I said no. That I was tired. Yaniv asked if I wanted to check cars instead of people, but I said no. He said he was sick of bending over. He said, “Lea, if you had a good woman’s heart, you would say yes and take mercy on me because I have a bad back and problems at home,” but I said no. No and that he was not supposed to be bending over and sticking his head in car windows anyway because that was against the rules. Then he called me a Russian whore, even though I am half Moroccan, half German.
It was four in the morning, and the line of Palestinian construction workers in front of the Hebron checkpoint curled further than I could see. There were hundreds of them, waiting for me and the other transitions unit soldiers to open the rotating metal doors and let them through. There was still an hour to go before we would be allowed to do that. The rules said that we opened at five. We closed at noon. It was not our decision.
It was just my luck that the first and only year of my service in the transitions unit was one of those years the government closed the sky for Filipino and Indian temporary workers, and so Israel started needing the Palestinian construction workers again. We needed them, but we were also a little afraid they’d kill us or, even worse, stay forever. These were both things the Palestinians were sometimes into doing. That’s why I existed. I was responsible for checking to see that the workers owned a permit that assured they weren’t the type likely to stay in Israel forever or try to kill us. The permit said they were only allowed to stay for the daytime. Then they had to leave Israel and go back to the territories. They got to see us every day, if they did what was right. And we got to see them too.
I also had to make sure they weren’t carrying weapons or about to explode their bodies. We were there to notice what the government want us to, dangers, but I would still only notice what I happened to notice. This was because I couldn’t realize I was a soldier. I thought I was still a person.
Copyright © 2012 by Shani Boianjiu. From the book THE PEOPLE OF FOREVER ARE NOT AFRAID: A Novel by Shani Boianjiu published by Hogarth, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
SHANI BOIANJIU was born in Jerusalem in 1987. She served in the Israeli Defense Forces for two years. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Vice magazine and Zoetrope: All Story. Shani is the youngest recipient ever of the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35, and The People of Forever are Not Afraid is her first novel. She lives in Israel.
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