Four days after the murder of two Israeli policemen, there are no restrictions apart from the regular cruelties. The Palestinians report that at no stage have there been searches, curfews or punishments of any kind. Strange? One Palestinian argued that the murder was not a terror strike, but "mafiagi" – underworld execution – perhaps because of drug smuggling, particularly because it was a stone’s throw from the Jordanian frontier on what might be a smugglers’ route...
"We avoid striking at police," he said, "settlers – yes, soldiers – for sure, but not policemen. Even if they are settlers, they are first and foremost policemen." We, of couse, don’t investigate, but the theory is interesting.
In the pictures: manackled detainees at Maale Ephraim Checkpoint (see details below).
The first village to the east of Zaatra (Tapuah) Junction, north of Route 505 – two hitchhikers returning from Israel to a funeral related that, since the beginning of the intifada there has been a block between them and Beita and Huwarra, forcing them to detour many kilometres through Tapuah Checkpoint.
11:15 Maale Ephraim
No vehicular traffic. We didn’t stop.
11:30 Hamra Checkpoint
No lines and an arriving car goes straight through. Two pedestrians wait a while for their car to pass inspection.
Meeting with el Hadida People
They said that every few days a few soldiers on a jeep and Hummer arrive, curse and threaten. They have no written order, and it is possible that the harassment is the initiative of an officer and his soldiers. I asked our acquaintances to call when the soldiers arrive again.
13:50 Tayasir Checkpoint
About ten minutes before we arrive there is a telephone call from a Palestinian worker to say that they are detaining a taxi driver at the checkpoint, cursing him and shoving him around. Afterwards, from a phone call and eyewitnesses, it was clear that there was no physical violence. Similarly we were told that they closed the checkpoint in both directions because of that same taxi, which deposited passengers not according to the regulations (so the company commander later told us). The soldiers demanded of the driver that he returns all the passengers to the car, and transports them another 50 metres to the waiting point. The driver refused. The soldiers lost their cool and a power play began – as to who would have the last word.
When we arrived, four westbound cars were waiting to enter the West Bank, five to enter the Jordan Valley. No crossing! When the soldiers saw us, they start to pass them through almost without checking, and within five minutes there are no cars at the checkpoint. The detained taxi and passengers are sent about 100 metres on to the west side of the checkpoint. The company commander is standing by the taxi, and he and his men are checking Ids. The driver of another taxi who is waiting for passengers reports that the delay is because the passengers alighted before the preordained spot. The detained driver, seeing us in the distance, phones the other driver who is talking to us, confirms the story but says they have not harmed him.
I phone the DCO, and am told that they know the story, and there is already permission to release the taxi and let them go on.. At first the soldier at the DCO tries to justify the delay – perhaps the taxi does not have a permit to pass there... I tell him that the car goes through tens of times a day. He will take care of the driver’s release. The checkpoint commander allows us to go to the other side, and I ask whether there is a route above: he agrees to our crossing to the west side, where we have never been. We stand quietly on the side. The company commander, Hyman, shouts at us that we have no right to be there without a permit. We tell him that his soldier allowed us. He phones the police and orders his soldiers to force the driver to move away. They accompany the driver another 150 metres while we watch from the distance. The company commander orders them to move further away, and they drive around a bend in the road. We fear that they will harm the driver and his passengers, and warn the company commander and the soldier at the DCO that we have ways to know what is happening there, even if they hide it from our eyes. We ask everyone passing through the checkpoint, and they tell us that the jeep is standing next to the taxi, and the driver and passengers have been taken out of the vehicle, but there does not seem to be any violence. From the DCO we get the usual responses: there is no such thing in the army as beating Palestinians, doesn’t exist...
15:00 – the detained taxi arrives at the checkpoint. Now the passengers alight at the correct place and all cross within ten minutes. Eight men, a woman and a 10 year old boy. According to them there was no violence. Only delay and confusion...
15:30 Guchia Checkpoint
Tractors on both sides have been waiting 40 minutes. Two minutes after we arrive, a jeep arrives and soldiers descend slowly to open the gate. No mention of apology, explanation, anything... On the west side a tractor is waiting with a wagon and a lot of children returning from Tamoun to spend Friday, free of classes, in their parents’ homes. All stop by to shake our hands joyfully.
On the main road, perhaps 30 metres away, a huge truck stops and two men descend and stride towards the gate. As they arrive, one of them stops close to Nur, curses her and threatens to smash the camera. Yifat tells him that she will add his threats to her report to the police. The man calms down a little, and backs off a bit. One of the soldiers tries to provoke him: "Is she threatening you?" The civilian starts to threaten Yifat, and slim and seemingly delicate Yifat, with an angry and threatening face, tells him in the face of his threats – come, come aside with me...
The violent youngster perhaps thinks that if she is inviting him to step aside, she might have a black belt... he panics. His threats and vocally violent gestures are now lessened. Meanwhile, the Palestinians pass by and travel off with worried looks in our direction. As the place empties, we leave and the violent civilians continue to photograph our car.
Half an hour later, a Palestinian phones to ask if we are okay. I can imagine his frustration, standing there helpless against the threats and violence, and god help him if he intervenes to the benefit of his friends.
16:00 Hamra Checkpoint
The checkpoint is almost empty. A car arrives and deposits passengers. The shirt pirouette by the driver, a quick check, and the passengers pass on foot. After five minutes they are reunited and driving away. There is no line in either direction. The checkpoint commander greets us with "you know the laws, you know that you are forbidden to be here..." And he has to think where in his area will he let us stand. After a few minutes, we leave him to ponder the question alone, and we continue on our way.
16:30 Maale Ephraim
From the distance we can see manacled Palestinians detained to the west of the checkpoint. When we get out of the car, we find a gay group of youngsters from Jericho, for whom the painful manacling over a long time (since 13:00 so they say) and the cut palms and swollen fingers have not succeeded in breaking their general high spirits. One of them, handcuffed to a pole, says that he complained that being handcuffed behind his back was painful. When the soldiers see us, they bring a bottle of water to the detainees. They give it to the youngster who is only cuffed on one hand, and he is supposed to give to the others on condition that they approach him "one by one." Before we arrived, it never dawned on the soldiers that the detainees might be thirsty. The youngster who is giving drink to his comrades lights cigarettes and puts them in their mouths. This, of course, annoys the authorities. As punishment, a soldier comes over and tightens the cuff until it hurts.
16:45 – the manacled youngsters are at first suspicious of us, and even hostile, but when they see that we are
phoning (the DCO) and that, following the call, a soldier comes and opens the cuffs, they soften up a bit. As a rule it is difficult to cut the plastic cuffs that are cutting into the skin, and it is very painful for one of the boys, who is also convinced that the soldiers are taunting him. He walks away before being released, and only comes back when his comrades are freed.
We don’t talk much to the detainees, and in general it seems to us that they don’t want conversation with us. We stand on the side and phone the DCO and the Humanitarian Centre. The DCO says that they are detained because they were wild in their behaviour at the checkpoint, but was surprised to hear that the youngsters were manacled, and immediately passed and order to the soldiers to release them from the manacles.
Darkness descends, we continue to plead, the police arrive, check the detainees, and drive off. Dark and the youngsters are shivering from cold. The soldiers try to drive us away, but the police see nothing wrong in our presence at the checkpoint.
18:10 – the soldiers return IDs to the youngsters, who are not quite as gay. One of them comes over to thank us and to shake hands. Immediately all the others line up to shake our hands. It was an emotional moment. We waited until their taxi passed the checkpoint and moved away. Then we left.