I went to stand as a witness.

I still try to understand if it’s different from being a witness.

The checkpoint is only 20 minutes drive from my home but I had never gone there before.

It was 5:45am on a cold Wednesday in Tel Aviv; I drove to meet two older ladies, both of them named Hannah. They have grandchildren.

In the Bible, Hannah was barren until she was impregnated by God. She then had to sacrifice her child, giving him up to be raised in the home of God.

In my version of the Bible, constructed of memories from nine years at mandatory Bible classes, I thought she was also one of the four mothers but that is not true.

I was introduced to my Hannahs through a mutual friend that lives in Los Angeles. After living in Los Angeles for two and a half years, I finally felt ready to be a witness to my own crimes. My friend told me about the organization she is a part of: Machsom Watch (Checkpoint Watch) - Women against the Occupation and for Human Rights. We scheduled a meeting.

I landed in Israel a week before my shift with Machsom Watch; during those seven days, I told no one. I knew what my loved ones would say to me; I’ve been saying it to myself ever since I sent the email to confirm my witnessing. “It’s too dangerous. This is not the right time. Things are too tense right now. You’re just putting your life at risk for no good reason. Take a small knife with you just in case. This is too extreme; they will kidnap you, rape you, murder you. Take only your California driver’s license with you and try to speak in English with no accent.”

I woke up on that Wednesday morning, put my Israeli ID, credit card and a box of cigarettes in my camera bag and drove. The first Hannah made me tea while we were waiting for the other Hannah to pick us up. We all got into one car. I sat in the back next to bags of used clothing, not knowing yet the destination of those bags. During the fifteen minute drive they explained to me that every other Wednesday they stand as witnesses at the checkpoints during rush hour, 6-8 am, and take notes to post on the organization’s website.

The three of us stood at the first check point, Azzun Atma. They were talking to a soldier who didn’t understand why there are only women in the organization. He also made a few statements about how this is our land, has always been our land and we need to protect it. Hannah allowed him to speak with no judgment but she asked him gentle questions that silenced him. I took pictures because that is what I know about being a witness; disconnect behind the lens and capture.

At 7am we stood at the second checkpoint, Habla. A child in uniform with long blond hair kept trying to organize her hair in a perfect ponytail. When she finally succeeded she came over to tell me that I was not allowed to take pictures on military grounds. I argued for a few minutes until I felt the situation was becoming too much about me so I put the camera down and went to stand next to my Hannahs. They were standing in one of the many entries to the state of Israel greeting every single person by saying, “sabah el khir” or “good morning” or “boker tov.” I immediately understood that “sabah el khir” means “good morning” in Arabic. I tried saying it a few times but every time I greeted someone by saying “sabah el khir,” I felt embarrassed and more ashamed. Who am I to greet you in your own language? I tried it in Hebrew, saying “boker tov,” but that felt like throwing salt into an open wound. Then I tried saying “good morning” and felt too comfortable in my disguise. I had no camera and no language so I stood, looked and nodded. I became a witness. I saw men, women, and children on their morning routine: stop stand speak pass. Fence gun uniform allow.

I recognized all the child soldiers - they were me, I was them. I confused them because I was not old yet but I stood in opposition to them. I raised questions in their hearts that they were not ready to face yet. I was their witness, a witness to our communal crime of being brainwashed subjects without recognizing it.

At 8am we drove into Palestine to Azzun. My Hannahs have a friend there who used to be a construction worker but was injured so badly by Israeli soldiers that he had to stop working. His right arm trembles constantly. He had no way to support his wife and two children so the women of Machsom Watch helped him open a thrift store in his village. The bags of used clothing were for him. In the entry to the village stood an Israel Defense Forces Jeep. We sat in his store on the ground drinking tea; they were speaking a mixture of broken Arabic and Hebrew. My heart was beating, my face was sweating, I wanted to be arrested. I went to smoke a cigarette outside and a five year old kid followed me, sitting next to me on the curb. My first instinct was to blow the cigarette off but then I looked into the child’s eyes and realized that he had already seen things that no child should ever see. He had already experienced things that I only experienced in my worst nightmares. I kept smoking. He hugged me goodbye before I got into the car; I’ve never felt more unworthy in my life. On the drive back I asked them how they find the mental and physical strength to do this every other week. They said there is no other choice. It had to be done. Someone has to witness the crime.