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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Checkpoint

Film Review: Checkpoint

By Sonia Nettnin

The 40th Annual Chicago International Film Festival hosted a screening of Yoav Shamir’s ''Checkpoint.''

The film explores some of the challenges the Palestinian people face at checkpoints and roadblocks when confronted by Israeli soldiers and border police.

“Nobody knows about us here,” one Palestinian man says. “Nobody in the world.” Lines of people stand in the cold rain, alongside rolls of barbed wire. Women carry their infants in their arms. Some of the babies cry against the whistle of the wind.

Soldiers check IDs and they ask people questions. Around the soldier’s shoulders are AK47s. Many of the children cry throughout the experience. A soldier tells a woman en route to Khan Yunes, Gaza that she cannot pass because her permit is a copy, not the original. Her three, small sons look up at her with distress. She tells the oldest – eight years-old – to lead the other two boys passed the checkpoint and back home. Her middle son, Mamdeh, breaks into tears.

Another family walks to a roadblock in Beit Furik. Their four-year-old boy, Ahmed, is sick. The father shows his son’s swollen throat glands to the soldier.

“Kid listen. Are you sick?” the soldier asks. His finger is on the trigger of his machine gun, pointed downward. Ahmed is scared. In English, the soldier asks “Are you Taliban?” Then he asks “Ta’ban?”

For three years, Shamir filmed the Beit Furik, Hawarra and Hebron entrances into Nablus, West Bank, the southern entrance of Jenin, West Bank and the entrance of Khan Yunes, Gaza. Most of the film focuses on the entrances into Nablus.

Shamir shows some of the daily life experiences of Palestinians when they reach Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks. Soldiers ask questions of people in need of medical care. Some of the family members are forbidden to accompany their sick children, wives and mothers. They stand and they walk in all kinds of weather conditions. In one scene, a man said he had been at the checkpoint for over ten hours. He stood with a group of men in the dark.

Throughout the film, a soldier changes his mind as to whether they will let a person pass the checkpoint or the roadblock again. They take their frustrations and stress out on the people. Despite their bad behavior, they appeared to be on their best behavior for the camera.

One border policeman states: “Whoever come close and wants to make trouble we break them…in the sun, in the rain.” Yet, the film does not show the physical violence inferred by the soldier.

After the screening, the director was present for audience questions. Shamir expressed his motivation for filming the checkpoints.

“I think these checkpoints are absurd and ridiculous,” he said. “Many people in this world choose to ignore them because they think this is for their safety.”

Shamir, who is an Israeli citizen, stated that these checkpoints are in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. He said they are very much in doubt, even with Israel’s army officers. They are a kind of control over the most basic, human right: moving from one place to another.

He further explained that an occupation causes dehumanization. It creates an aggressive society because Israelis are not free from the influence. “I want to show people what it means in daily life,” he added.

For example, a group of children walk off their Zababdeh school bus, so that soldiers with guns can inspect the bus. Tanks sit nearby. Many Palestinian children have this experience every day, unless a curfew prevents them from leaving their house.

The film shows Israeli soldiers harass Palestinian girls and women. “The Bethlehem girls are babes,” one soldier says. He follows a young woman and asks her several questions. He demands her age and then he says she is lying. The soldier’s behavior left me with the impression that in his mind, her age determined the acceptance of whatever he was thinking. If the camera was not filming and she was not with her friends, what would have happened to this young woman?

Another soldier expressed that “all of Ramallah is monkeys, dogs and gorillas and the problem is they’re locked in and they can get out.” Again, soldier’s words allude to actions, which leave audience members with a terrifying conclusion.

The film touches on the right to refuse in the Israeli Army when a young soldier reads some information from a human rights organization. He reads the names of Israeli citizens who refused to serve in the army.

During the three years of filming, no one shut off the director’s video camera.

When Shamir was asked if he ever witnessed people not reaching medical treatment or people (such as women in labor) denied access to an ambulance, he said “there are extreme situations and I did not show them.”

Shamir’s film provides exposure to the conflict, but it does not show a complete account of the violence. His film illustrates part of the checkpoint reality for the Palestinians. The film’s endeavor shows astute viewers that roadblocks are concrete, psychological and bureaucratic. “Checkpoints” was shown in Israel and in Europe.


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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