their obsession with pushing the drivers back from the rubble mounds that marked the no-drive zone — conflicting with the drivers’ interest to wait as close as possible to the exhausted pedestrians coming from the other side. Abu al-Abed describes the situation: “The soldiers would come and tell me that all of the cars had to move back up the hill, all the way to the top, and that if the cars weren’t up there when they came back, he’d hold me personally responsible. I told the drivers he wanted them to move back and kept walking. It was impossible. A soldier came back and the cars hadn’t budged. So he says, ‘Where is Abu al-Abed?’ and the drivers answer, ‘He’s not here. He’s gone for a walk to the manara [the square in downtown Ramallah].” Ziad has a similar story. “In the beginning, the soldiers would come and ask that I tell the drivers to back off from the rubble mound…as far back as the electrical pole. I’d tell the drivers, the soldiers are demanding that you move back as far as the pole. Whoever pulled back, pulled back. Whoever didn’t would have their keys and ID taken or get [their cars] hit. But then I got sick of it, nervous. A soldier called me over and said to tell the drivers to move up. I said to him, ‘Listen, do I work for you as an employee?’” The soldier confiscated Ziad’s ID. “It was winter and I sat in the rain for three hours. The soldier tells me, ‘Now you’ve been taught a lesson.’ I told him, ‘Nevertheless, you call me again, I’m not going to answer. It’s not my job.’”

Both Ziad and Abu al-Abed preferred the soldiers to go about their business directly. “The officer of one patrol was a Druze,” said Ziad. “He was as good as he was stubborn. He would come up saying, ‘Good morning, guys’ and that he didn’t want anyone bothering him today. ‘I ask that you move the cars back up to wherever, but don’t get angry with me if I come back and find the cars here. I won’t speak. I’ll just hit them with the jeep.’ That is exactly what he would do, when he would come back — not say anything, just ram them with his jeep.”

Human Power

Transportation to and from the checkpoint was the work of the Ford vans, but transportation across the no-drive zone was also needed for goods and for people who couldn’t walk. During the period when one lane was open, trucks carrying Israeli goods to Palestinian markets could get permits to drive through. But even before Surda was fully closed to vehicles in the summer of 2002, the small businesses, the farmers, schools, builders, travelers with luggage and university students returning from the holidays all needed a solution. It arrived in the form of porters with three wheeled wooden pushcarts.

There are competing mythologies of how the porters came to serve the checkpoint. In Jalazun, they say it started with Ma’mun, a banana peddler from the camp who worked at the al-Jawwal checkpoint. When soldiers chased him away one day, he ran with his cart down the settler bypass road and arrived at Surda after having lost most of his stock. An old man needed to carry some baggage across to the Birzeit side, and Ma’mun suddenly found himself in a new line of work. The contending story is told by porters who had been working in Ramallah’s wholesale vegetable market: they say that the governor spread the word that porters were needed at the checkpoint. So four of them tried their luck.

Among workers, porterage is considered one step above begging. The majority of long-term porters who worked in the Ramallah market come from the villages around Hebron, the most poverty-stricken area of the West Bank. They slept in the market throughout the week, and working at Surd turned out to be a modest step up. Then, once again, with the closure of al-Jawwal checkpoint, men from Jalazun showed up with carts and there was a turf war. The original handful of Hebronites could not defend their territory against the five men from Jalazun, but with the greater human traffic now passing through Surda, there was work enough to go around. Soon the porters from Jalazun and the Hebron area formed an alliance against outsiders, which ultimately became a friendship. As Ali from Jalazun puts it: “The best thing about working here is that I met these guys. We were like one hand, like Jamil and Jamal.”

Through informal agreement, the tight-knit group made their own rules: no one was allowed to work with them except men from Jalazun and friends or relatives of the Hebronites. Within a few months, their numbers had swollen and they needed an organizer. But unlike the vans, there was no need for an iron fist. They merely needed someone to jot down whose turn it was. Moustafa, the porters’ unofficial leader, and a reluctant thug, brought in his unemployed cousin Bilal from Jalazun. Bilal was suffering the after-effects of a stroke and was treated more like a mascot than an organizer.

A sample of what porters carried across the checkpoint on one summer morning suggests how crucial they were. Meat from the slaughterhouse in Birzeit, fresh mulberries, packaged foods for a supermarket, glasses and plates for a houseware shop, fabric for a clothier, luggage, wood, cans of white paint, a glass showcase, a stone-cutting machine, a car engine — not to mention the day’s edition of al-Quds newspaper. The list of a week would cover the river of commodities through which the lives and livelihoods of villages and Ramallah could continue to operate. The flow of meat, wood and vegetables into the city crossing the stream of industrial and consumer goods going to the villages attested to the interdependence between Ramallah and its hinterland — a relationship which the checkpoint almost shattered. But porters ferried people across, as well. Children too small to walk two kilometers and too large to be carried by parents were regular passengers. For long periods when wheelchairs couldn’t make it over the rubble, it was porters who carried the sick and elderly across, including six dialysis patients from the villages and, on several occasions, people wounded at the checkpoint itself. That porters were allowed to operate at a number of checkpoints bespeaks the army’s sordid logic of permissible mobility. Wheels were all right, as long as they weren’t motorized.

Four Legs

But the moral economy of the porters, who, relative to the van drivers, accommodated newcomers, began to take its toll. At one point, their numbers had reached 35. To compensate for declining income, they doubled their price from five to ten shekels. When the no-drive zone doubled in length, they doubled the rate again. Commuters and merchants started to complain and the governor came to the Ramallah side of the checkpoint to negotiate the price back down. Falling income hit the married porters hardest; a wooden pushcart was a small investment at around 600 shekels and too many people were getting into the business. Three of the older married porters from Jalazun decided to take a chance on the logic of permissible mobility and invested in a horse and carriage.

Horse-drawn carts had been tried and turned back by the soldiers at the al-Mahkama checkpoint, and at first, the same thing happened at Surda. “When we first went down to the checkpoint, the soldiers kicked us out,” said Moustafa. “We tried again and they threatened to take the horse. So we waited and then the platoon changed a few days later and we tried again and they thought it was normal — they didn’t know.” With the horse-drawn cart, Moustafa and his partners knew that they could corner the market on the morning transport of sheep carcasses from the Birzeit slaughterhouse destined for butcher shops in Ramallah. “The meat needed seven pushcarts. That’s 70 shekels. With the horse, we could carry it in one load for 20 shekels.”

Other porters were quick to realize the difference in profits; a carriage could bring in twice as much as a cart. Within a month, there were two other horse-drawn carts, and by the end of the ensuing month, most of the older married porters were working horses and a number of farmers from nearby villages had also moved in. The original horsemen had carried mostly heavy, unmanageable loads such as building materials and large machinery and had not cut too heavily into the demand for porters. But, once again, increased numbers led to declining income, and the impact was worse due to the high initial investment of around $1,700. To a large extent, carriages had replaced pushcarts in carrying the sick and elderly, but they had not regularly been used to transport people. “It was the ‘whale’ who started it,” said Mustafa. “It wasn’t working, so he started carrying people with their bags and baggage for ten shekels. So we all started doing it. What could we do? One does it and destroys everyone else. We had no choice.” “The whale” was an energetic porter from Jalazun who was universally condemned as greedy, and even worse, stingy.

Competition between horsemen for riders drove the prices down even further. By the summer of 2003, the remaining porters with pushcarts — most of them young boys without enough capital to buy a horse — were almost out of business. Then in July, everyone was swept out of business by the opening of the Surda and ‘Ayn Arik checkpoints — the grand achievement of the US-sponsored “road map.” When Surda was closed again to traffic five weeks later, the horsemen and the porters negotiated an agreement, aided by the new configuration of bulldozed mounds marking the no-drive zone. So that the younger boys could keep working, it was agreed that a customer would be offered the option of crossing the checkpoint in a horse-drawn cart with other riders for six shekels, but he could only travel the short distance between the two mounds. For ten shekels, a customer could have a pushcart that could move around the mounds, thus moving his goods all the way from a van on one side to a van on the other. The porters had little leverage to extract this deal. The motivation for the horsemen’s largesse was the moral responsibility they felt towards the remaining porters, who were relatives, friends or simply from the same communities.

A Liminal Zone

In the final period when Surda became the hub of movement between the northern and southern West Bank, there were roughly 25 porters, 18 carriage drivers, as many as 400 vans,and another 30 small taxis working the checkpoint. In addition, there were the peddlers, whose numbers averaged about 30 in good weather, and as many as 70 during Ramadan. On any given day, up to 540 people were making a living off Surda. That number does not take into account the service sector that sprang up to feed and quench the thirst of the checkpoint workers —  the coffee vans, cigarette sellers, drink sellers and kebab stands — or the blacksmiths for the horses. Especially on heavy commuting days, the original standard and fair rates began to dissolve. With so many “strangers” from throughout the West Bank, rates became based on on-the-spot assessments of what they could pay. Ali, a young porter gives an example: “I saw this guy in a nice suit, with his wife all powdered and made up and all these suitcases. It was clear they had just gotten married. So I winked at the guys and went over and said ‘Congratulations.’ It gets even better. He was from Deir Dibwan [a village with many émigrés in the United States]. He asked me how much it cost and I told him, ‘Let it be on me.’ I got the cases to the other side and, just like that, he slapped a $100 bill in my hand. I pretended to refuse, but the whole time I was making signs to my father in his van. He picked them up and made another I don’t know how many dollars off them.”

The new greed was not lost on the original communities affected by the checkpoint. The October 2003 re-closure had hit them hard while providing a boon to the checkpoint workers. Moustafa comments: “I got sick of it. The work was going well, but I would have dropped it because there wasn’t a person passing who didn’t say ‘Exploiter! You’re the ones that are keeping the checkpoint closed.’ The girls from the university would say, ‘You’re the cause of the checkpoint.’ Old men, people calling us collaborators. One day I was carrying a young man in the carriage and he starts saying to me, ‘You guys don’t want the checkpoint to open, do you? You’re the ones that want to close it, you’re the cause of the closure.’ I pulled on the reins, and grabbed him by the shirt and told him to get out. He had given me five shekels and I said to him, ‘Here’s your five shekels. I’m throwing it in the valley, and here’s five shekels from my pocket. Don’t you dare ride with me again. I’ll slaughter you.’” Abu al-Abed sums up the problem: “With the checkpoint there was suffering for everyone, but you had ten percent benefiting and 90 percent losing.”

The checkpoint had taken men from the margins and provided them with public roles that were central to the society’s survival. But the checkpoint workers, while victim to the regime of sanctions with the population they served, had found a way to turn that source of dispossession into a livelihood. In addition, their ability to work at the checkpoint was dependent, if not upon the soldiers’ permission, at least upon their indifference. Porters and van drivers ultimately became caught in a liminal position between the lines of oppressor and oppressed, exploiter and exploited, that were so clearly drawn at the checkpoint.

While the workers did not want to cooperate or be seen to be cooperating with soldiers’ dirty work, at the same time, they could not afford to enter into open confrontation with them. In the first 18 months of the checkpoint’s existence, before the infrastructure of workers had developed, there were three large demonstrations against the checkpoint organized by the university. The outcome of each demonstration was that the army simply worsened the existing regime. The implicit lesson, learned over and over again when anyone tried to interfere on behalf of students stopped by the military, was that any attempt to intervene or resist would just make it worse. Still, spontaneous demonstrations did happen, by students and young men whose constant harassment would from time to time lead them to the breaking point. These moments of collective resistance created deep dilemmas for checkpoint workers. Hurled stones and rampaging soldiers could not only hurt bodies, but vans could be destroyed, peddler stands and stock could be run over. The checkpoint might be completely sealed — with not even pedestrians allowed to cross — for an afternoon or even a few days. On these days, workers complained that the kids blowing off steam were damaging the collective interest. Ziad was no exception: “Fine, a stone gets thrown at them, but the stone ends up breaking a windshield of a taxi. Nothing is going to happen to the jeep — it is protected. The next thing you know, the soldiers are firing bullets, breaking more windshields.” The class difference between demonstrating students from the university and the sub-proletariat of van drivers and porters accentuated the latter’s contention that middle-class kids — who do not know how to fight properly anyway  — were simply creating a mess for people needing to pass through or the poor trying to make a living.

But Ziad’s willingness to sit in the rain for three hours rather than give the soldier rights over him attests to the constant everyday resistance by the workers in the face of the soldiers. Often this resistance took the form of individual confrontations, when soldiers had stepped over an invisible line that workers saw as marking off the permissible within the rules of dominator and dominated. Examples include the heroic story of the coffee man who kept choosing to let soldiers destroy his stand with a jeep rather than continue to provide them with free coffee, or the young van driver who for the sake of the rest went and punched a soldier who had cursed their mothers. The more significant resistance could be found in the less dramatic, but tenacious everyday subversion of the checkpoint regime itself. Checkpoint workers constantly subverted physical boundaries; at night, they stealthily pushed concrete blocks a few more inches apart to make way for horse carriages or trampled down the edges of newly made rubble mounds so that porter carts could make it to the other side. Through need and ingenuity, in a myriad of ways they reclaimed the space of the checkpoint back from being a site of pure oppression and brutality into one where livelihoods, social life and even sociability could be recovered.


How to cite this article:

Rema Hammami "On the Importance of Thugs," Middle East Report 231 (Summer 2004).

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