The SUV slows as it approaches a military kiosk at a break in a dull gray wall. Inside, Ramzi Aburedwan, a Palestinian musician, prepares his documents for the Israeli soldier standing guard. On the other side of this West Bank military checkpoint lies the young man’s destination, the ancient Palestinian town of Sebastia. Fellow musicians are gathering there that afternoon to perform in the ruins of an amphitheater built during Roman times. In the back seat, his wife, Celine, tends their one-year-old son, Hussein, his blond locks curling over the collar of his soccer jersey.
Ramzi is in a hurry to set up for the concert, but it doesn’t matter. The soldier promptly informs him that he cannot pass. “Those are the orders,” he adds without further explanation, directing him to another entrance 45 minutes away. Turning the car around, Ramzi then drives beneath Shavei Shomron, a red-roofed Israeli settlement perched high on a hill, and then an “outpost” of hilltop trailers planted by a new wave of settlers. Finally, he passes through a series of barriers and looping barbed wire, reaching the designated entrance, where another soldier waves him through. He arrives in time for the concert.
I witnessed the checkpoint incident, one of thousands of small daily indignities suffered by Palestinians, from the front seat of Ramzi’s SUV in 2010. We had met 12 years earlier when posters of Ramzi, pasted all over Ramallah, had captured my imagination. In a photo taken in 1988 during the first Palestinian intifada, eight-year-old Ramzi was hurling a stone at an unseen Israeli soldier. Juxtaposed behind it, on the same poster, was another photo taken 10 years later of 18-year-old Ramzi pulling a bow across viola strings.