There are thousands like him. They are building Israel. Five or six mornings a week, long before the Muslim morning prayers, before the cocks crow, when packs of dogs still own the dumpsters, his alarm beeps. Today it is 3:30 a.m.
His name is Tarek Al Taweel. He is a Palestinian construction worker, not without skills. He builds modern high-rise apartments in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, where a five-bedroom penthouse sells for $600,000.
The job is okay, he said. He makes 250 shekels, about $68 a day, twice what he would make in the West Bank. He works beside his father, uncles and brothers. They’re proud of their craftsmanship. They keep photographs on their mobile phones of their aluminum work, fine carpentry, elaborate tiling.
It’s not the work. It’s the Israeli checkpoint. “I hate it,” Taweel told us. The daily crossing drains him. It makes him feel that life is desperate and ugly.
“Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I don’t want to go to the checkpoint. Sometimes I put my head back on the pillow,” Taweel said. “My wife will say to me, ‘You have to feed our child. Get up. Get up!’ And I get up and go.”
The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip began 50 years ago in June.
Taweel turned 30 last year.
Like Taweel, four of every five Palestinians have never known anything but the occupation — an evolving system by which the Israeli military and intelligence services exert control over 2.6 million Arabs in the West Bank, with one system for Palestinians, another for Israelis.
This summer, the Israelis will celebrate their near-miraculous victory in the 1967 war, when in just six days, they took all of Jerusalem and their armed forces crushed the Arab armies thrown against them.
Taweel and others rush toward the aquariums. They rip off their belts. Their things are scanned. They passed through metal detectors. They press their thumbs on fingerprint readers.
If the workers don’t make it to their job site, they also lose money because most pay a Palestinian broker (who likely pays a cut to an Israeli contractor) 2,000 shekels, or $550, a month in excess “commissions,” charges that both the workers and Israeli government consider a bribe.
The work permit system has been condemned by Israeli human rights groups, as well as the Bank of Israel, as riven by corruption. The Palestinian workers are as likely to blame their own people as the Israelis.
“Permit millionaires,” one laborer described the middlemen.
“Scammers,” said another. “Thieves.”
A worker with a bristly beard and hands like sandpaper, named Abu Omar, 42, said: “We’ve lost our leaders. Our government doesn’t care.”
He waves toward the checkpoint. “Look at us,” he said. “We’re sheep without a shepherd.”
On the Israeli side, Taweel runs toward his ride.
He is late for work.
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