Bethlehem - Checkpoint 300:
Naomi Gal (translating)
We asked the people crowding out on the sidewalks: how is it going today? The answer is - not well.
Inside the terminal it is packed, four windows are slowly operating. One group passes and then there is a break. And then again in comes a new wave of people. It seems that people cross in groups, which slows the pace. Odah, the police officer at the crossing enlists to assist with the checking. The officer tells us the number of people using the CP increased significantly because it includes people who bypass the Kalandia Checkpoint whenever it’s possible.
By 7:10 AM the crossing has been completed, and a total of 5,000 people had passed.
A pleasantly surprising meeting was when one of the passing women approached us and with a happy smile told us that her brother received a working permit and an entry to Israel. A few weeks ago she asked us to find a way to remove the prevention he had on entering Israel, and we referred her to the customary procedures. It seems that Sylvia deserves the thanks.
Another woman said she had worked for a family in Jerusalem and they fired her without paying her compensation. We referred her to “Kav L’Oved” a Workers' Open Line in hopes it will be handled accordingly.
Purpose of the shift: Participation in a workshop that the organization “Music without Borders” organizes for women (kindergarten teachers?) in Southern Hebron Hills.
The workshop is organized by Fabienne, from East Jerusalem, who works in “Music without Borders”, Usually they give workshops in refugee camps – Area A – but this time, it is different. Fabienne speaks Arabic and English. A girl introduced herself as a musician, apparently from England; and another girl in tight jeans and a headscarf, as a translator.
About 20 women living in the South Hebron Hills, attend the workshop from the following villages:
Um el Hir, Hashem el Deraj, Derat, Baiwab, Zief, Nejada, Kalet el Mia, Karmel, Sussiya, Um Lasefa.
This is the third day in a 5-day workshop. The fact that they succeed in organizing and concentrating so many women from diverse backgrounds (Bedui and Falachi) is very impressive. When we entered, several women covered their faces – and then Mohamed decided to leave. When only women were left, some removed an outer garment and revealed themselves as elegant women, wearing tight pants, a sweater and a matching headscarf. Some of them wore light make up.
Of course Huda and Amana attended as well and also 3 preschool teachers from Um el Hir, who had been in Souha’s workshop. When I come in, they’re singing a song and in the center of the group one of them acts ‘old’ and tries on a scarf, which she then passes on to the next ‘old one’. Dalal from Um el Hir hands me the scarf and I have to play the ‘old one’. Later Fabienne engages the group in songs (it turned out, she had composed them), drumming with sticks, various body movements and distinguishing types of song and drumming – soft and strong. The women joined in easily and cheerfully. After an interval for juices and cookies (all too sweet for my taste) they continue. Fabienne’s aide has them singing a simple Icelandic song that sounds like mere syllables to us, but since both melody and syllables are simple, they’re easy to learn. This is a good exercise for teaching attention to styles of singing.
During the interval, several women asked me to arrange a paying job for them as a preschool teacher in their village. Rather embarrassing since I hadn’t come to represent an organization that helps like this.
On the way back, the women wanted to know where I come from and most of them didn’t believe I’m from Israel. I traveled with them in an overcrowded minibus until we reached Um el Hir where Mohamed was waiting for me. For some reason, they were also interested in my age – but I’m not going to write it here.
Pictures of the activity (Mira – Gan Huda art activity April 4th, 2013
Shift objectives: creative activity in Huda’s kindergarten, Hashem el Daraj, together with Huda
The theme:My body – dolls out of toilet-paper cylinders, kalkar balls and pipe cleaners
It was a day of sandstorms and sudden cold. Many children didn’t come, some arrived with their mother, who stayed because going home in the storm was so hard. 15 children attended.
As we entered, the children were seated in a circle on chairs, and straw mats we had brought some weeks ago. Because of Mohamed’s presence, Huda and the other women covered their faces. Mohamed decided to leave and find something else to do (a pity, since he is such an important part of our activities). Luckily, we had Boteyna, who translated and connected us with Huda and Amana her aunt, who was working as her aide.
We brought dressing-up clothes for acting the story, “Rasha’s Hat”, about a girl with a hat whose feathers were blown away, one after another, until she learned to hold her hat properly and save a feather. On our previous visit we had done this without dressing up and no musical instruments and the children had looked frozen. Today they were more relaxed. This time, they put flowers on themselves and acted the part of the wind.
Then we moved on to the table activities. We made dolls out of cardboard rolls as the body, the kalkar balls as the head, and the pipe cleaners for the arms and the legs and a belt. Huda had prepared material for the dolls’ garment. Finally, we glued eyes on the face and drew hair on the head. It was a bit complicated. Lucky we were three women. Some of the children enjoyed playing with the dolls and coloring the face and dresses. Some seemed bored. In the end, Huda decided would leave the dolls in preschool – we strung them up (on hangers Mohamed had made last time). We really need shelves and tables to exhibit the children’s work.
Pictures of the activity (Mira – Gan Huda art activity April 4th, 2013
Mohamed joined us – since the children and their mothers had gone home, Huda felt free enough not to cover her face. We talked over tea and cookies and discussed the activities we had planned. Thursday, in two week’s time, we shall make models of houses out of milk cartons. And after that we’re planning to sing children’s songs about ‘Handy from Nazareth’. Huda took it on herself to prepare the materials we had brought for the activities. We also left tools for making things with plastecine – maybe they will start something new even in our absence.
Translator: Charles K.
We paid a condolence call in Dura Al Fawwar.
Mahmoud Tamimi, age 22, was shot and killed by the army during the uproar in the center of Dura Al Fawwar, in Area A, one afternoon last week. He hadn’t thrown rocks. Area A is a Palestinian area; what were our forces doing there?
We received an emotional phone call telling us how important it would be to visit them…
My answer to the question of why it’s any of our business - “So Palestinians will see a different kind of Israeli…” – was manifested today, for we’ll all part of a single human fabric.
We drove through the winding lanes of the refugee camp and reached the family’s home. A teacher from the school who speaks a little Hebrew accompanied us. They brought us to the women’s area; we sat there for an hour and a half, silently, in tears.
Mahmoud’s aunts and mother are dressed in black, all the younger and older girls are angry and mourning. Their only consolation is that he was killed for a just cause: “Liberating Palestine.”
But why, why, why…
We have no words to describe the great sorrow.
The itchy trigger finger forgets that we’re all – every one of us – human beings.
Translator: Charles K.
“They don’t honor the permits they’ve issued” because “today they’re screening.”
Maybe because of last week’s uproar on the Temple Mount, maybe because of the heat wave, maybe because that’s just how things work here, today they decided upstairs to change the rules. Except they didn’t bother to notify in advance the people subject to those rules. Today, Friday, the day for worship, for errands, an order came down from on high (high up where, exactly?) that only women, and men older than 60, will be permitted through for prayers. Others, with standing permits (merchant’s crossing permit), aren’t allowed through. Those who’d made appointments ahead of time, who gathered all the required permits, who’d received a special permit for today (for a consular or a hospital appointment) aren’t allowed through.
At 09:00 the area beyond the initial revolving gates is full of Israeli police and DCO representatives of various ranks, but the latter keep quiet (except for one polite young man) and leave things to the police (?), in particular to an officer who refuses to speak to us and behaves superciliously – if not rudely - to everyone. Only one lane operating.
The police officer stands on the other side of the bars and screens those waiting. “Irja la’aura” [go back]!” he tells everyone who doesn’t meet this morning’s criteria. And there’s no appeal. Those turned back push through the ones waiting between the bars. There’s no humanitarian lane. The only crossing is via the screening lane - for old men and women, the halt and the lame.
A man with a permit, who’s employed as a painter and was supposed to finish a job for an elderly couple (who are living in the midst of the mess and are angry that the painter isn’t coming to complete the job as promised, and they can’t put everything back in place by themselves, and it’s Friday…) tried to go back (and perhaps even sneak in) through the congested line. His permit was confiscated. He’ll be able to get it back at the DCO, probably after a complaint is filed against him and he’s fined…
A polite DCO representative explains that many eyes are on the checkpoint today, that the orders from above can’t be altered. He hopes that people will be allowed to enter after 12:00 (after the consulates close, after losing a day of work).
People at the checkpoint are very angry. Some of the stories: about cement costing thousands of shekels scheduled to be poured today, and won’t be; about the Jewish owner of a flower shop waiting at the store for his worker, not able to understand why his colleague is being detained, particularly on Friday, when he’s even more urgently needed; about a university teacher from Italy, married to a Palestinian, who spent weeks assembling all the required permits to go to the consulate with her family (her son is leaving to study in Italy), and she’s irate, weeping, humiliated. “She’s not yet used to such treatment,” says her husband. She’s lived here for five years and still hasn’t come to terms with the arbitrariness and helplessness that is the lot of her new compatriots.
Dozens of people crowd at the fence, running back and forth, stretching hands with documents toward every approaching officer, pleading for understanding, for permission. “You want us to become violent,” says one man, a merchant who’s been refused to cross on business, “but we won’t succumb to temptation. And eventually you’ll collapse.”
Translator: Charles K.
Curve 160 checkpoint in Hebron – small stones the children threw
Soldiers who came from the Jabel Juhar neighborhood (Area H1, which is supposed to be under Palestinian control)
Helmets sitting on the concrete barriers instead of on the soldiers’ heads.
The pillbox on Highway 60 at the Dura – Al Fawwar junction.
The sign warning it’s dangerous to enter Area A, soldiers alongside.
Yesterday a Palestinian youth was killed by live fire at the Dura Al Fawwar junction on Highway 60. And today?! Today everyone’s on alert, sad, with heavy hearts. If you read the entire report you’ll agree with me that Edmond Levi is wrong – there is in fact an occupation!!!
What we did on today’s shift (tales of the occupation)
By 06:45 all the laborers had crossed and wait for their rides…the earthworks continue and the rubbish is still there.
Highway 60, Southern Hebron Hills
Khirbet Tawwani – The soldiers escorting the children walking to school from Umm Tuba arrive on time this morning. The Palestinians have asked us to try to arrange for the children to be driven to school. The Civil Administration representatives have thus far refused – we asked our attorney, Gabi Lassky, to write some letters. We’ll see what happens. The children have been walking to school with a military escort since 2004. Wouldn’t it be easier to find the hoodlums from the Ma’on Farm and get rid of them? They’re on privately owned land; cf. Talia Sasson’s report.
Zif junction – We see here for the first time the army’s heightened preparations – vehicles for dispersing demonstrations, Border Police vehicles and a squad of soldiers at the checkpoint – no one is crossing and there’s very little vehicle traffic.
Kvasim junction – Border Police soldiers standing under the pillbox stop a Palestinian motorcyclist, check him and release him immediately when they see us.
The junction to Kiryat Arba on Highway 60
Palestinian families own land beyond the gas station, below Mitzpeh Avichai and before Giv’at Mamreh – approximately 30 dunums. For thirteen years they haven’t been allowed to reach their land and cultivate it. Today, following coordination between the Palestinian and the Israeli DCO, they came with tractors to try to enter and work the land. They reached the entrance gate; the Kiryat Arba security people didn’t let them through. When we met them they’d already been waiting for three hours, trying every way they could to convince the Palestinian DCO to arrange things with the Israeli DCO, but to no avail. We see the despair and helplessness in their eyes. We referred them to Yesh Din. They talked to M., from Yesh Din, in our presence; let’s hope something comes of it.
We visit the teachers at the Cordova school. The handrail of the stairs has been repainted…giving apartheid a festive air. Again they request what we haven’t been able to implement …Hebrew classes…
The green apartheid fence on the eastern side of the Cave of the Patriarchs plaza sparkles in the sun.
Curve 160 – The occupation’s Rashomon continues. A Palestinian stops us just before the checkpoint. He tells us that five 9 and 10 year old children from the Assissiya boys’ school in Jabel Johar threw stones at the checkpoint. In response, the soldiers entered the school and sprayed tear gas. The teachers then closed the school; they’re now on strike. An ambulance evacuated pupils who were injured.
We reach the checkpoint – the gate is open, three police cars and a military vehicle, senior officers on site – no one wearing a helmet, everyone relaxed, some drinking coffee, a few small stones scattered on the street. We asked how many children were here – 50-100, they reply. (We see almost no children and very few passersby). The gate is still open; two soldiers walked into the neighborhood, stopped past the first grocery store and then came out.
What really happened? You decide between the two versions. On the basis of what I saw, I tend to believe the Palestinians. One of the soldiers checks his iPhone to see whether there were reports on Walla or Ynet.
The occupation routine?
Translator: Charles K.
We left Beersheba at 08:30.
Highway 60: Dense traffic. Many trucks with building material, some with Palestinian license plates.
Hebron: Deserted; all checkpoints are quiet. We left the car at the giant parking lot near Beit Hamachpela and went to the Farcha school for girls which is right next to the building. The principal welcomed us warmly; she said that at the moment there are no particular problems, the army doesn’t bother them – in fact, the opposite is true: if there are problems with settlers the army arrives to help. The settlers’ children spit at them; they must remove their jewelry at the checkpoint, including wedding rings, to go through the magnemometer. But otherwise the crossing goes smoothly even though sometimes bags are checked, including the children’s, in a very intrusive manner. The surrounding buildings facing the schoolyard are protected by netting against any eventuality. The school is well cared for and clean. Everything’s great!
Back to Beersheba via Highway 317 and the village of Al Tawwani.
The usual problems: harassment by settlers, delays in the military escort for the children. There’s an activity on Saturday – erecting a tent to protect the children from the weather while they wait for the military escort. We asked whether that won’t lead to trouble from settlers – Nasser shrugged. They planned to organize transport for the children, but “the settlers objected.” He thinks all the organizations working in Tawwani should coordinate among themselves to improve conditions. But there’s a ray of light: a sewer line is being installed thanks to donations from abroad.
Everything’s quiet and normal, but Mahmoud el Titi from Al Fawwar was killed in the evening from live fire during a demonstration. The army announced that the soldiers felt their lives were in danger from Molotov cocktails. Four other youths, aged 16-20, were injured during the same incident.
Zahaiah, who runs the Zeita women’s club, told Huda, who runs the women’s club in Aqraba about our colleagues’ work in Zeita, and she asked to meet to see whether similar activities could be carried out in the Aqraba club. So we drove to Aqraba.
14:45 Two soldiers and two dog handlers inspect vehicles.
We turned left up the hill about four km. east of Za’tara on a road that re-opened about two months ago after having been closed for years, forcing the residents to make a long detour to get home.
15:00 We reached Aqraba after a short trip past the lovely almond trees blossoming by the roadside. The village is large – almost a town – with about 10,000 residents. It even has a few 3-4 story buildings, unusual for villages in the area. We went to the home of Huda and her husband, Isar. She speaks only Arabic; Isar, like most of the men on the West Bank, speaks both Hebrew and English. So, over cups of sweet sage tea and black coffee, we conducted two parallel conversations with Huda and with Isar.
We introduced ourselves and described Machsom Watch’s activities; Ouda described the women’s club. It’s a large, well-organized club that has been conducting activities for years. A Norwegian organization helps them financially and with training. During the intifada, when they had no other means of support, they learned to be autarchic. The women raised excellent vegetables of various types and strains, established beehives, etc. A mobile clinic from Jerusalem’s Al Muqasid hospital also visits to offer mammograms and other routine tests. Female students from Al Najah University help run the club; it’s open from morning to evening, to all women in the village. Huda learned about Machsom Watch’s work in Zeita from that club’s coordinator; she wants to expand her own activities.
At the same time, Isar talked about himself and about Aqraba. He’s a schoolteacher in Qabalan, a nearby village. He’s been a member of the village council for about two months. Before 1967, most of the villagers made their living from farming. They had 147,000 dunums of land that stretched to the Jordan Valley. They have only 40,000 left. More than 100,000 dunums were expropriated for settlements like Gitit and Fatzael. Today most residents work in the settlements established on their lands. Some work in Israel. Occasionally they’re attacked by settlers from Itamar.
We agreed to see who’s willing to help, and Huda will find out what the women would be interested in.
The village will hold a large bazaar on March 31, to commemorate Lands Day. Residents of all the villages in the Nablus sub-district will display their wares – food, homegrown products, handicrafts. We’re all invited.
16:40 A relatively large number of soldiers at the Za’tara junction, particularly dog handlers, their dogs sniffing vehicles’ interiors.
Translator: Charles K.
A notice posted on the waiting room door announced that on Thursday services to the public close at noon. Not long ago it was announced that on Thursday they close at 13:30. People who hadn’t known about the change arrived while we were there. They weren’t admitted and will have to come again next Thursday. A woman who argued with the soldier was allowed to return Monday.
A woman from Beit Safafa who arrived with her five children told us she’s an Israeli citizen; her husband is a resident of the occupied territories. He had an Israeli residence permit. It was taken from him three years ago; he was told the Shabak had blacklisted him. He contacted an attorney who dealt with it and told him the blacklisting had been cancelled. The woman showed us a document from the Ministry of the Interior confirming that he’s permitted residency in Israel until the end of 2013. Based on that authorization, she requested a permit for him for one year. But the DCO refused because, according to the computer, the blacklisting is still in force. We called everyone we hoped might help but without success. She’ll again have to get an attorney.
Two young sisters approached us. They’d both received permits to enter Jerusalem during the coming Christian holiday. They’d requested permits for five more of their sisters but were denied. We tried to find out the reason for the refusal, but couldn’t. We were told that “the rules were bent for the first two.“ R., the officer, promised to take care of the matter; perhaps they’ll bend the rules a little more for the others.
We met a young man who said he has trouble supporting his family. It’s hard to find work in the occupied territories. When he does find something, he’s paid 70-75 shekels per day. He wants to work in Israel but has no entry permit because he’s blacklisted by the Shabak. He paid an attorney NIS 40,000, which he borrowed from family members and friends, to get the blacklisting canceled!
We left around closing time. More people arrived, but only those requesting permits “for humanitarian reasons” were admitted.
A wonderfully sunny day shone on Zeita’s enchanted landscape. Olive trees, almond trees, blue skies. Schools are open. Fewer women showed up at the club. Some of those absent are ill, others – who knows?
Everyone greatly enjoyed the classes.
After the prayers at the mosque were over we sat and talked with a few of the women in the mosque’s plaza. They told us where they and their families came from. Some of their families had fled from Israel in 1948; they didn’t conceal their opinion of “the Jews.” Listening to them, we learn about a’adat and taqlid (customs and traditions) they follow – for example, that devout Moslem women fast twice a week, on Monday and Thursday, between morning and evening prayer, out of devotion, to purify the soul and to attain paradise. Yes. We’re certainly getting to know each other. It’s easier for people to change their attitudes after they’ve met each other. Reciprocity isn’t easy when circumstances make it very difficult to accomplish, but women’s curiosity is definitely mutual.
And with regard to the on-line discussion: I think that what’s most important about going to the checkpoints is to keep in contact with people we’ve been privileged to meet, learn not to be afraid, see them as close neighbors, learn their language, understand their culture, that they’re part of us and we’re part of them.
What was missing in particular at the checkpoints was contact with women. Most of our contact was with Hebrew-speaking Palestinian men going through the checkpoints. The women were always “the mute/missing other.”
As the number of checkpoints declined Machsom Watch members found various new ways to act, but haven’t yet discovered how best to end the occupation, to make the settlements evaporate or make soldiers put flowers in the muzzles of their guns.