Spotlight highlights Checkpoint events characteristic of the policy of the occupation: the systematic repudiation of basic human rights in the occupied territories. For Palestinians, reality is a complicated tangle of problems (survival in the everyday, education, health, making a living…) that cannot be solved because the Israeli occupation is conducted by enforcing countless inhuman bans. The Spotlights rely on collections of relevant reports from the field.
Our Core Activities
We are eye-witnesses to more victims of the Occupation – Israeli soldiers, our sons and daughters who are forced to act in inhuman situations and might pay a steep price of psychological damage. All of these have a destructive influence upon Israeli society at large, which is becoming increasingly violent.
We have taken it upon ourselves to illuminate these dark places with our civil eye and inscribe the writing on the wall. Professor Avishai Margalit calls this “moral testimony”, delivered by those who stand by and do not allow wrong-doing to go unseen, but insist and persist in making it seen and heard.
About 300 members of Machsomwatch are committed to the daily activity of the movement: standing vigil at the checkpoints, the walls, fences, apartheid roads and farmers’ dirt roads, military courts, DCOs, and contacts with Palestinians in their homes and on their lands.
Machsomwatch, movement of women volunteers, has raised a voice in Israeli discourse,
a voice protesting against Occupation and opposing it in a struggle for human rights.
(Amira Itiel, opening the evening marking International Human Rights Day and the Tenth Anniversary of Machsomwatch on December 9th, 2010)
Occupation as it is reflected in Machsomwatch reports late 2010, early 2011
The Palestinian Jordan Valley
In front of our very eyes the Palestinian residents of this region are being hermetically closured: detached from their fabric of life, denied direct access to their villages, isolated and distanced from the region’s schools, from medical care, from farm lands that are turned into ‘firing zones’ (closed military areas), distanced and detached from their water sources, which the State of Israel takes over and /or dries them out. All of this is a mere fence away from lush-green (Jewish) settlements and cool swimming pools.
From the reports:
… We visited Al Farisiyya – a Palestinian hamlet located on its legally-owned land. However, when the residents pumped water out of their own spring, the army cut their pipes and forbade them to use the spring, claiming that it is a nature reserve. Having no other choice, Al Farisiyya residents began to use the salt water of Ein al Malih that flows below their village, and this has significantly reduced their ability to grow vegetables. Only plants withstanding salt water can grow there now. But even then, the army intervened and three weeks ago cut the pipes again, confiscating the four pumps that directed the water to the fields. Now the fields and the hothouses are drying up…
“The Edge” Checkpoints
These checkpoints are located at the interface of the Palestinian Territories and the State of Israel, and in officially laundered jargon are named BORDER CROSSINGS (TERMINALS). That is where dawn horrors unfold in the dark of night, when thousands of workers, the fortunate who have obtained permits to work in Israel, who till our fields and build our houses, are inspected body and documents before the sun rises in order to make it on time to their rendez-vous with their contractors on the Israeli side by 7 a.m. They rise at 2 or 3 a.m. in order to reach the checkpoint and stand among the first in line as it opens at 4:30 a.m. The checkpoint is operated by civilian security firms in order to spare military manpower. This is where the workers are processed through, at agonizingly slow pace…
…Suddenly we saw that the line is squeezed and crushed, and a kind of hissing sound echoes from the crush of people bumping against each other like a pack of cards, crushed and nearly falling to the ground. People started shoving and yelling, hundreds climbed up to the roof of the structure, running into power cables, standing on the heads and shoulders of those standing on the ground… And in this entire chaos – no one to talk to! Only walls, iron rods, and horrifying indifference. Just one position open to check the crowd. The three of us stand stunned, helpless in view of this horrendous sight – flock-like. People whose sole desire is to earn their bread with dignity.
For the full report click here
This description is repeated time and again in reports from the checkpoints at Eyal (Yrtach), Sansana, Qalandiya, 300 (Bethlehem) – especially on Sundays at dawn.
Hebron and the South Hebron Hills
Our friend Michal Tzadik who frequents the checkpoints in this district reports:
Hebron has turned in to a ghost town. There are 29 barriers in it, separating Palestinians from their lives. We try to be a flickering candle of hope for a better future for the Palestinian adults and schoolchildren passing through these points, in a place where Israelis are known either as settler bullies or gun-toting soldiers.
… Suddenly a large force emerged consisting of Border Patrolmen, DCOs, Shabak and others. They closed the place and charged forward in a “bold military operation”. The force swarmed towards the “dangerous outlaws” – street vendors at the entrance area to the checkpoint. Within a short time all their goods were lifted, car keys taken, and that was that! A vendor who tried to plead to take his flatbreads with him, perhaps… Nothing escaped their scrutiny: Neither a carton of sweets hidden in another car, nor a pot of food and a soft drink can. We couldn’t do a thing. The confiscated vehicles were sent convoy-style to the Etzyon DCO in Bethlehem. Our query was answered by an officer: “I’d rather not answer that”. The commander of the operation: “It’s illegal!” He meant the improvised market, not the occupation…
“As long as we’re unseen, we don’t see” Rabbi Asherman told us, one of the leaders of Rabbis for Human Rights, when we met him by chance in Awarta village after the local cemetery was desecrated. We thought we should take up this motto for our activity in the villages.
Documenting village visits is an important part of our activity in the northern West Bank, especially in villages located within the enclave (“Seam Zone”) created by the Separation Fence that blocks off Palestinian farmers from their lands. The permit regime has been imposed on these farmers. Large parts of their land have been expropriated and robbed for the erection of the Fence. In every visit we hear complaints about the reduced permit quota for accessing their fields and groves, non-revalidation of previous permits, inability to make a living. The more we meet with village elders and people impacted by this Separation, the more injustice emerges.
For a full report click here
… Distress may be general – such as the lack of electricity in a village (Shufa), barriers in all village access roads (Jama’in, Shufa), industrial waste dumped inside the village or among its olive groves (Kifl Hareth), settlement sewage flowing into the village fields (Zawiya, Hares), mounds of garbage dumped by Israeli truck next to the village (Azzun, Jayyus), leaving a village unconnected to its wells that have remained behind the Separation Fence (Jayyus, Beit Lidd, Safarin), retracking a settler-only road within farming areas belonging to the village without notifying the village council and the owner of the area (Tult), nightly soldier incursions in the village (Awarta), arrests of youngsters (Jayyus, Tult, Azzun), vandalizing property, sometimes looting (Awarta), as well as particular cases of personal damages: non-payment of severance fees, non-payment of social security after a work accident, inability to reunite with a family member residing in Jordan, confiscation of belongings by soldiers (Hares) and many more…
[From an internal report to the Villages Group]
Persons who are prevented passage (blacklisted) by Shabak and police
In our attempts to relieve the process of obtaining permits for the blacklisted who cannot access information as to why they are prevented and will not be allowed into Israel to work, we discover intentional provocation and constriction.
… Many instances of injustice are revealed, beginning with enormous extortion of funds from these weakened individuals by traffic tickets which we shall describe below (in 2005 or 2006 Israel ‘harvested’ over 3 million NIS from drivers in the Occupied Territories through traffic fines)…
From Report on Police Activity in the Occupied Territories (in Hebrew)
A special report issued in November describes the fate of child-vendors at Qalandiya Checkpoint trying to eke out their living in the shadow of violent, crushing reality. They have no shelter under the wings of the Israeli National Council for the Child, and no one to stand up for them.
… We do not know when and where we’ll meet them again: in front of the refugee camp adjacent to the checkpoint, throwing a stone? In Ofer Detention Center at their trial? In prison?...
For the full report click here
… On Mondays and Thursdays they (the children) are led two by two into Hall no. 2 of the court, presided over by Judge Major Sharon Rivlin-Achai at Ofer Camp. Shackled to each other, wearing the brown garb of security prisoners, they are led to trial. A real school class, only instead of teachers and assistants, there are typists, a prosecutor and a judge (all women).
Usually these are children charged with throwing stones, producing and hurling incendiary objects. But they are under the age of 18, and thus Israel violates international law. With their growing numbers of late, as most of the files reviewed at Ofer are of minors, it is as though “this were the IDF’s most important mission these days”, as Ofra Ben Artzi writes: “Present policy aims not at some future agreement, but at etching the consciousness of minors, preparing them for perpetual Occupation”.
For the full report…
For a long time we concentrated on reporting from the checkpoints. Our activities enabled us to bring their existence into public knowledge. With Obama’s rise to power, some of the larger internal checkpoints were opened to vehicular traffic and we resorted to new modes of documentation. We learned about Occupation-related problems which were unknown to us earlier: we entered villages, made personal contact with Palestinians and heard from them about the severe difficulties in the Seam Zone (Palestinian territory torn from the West Bank by means of the Separation Fence), land-grab and sealing villages in a stifling enclave, prevention of Palestinian construction on their own lands in Area C and more.
Our documentation and distribution channels have expanded. We have produced documentary films and offer visits to anyone interested. There is a growing public demand to learn and know more.
Change, if it takes place, entails being open to pain, experience, and the personal journey that each of us has made on Machsomwatch vigils from the South Hebron Hills through Jerusalem, the central and northern West Bank. Sobering takes place only thanks to the contact with fellow human beings of the other nation and acquainting ourselves with their narrative from their point of view. These contacts made between us are what gives us – an d them – strength and hope.
We must dismantle not only the concrete walls of separation, but the walls of dehumanizing image-building of the Palestinian as such. We must bring out the message, that beyond these walls live people whose will and need to live in freedom and peace are as strong as ours.
Written and edited by Amira Itiel
Photography: Tamar Fleischmann