This Ramadan month was especially mean - it has been a long while since we've witnessed such hostile, aggressive conduct of soldiers towards Palestinians, clearly inspired by the checkpoint commander.
An elderly, elegant man tells us that he habitually cross the checkpoint through the special side line as befits his age. Today, however, the inspecting soldiers found a business card of... Machsomwatch in the cover of his ID. So they sent him to wait among the younger men in line! The commander, and soldiers like him keep chasing away any Palestinian daring to wait in the shade of the former detainee shed, shooing away loudly in a voice that resembles a dog's bark more than a human order. (Huwwara, 7.9)
Another day of Ramadan fasting in the suffocating heat. The Palestinians never stop arriving at the checkpoint. They are checked, held up, blocked, pushed back, humiliated. Three pedestrian checking posts - active. X-ray truck - active. Long, long waiting lines, very slow inspections, very stressed. The soldiers are tense, and their reactions keep fluctuating from fury to snide laughter. The special side line for women, children and the elderly stretches far beyond the shed, and moves extremely slowly. (Huwwara, 16.9)
A child leads an obviously blind woman along the vehicle checking lane. The soldiers brace themselves as they notice her. After making her wait for 10 minutes, the DCO representative lets them through. A man wielding a blind man's cane, arriving with his escort to the same vehicle checking lane, is made to go back to the side line and exits half an hour later. A man carrying a little girl whose legs are splayed wide in a plaster cast, crying and exhausted, have to wait by the concrete ledge until the mother returns from x-raying their luggage. Unbearably long negotiations with the soldiers, we are too far away to note details. There is a lot of 'action' during our shift: occasionally soldiers see someone 'leaking' out of the checkpoint and they chase him vigorously.
The first object of their chase was a retarded boy, and one of the soldiers (perhaps a MP) even fired a shot in the air. Immediately, 'life freeze' is declared in the checkpoint. Later, to officers and another MP arrive, apparently to look into what happened. In the next 'leaking' chases, no shots are fired. A MPwoman wonders: "Why life freeze? Because of a leaker? Come on, give me a break..."
A mother, speaking Arabic only, waits for her son. The MPwoman offers to call him from the line, but the commander prevents this: "Stand aside until he comes out", he tells her in perfect Hebrew.
Hours go by and the line does not end. More and more people arrive, wait, are blocked, evening comes, the fast is supposed to be broken but no - they are still stuck there. The soldiers laugh scornfully when we complain that a young man, limping on one leg, is sent with a dismissing gesture to go around and around to the turnstiles. (Huwwara, 14.9)
A vehicle is detained at the side of the road. In it are three elderly men who drove the road going to colonies Itamar and Elon More, an apartheid road for Jews only. They have already been detained for an hour and a half. In their car is food for the festive meal breaking the Ramadan fast. They are from Ramallah, did not know that this road is forbidden to them. They are familiar with the apartheid roads in their own area. But there is no sign here, so how could they tell? I call the army hotline. 40 minutes of calling again and again. Among other things, I was told that there I no such vehicle at the checkpoint. I give them the exact license plate number of the car and describe its exact location: on the lane of vehicles exiting Nablus, below the quarry. After a lengthy discussion and five phone calls I am told that in Ramadan, punitive detention has been shortened to one hour rather than three, and that they will be released soon. All this after a detention of over two hours! (Huwwara, 15.9)
At the taxi park we are approached by Suleiman from Jama'in who needs our help to locate a relative of his. The man had worked (without a permit) in Ganei Tiqva settlement, and was arrested by the police probably on Sunday. They do not know where he is held or what his fate is to be. Attempting to help him, we called the police. The officer said they provide such information only to family, at the Mesubim station (they are to get there from Jama'in! with no entry permits to Israel!)
Our attempt to contact the Nablus area DCO was fruitless as well. We were told that "this is not in our jurisdiction" and to try the army humanitarian hotline. The hotline person told us she has no way to help here: "We do not work with the Israeli civilian police, it's a case of illegal alien". We got back to Suleiman who said; 'Instead of giving us potatoes, they put mountains over our heads!" (Huwwara, 17.9)
An old blind man escorted by two six-year olds tries to get through the checkpoint on the paved vehicle lane. The soldier sends him back to stand at the end of the special side line. He begs, to no avail. ("Ordnung muss sein!") (Huwwara, 14.9)
The father of a detainee arrives, holding some dates in one hand, a water bottle in the other. He asks permission to give them to his son who has not yet broken his fast. The checkpoint commander refuses, and yells at the father to clear the checkpoint. He turns his back on the elderly man and struts off, showing who's boss. The father stands chided, waiting, holding the dates and water. He waits another 15 minutes, until the commander comes back, flashing a victory smile and announcing: "can't help you." An hour and a half, the young man will be released. (Huwwara, 18.9)
The checkpoint commander - for some reason - did not allow an elderly blind man to use the special side line. A young Palestinian trying to intervene on his behalf get pushed and hit by the commander. He is thrown, handcuffed, into the cubicle hold, with signs of beating on his face and above his hip. He says his bag has disappeared in the mayhem, a bag that contained a dowry, 11,000 NIS. To our request, the MPman inquired and announced that the bag is held by family members. But the young man came to the checkpoint alone! Actually, no one knows the bag's whereabouts.
The commander goes to speak to the detainee. He commands him to sit in the corner. The detainee tries to explain something to him - we couldn't hear clearly - and then the officer yelled at him: "Sit down. You're not listening to me! I'll fuck your mother if you don't listen!" Some minutes later the boy's wrists were released and he was led to the other side of the checkpoint, apparently to continue looking for the disappeared bag. Then he was returned to the hold and cuffed again. He was released three hours later, without the bag. (Huwwara, 22.9)
First day of the 3-day Eid al Fitr (grand holiday). It is a day traditionally devoted to visiting family. But the Nablus checkpoints are empty. Last year we saw families in their holiday best, children holding presents, on their way to visit. Checkpoints were crowded, women and children passing in the fast lanes and waiting for the men. But today they were empty. We asked a young man about this, who passed the checkpoint by himself, unaccompanied by his family. "It's because of the situation", he answered.
Just as we arrived, a young man was required to lean against the central checking post, facing the concrete ledge. A soldier kicks his legs apart. He paws his body 0- legs, crotch, belly. The soldiers laugh: "Look at him tremble..." The whole affair lasted a half a minute. The youngster's ID is returned to him and he gets on his way. (Huwwara, 30.9)
Birth at Huwwara Checkpoint
On the night of September 5th-6th a woman gave birth to a dead newborn at the Huwwara Checkpoint (southern gateway of the city of Nablus). She arrived at the spot at midnight on her way to the hospital inside Nablus, and was detained by a soldier. The birth took place at the checkpoint about an hour later. We (MW) publicized this incident in various media channels, and only after we did, was it brought to the attention of the army authorities.
And we ask:
- How could a woman shrieking with pain while in labor be kept waiting for a whole hour until allowed passage?
- How could the soldier at the checkpoint not possibly have the authority to allow a woman in labor to proceed immediately to the hospital?
- How could there possibly not be a commander on duty to whom the soldier is to refer to for immediate instructions?
- Is there a set of instructions for humanitarian emergencies on hand?
- Is the chain of command on the ground so faulty, or are the soldiers totally disconnected from their commanders?
- Are we possibly the only conduit for reporting from the ground?
And why in the world should free movement be thwarted between the village of Qusra and the Nablus hospital???
ONLY INSIDERS COULD GRASP THIS
The road has been leveled and a guard-shack stands in its midst. On the hill to the east, that army combination has been erected - a watch-shoot tower, bulldozers, and omnipresent dust. Upon our arrival all vehicles were at a standstill. Within minutes, things started moving. Some were rapidly inspected, others took off, glad to have the checkpoint behind them. From the hill side a soldier approaches us, armed and arrogant, and tells us to stand "here" (precisely where we were standing anyway) and not to enter the "checkpoint" area, which at the moment is simply an open road. We asked what all that massive construction was about, and he answered that checking will be easier that way, as well as control. The soldier's words: "Homa umigdal" (towers and fences, referring to the early Zionist settlement period in Palestine at the beginning of the twentieth century and on).
(Wadi Nar, 24.8)
The checkpoint is already gone, only a ragged sunshade and a small shack remain. Three or four soldiers hang about the shack and direct traffic in both directions. Workers arriving from their workplace in Maale Adumim or Keidar are not allowed to cross walking (as they have been so far), and they must board a taxi, pay fare and thus cross the checkpoint - a distance of about 200 yards - from where they board another taxi to reach their destinations.
(Wadi Nar, 24.8)
The soldiers looked very tense, as we arrived: the waiting lines were perfectly straight, and the soldiers were constantly drilling people to move back and further back and further back, which made us wonder what had taken place here before we came. This went on throughout our shift.
Six cars waiting to be let into Nablus. Near the inspection shack, the DCO representative explains to one of the drivers that he cannot get in without a special permit. The soldiers sounded as though all they wished was to 're-educate' Palestinians throughout our shift. "Order him back, he bypassed all the others!" the sergeant instructs another soldier. The car in question was a brand, new shining Mercedes, and the soldier shied a bit at his task. But the sergeant had no qualms. He ordered the driver to turn around. We wondered, would he eventually punish him by making him stand facing the wall or perhaps writing 100 times on the blackboard, "I shall never again bypass anyone in the waiting line"?
In various meetings we have held with different echelons about conduct in the checkpoints, we've heard a lot about instruction of what to do and what not to do, about rules and regulations handed down to soldiers about how they conduct themselves in the checkpoints. But there is a huge gap between what we hear at those meetings and what we actually find on the ground. We have heard from commanders that punishment of Palestinians at the checkpoints is not allowed. What do we see in every single shift? Soldiers who are at liberty to punish - 3 hours' detention, turning people back to the end of the line, confiscating IDs - and all for what reason? "Because he was cheeky!" "Because he has to learn his lesson!" and such. What is going on here? What is the message being passed on to the soldiers? Or, alternately, is the point that any soldier "is his own king"?
We were approached by two taxi drivers summoned to a military traffic-court at Ofer army camp. They arrived on the due date, waited, at the end of the day they were told that there was 'no file'. This means that the prosecution has not yet sent the court any charges.
A taxi driver from Beit Ummar has been waiting for a traffic-trial date since 2005. His license has been revoked and his livelihood is on hold. He is prevented from driving, his sole source of income (since 2005!)
Having monitored military courts for two years now, we learn that the rights of defendants are not upheld, they are denied proper meeting with lawyers, translation during the proceedings is lacking, and only seldom are witnesses are examined and evidence produced. Observation has also taught us that as long as the occupier is the one who sets and enforces the rules over the occupied population, and at the same time is also the judge and the punishing authority - such a judiciary system has not even the trappings of justice.
In the spirit of these days, after the pogrom at Assira al Kibliya, it is interesting to note the reply of the Hebron Brigade Commander to our MW friends who met him by coincidence near the 'Pharmacy' Checkpoint in Hebron and asked him about colonist-settler violence: "The soldiers were instructed to respond immediately to any rioting by settlers and not wait for the police. Soldiers very often do not act upon these orders because there is an unavoidable intimacy between the colonists and the soldiers. A lone soldier, or a pair, have difficulty responding."
The state of Israel has privatized the management of the checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel and handed it over to private security companies. One of these terminals is that of the Bethlehem checkpoint (Rachel's Terminal). As of late we have been witnessing a severe worsening of the passage conditions for the Palestinians at this checkpoint. For weeks we have been receiving complaints every morning as to the terrible crushing, created there and the fact that people are losing their jobs because of daily tardiness. The pressure is such that Palestinians have been transferred to hospitals with broken ribs and breathing difficulties.
According to the publications of the Ministry of Defense, the checkpoint is open 24 hours a day, but that is not so for the Palestinians. For them it opens at 5 am. 3000 people pass there every morning, most of them laborers on their way to work. The entrance to the building is through a narrow passage between the Separation Wall and the metal fence. Lately a wavy tin cover has been added to the passage in order to prevent circumvention of the queue by jumping over the fence. The pressure has caused an opening in the fence and now there a new problem - people get hurt by the cracked fence.
All those entering the installation actually go through two phases: phase 1, which is not visable to the eyes of our watchers, takes about an hour and a half. Phase 2, which we are able to observe, takes approximately 20 minutes. There are 12 checking posts on the Israeli side. Only 6 are equipped with computers. 2 of those also have a biometric identification device. The private security guards, who are in charge of organizing the lines, try to squeeze into these posts as many people as they can, thus causing additional delay. Is the biometric identification really necessary?
The palm imprint of manual laborers fades from time to time. It is not to possible to renew the imprints at the checkpoints so they are referred to the DCL. Such a simple operation can deny the laborers days of work. Is it likely that in the 21st century there is no way to solve the problem at the checkpoint itself?
Various organs operate at the Bethlehem checkpoint: the Israeli Police, the Military Police, the Border Police and "Ari", the private security company winning the bid to manage the place. Ever so often, the behavior is rude, harsh, and violent alongside screaming. The male and female soldiers converse on the phone during their shifts, and "Ari" employees smoke in the installation contrary to explicit prohibitions. Pace of work is poor accordingly.
Halting passage as "punishment" is forbidden by military procedures. However, when the people in the queue are not standing quietly in a straight line, when a Palestinian complains or smokes - passage is on hold as part of collective punishment.
Technical mishaps are frequent: "the computer is down", "the file checking machine is out of order", "one of the metal detectors doesn't work". There are no alternative solutions for these incidents even though it is the livelihood of hard working people that is at stake. (Bethlehem, 13.7).
"The most difficult part of a day's work consisting of eight hours in the heat, is the delay in the queue at the checkpoint"... (Bethlehem, 10.7).
Two years ago, when the renovations of the DCL were over, magnetic cards were distributed and all at once the validity of all of them has now expired. The consequence is that as of late there is an unbearable pressure at the DCL, culminating at times in brawls outside the turnstiles at the entrance to the office. Furthermore, it turns out that concessions are made even for magnetic cards seekers who are refused for security reasons, the result being more people in line. However, these magnetic cards are of little value since magnetic cards do not automatically insure gaining work permits. (Bethlehem, 6.7).
People wait in line for a whole day, only to be told at its end that they have to come back. According to a new Civil Administration's order, residents of certain towns and villages are assigned a specific day every week. Whoever has not been able to enter the office on the certain day will be able to return only a week from then so as to stand in line again.
Several people were waiting for the opening of the DCL. Someone turns to us angrily: This is the fourth morning in a row that he comes here and is not able to go in. The commander of the DCL adamantly refuses to take notice of the list of names the Palestinians prepare so as to distribute numbers, as was the custom, and the result is that the moment the DCL is opened, everyone pushes forward and only the strongest manage to go in. In answer to our question, the commander explains that those are his orders. Otherwise, he says, he goes out in the middle of the night again and again to send away the Palestinians waiting in the parking lot for the DCL to open at 8 am. That's the way they will learn, he says, not to come too early. One more effort of the army to educate the Palestinians a little (Bethlehem, 22.7).
Kharbata checkpoint (Maccabim-Reut)
Hundreds of Palestinian laborers are risking their lives when they need to cross the heavy traffic 443 road on the way to Maccbim-Reut checkpoint, a road there is no other way to cross. At this point, on the other side of the street, traffic policemen await them, giving them tickets for hazardous crossing of the road
The spokesman of the police traffic department, Superintendent Doron Ben-Amo, explains that "Only in the state of Israel prevails the culture of unlawful crossing of highways. These days, when a third f the people killed in motor accidents are pedestrians, traffic policemen are instructed to enforce the law more vigorously. As for the specific location, admittedly there is a problem for the Palestinian workers on their daily way to work. The state or the army have to find an appropriate infrastructure solution to the problem. We, the enforcers of traffic laws, bear the responsibility of seeing to it that people will not risk their lives crossing the street".
"Fabric of Life" and the DCO
"The District Coordinating Office will manage the civil affairs in the area... providing for the welfare and wellbeing of the population, ensuring the function of public services, and considering the need to maintain proper administration and public order."
(from edict no. 947 of the military government)
This definition of the duties of the civil administration (the 'laundered' name for the military government) was to maintain a reasonable 'fabric of life' for the Palestinians. The state of affairs in the Occupied Territories, however, clearly shows the destruction of life fabric. A normal fabric of life is possible only to the extent that freedom of movement is assured, and the Palestinians have no such freedom of movement.
Their entire everyday life-routine depends upon various permits issued by the regional offices of the civil administration (DCOs). Machsomwatch members' monitoring these offices shows an intentional policy of not providing this service or turning it into an ongoing nightmare. What appears to be inefficiency is in actual fact a most effective mechanism of restricting Palestinian movement. It is a brilliantly efficient form of dominance and oppression - no less efficient than the movement restriction in themselves.
There are perhaps explanations for the need to regulate entry into Israel itself, but the necessity for permits for any motion of Palestinians within the various regions of the Occupied Territories proves that issuing the permit is rather a 'privilege' depending upon the applicant's proving a 'justifiable reason' for wanting to move from one place to another. As a result of this approach, the procedure of issuing permits is not transparent or clear, and is conceived by the civil administration as an exception, to the rule that denies all Palestinians any movement.
The magnetic card, issued by the civil administration, is supposedly an identification card with fingerprints and fundus of the eye photo. In actual fact however, this card has become a 'clean bill' without which no other permits may be issued such as those for trade, employment, medical care etc. Not every Palestinian receives such a magnetic card. Two years ago, when these cards began to be issued, the administration claimed they would be re-issued automatically. Lately, however, we have learned that many of the card holders are required to renew them. In addition there are many new applicants. This fact brings an enormous number of people to the DCO offices, arriving there in the wee hours of the morning in order to get ahead in the waiting line and obtain the desired card.
It is very hot today today. The air-conditioning in the waiting room does not function. About fifty people are waiting, some having arrived at dawn. They all need a magnetic card. The Palestinians have prepared a neat waiting list. We complain to the authorities and propose: "Perhaps you should check who is blacklisted by the GSS (General Security Services) and not eligible for the magnetic card so that he may be sent away and spared the waiting time?" The explanation we receive is that "Since June 1st, GSS-prevented Palestinians also receive magnetic cards".
Five minutes pass and a young man comes out telling us he has been denied the card. The document he holds bears the note 'GSS-prevented'. We complained again and after a while were told of a quota of GSS-prevented applicants to receive the cards, and this quota has filled for the day. 'They should come again tomorrow.' Today he is a threat to Israeli security. Tomorrow - if he manages to make it into the quota - he will no longer pose such a threat...
An announcement is posted in the waiting room: from tomorrow until Thursday the DCO will be closed to magnetic-card applicants. The soldiers will be away on a seminar - learning to improve the service provided for the Palestinians. And why was the notice not up days ago? And how will the Palestinians know there is no point in coming tomorrow at dawn to try and get their place in line? 'They know', 'the Palestinian DCO has been notified', 'the people already here know and the taxi drivers will pass the word around'. We tried to find out why the GSS-prevented are not identified in advance in order to let them go early. The Ministry of the Interior, for example, has a clerk whose sole duty is to hand out waiting line numbers to the people according to their various needs, and to make sure they hold the necessary documents. Why not the DCO? Why not check the ID numbers of those waiting in line and inform them whether there is any point in waiting, perhaps hand out numbers so people can go have breakfast or lunch? Why?
(Etzyon DCO, June 22nd)
The bureaucracy does not accommodate changing needs. Even when there are hundreds of people waiting, only one or two windows are manned. The population's needs are not a criterion considered in this matter.
- The numbering machine for the waiting line is placed beyond the entry turnstile - where the Palestinians have no access at all when they enter the DCO - is this unintentional? Or perhaps quite intentional?
- If it is known that on a certain workday only a given number of applications will be processed, and the demand exceeds this number, no work post will be added. 'They' should come here again and again, for 'the natives' time and their economic conditions are of no concern to the administration.
- If the telephone number posted on a sign in the waiting room would ever answer, one would assume that the civil administration is genuinely interested in providing service and considering the public needy of it...
- A booklet in Arabic explaining to the Palestinians how to deal with the permit system would free them of uncertainty - but forty years of Occupation have not been time enough for the production of such a booklet. By mere chance? Perhaps uncertainty itself serves Israel's domination of its Palestinian non-citizens**?
- The fingerprints of physical laborers are often very blurred. One could place state-of-the-art technology 'for the welfare of the population' at the checkpoints to check fingerprints. But the Palestinians are sent by the dozens to wait for hours at the DCO offices just for this. Why? Because there is no intention of providing them with service!
ATTENTION, HUMANITARIAN HOTLINE:
On our last visit there, the 'humanitarian' gate was opened twenty minutes before our arrival, and we waited another twenty minutes until it was opened again. In other words, the gate was closed for forty minutes in peak hours. People recognized even by the Occupation authorities as needy of 'humanitarian' treatment had to wait nearly an hour just to pass on to an internal waiting line to access the checking sleeve. The 'humanitarian' line - whoever gave this gate such a surreal name? Why does it not move? Why do the elderly, the ailing, women children and babies have to wait, standing, all this time? This trouble, as always, is purely man-made.
Explanation - at peak hours one or two officers/policemen are needed to direct the people waiting to be checked in the inspection sleeves in an orderly fashion. Precisely in these hours, they sometimes disappear, all of them. No one there.
The approach to the regular turnstiles - those intended for the young and healthy male populace - is remote-controlled by a male or female soldier seated in a glass-enclosed post. Apart from the 'humanitarian' line the gate to which is opened manually. The people entering the 'normal' turnstiles are already in much of a hurry, looking for an available checking lane, and discover that there are few people in sleeve no. 5, the one intended for 'humanitarian' cases. So they, the 'normal' applicants join the inner waiting line for women. Whoever is supposed to keep an eye on things and make sure the 'humanitarian' sleeve would serve the ones for whom it is designed, the person supposed to open this gate - vanishes precisely when pressure is at its peak.
Every morning the 'humanitarian' gate is opened for only two hours to allow women, children, the ailing, the elderly, and medical staff through. And then, just then, no officer or policeman is present and the waiting desperately and helplessly watch as the younger crowd pass first. After our repeated appeals to the army's humanitarian hotline, the police, officers and soldiers arrive and everyone is finally here. All this on a quiet morning in which mothers holding babies have waited for a whole hour while our 'boys' sat around comfortably in their inner rooms. We assumed that at the 'humanitarian' line people would wait less. In fact, the weaker wait more?
(Qalandiya, June 22nd)
The denial of freedom of movement perpetrated by the Occupation is inhuman and a violation of the law. At the checkpoints and the DCO offices bureaucracy is practiced for the sole purpose of further impeding the Palestinians' movement in their land.
And to the actual point at hand - no improved conditions will solve the problem.
The only solution is TO PUT AN END TO THE OCCUPATION.
Closure was imposed on the Occupied Palestinian Territories during most of this month - as it spanned Israel's Commemoration Day, Independence Day, the visit of American President Bush and so on and so forth: holidays and special days. Injustice at the checkpoints was meted out quite as usual.
Courtesy and good manners... An instruction has been posted ceremoniously at some of the (soldiers') posts: "No phoning for non-operational purposes, and that's an order!" In this spirit... the woman-soldier at checking post no. 7 was on the phone for no less than 35 minutes, and stopped only after the DCO representative agreed to ask her to stop. Shortly thereafter, he disappeared and the woman-soldier at post no. 1 got on the phone. We were not witness to the end of this conversation even as we left 30 minutes later. (Bethlehem, 20.5)
One checking post is closed of the three operating. The pedestrians crowd in two waiting lines. So far they have reported waiting for 30 minutes. From now on they'll have to wait longer. The MP women carry on their screeching and singing, and the male soldiers join with their roaring-signing, laugh their hearts out, and the Palestinians don't quite understand what this is all about. (Huwwara, 4.5)
Bethlehem Crossing - A friendly crossing - The children who needed to cross here were rejected on various pretexts following certain procedures which were concealed from us. One cannot win: holding a permit and an original birth certificate, one will be told the children are too old; if they are within the eligible age limits, and have a birth certificate first they were told this was for children under ten years of age, then they found out the limit was thirteen) they still will not be allowed through, as the adult accompanying them holds a 'work permit' only, or a 'trade permit', and after all, "they are not going to work with the children!" If the hold no original birth-certificate, merely a photocopy, nothing doing... The male and female soldiers manning both posts are very gruff, shout, disregard people. The woman soldier spends most of the time on the phone in spite of the sign hanging right above her head prohibiting use of the phone during "work" hours... A security guard runs around, shouting, forcing people into single file, refusing to let children in and not willing to listen to any Palestinian. Suddenly several tourist ladies arrive, wanting to go to Bethlehem. He stops the Palestinians in line waiting to get into Israel, and tells the tourists to cross. They wonder: "Why should we go first?" pointing to the Palestinians waiting on the other side. He replies: "Because you have passports and they don't". They cross, embarrassed, while the guard hisses: "We do them a favor and they complain!"
We request to speak with the checkpoint commander, who arrives and barks at us:
"You must not interfere, you are creating a disturbance. I don't want to talk to you, you violate procedures, I'll summon the police!"
- - "Perhaps you would explain to us what the procedures are regarding the children?"
- - "I mustn't disclose military information."
- - "Talking of procedures, no smoking is allowed in public places. Why are you smoking here?"
- - "That's my prerogative!"
(Bethlehem Checkpoint, 30.5)
A checkpoint has been removed, and lo! - there it is again -
A resident of Assira al Shamaliya village has called and reported that since this morning, a jeep with several soldiers has been standing about 200 meters away from Checkpoint 408. This checkpoint has been removed five days ago, supposedly "to relieve the Palestinians' life-fabric". Every car is stopped, passengers are required to disembark, men to lift their shirts and spin around, all car doors opened - all taking quite a while. Over 200 cars wait for about two hours. Our phone call to the DCO revealed they have not the slightest idea of the goings-on. They'll look into it. Half an hour later, a DCO soldier answers out call - surprised anew, and after an additional explanation, assures us: "We are still looking into it." 12:05: The DCO's answer: The checkpoint is there because PPs are expected to pass through (this is no spelling error, this is how the army calls Palestinian Policemen). We inquired why the passage of Palestinian policemen on a road connecting a Palestinian village and Nablus requires meticulous inspections. What harm are the Palestinians traveling to Nablus expected to inflict on them? DCO answer: Okay, we'll look into it again. At 13:08 - the checkpoint was dismantled and the soldiers left. (Huwwara, 3.5)
Water, water , what a joy! ... a water pipe-laying project is taking place in Beit Furik, financed by the European Union. One of the companies involved is "Shaham", a subsidiary of Mekorot, the Israeli National Water Co., based in Holon. The truck in question arrived from Holon with a Jerusalem blue ID-holding driver, collected the Palestinian engineer in Ramallah, (employee of the Palestinian office cooperating with Israeli organizations and the International Red Cross Committee). Obviously this is a wide-range humanitarian project. The truck had transferred wares worth about 170,000 NIS at the Awarta back-to-back goods checkpoint/terminal. On their way back the driver (apparently not aware of the national status of the road) suggested to go have a cup of coffee at Huwwara, for which they had to drive some 100 meters from Awarta to Huwwara CP on the road forbidden to Palestinians (not only Palestinian vehicle, any Palestinian - be it passenger, pedestrian, even to just cross it from one side to the other on foot. We have yet to see a winged case.). Let us not forget - the truck is Israeli, the driver holding an Israeli resident ID, and the engineer - alas - Palestinian.
Arriving at the roundabout by the Checkpoint, they were caught. Officer Paz: "The Palestinian stays. The truck can proceed."
It did not. The commander detained the Palestinian in the concrete cubicle, and at 17:00 also took the driver's ID - for parking his truck by the concrete ledges outside the checkpoint. The whole story with its international ramifications did not impress him one bit. The Palestinian was detained at 16:40...
At 18:15 the driver, the engineer and the truck were released. The shed emptied. We left. (Huwwara, 11.5)
Hebron Children - Last Saturday Jewish settlers complained about a Palestinian child who tried to stab a Jewish child near the "house of contention". Fifteen soldiers accompanied three Jewish settlers - two men and a woman - from door to door in the neighborhood, in an attempt to identify the suspect. In every house, they stood all children along the walls and searched them for knives! The settlers did not identify a single child, and after about six hours the search was terminated. (Hebron, 21.5.)
Little (Palestinian) children's school bags are inspected as they cross the checkpoint, some of them no older than seven, and they are required to remove belts and any other accessory that makes the metal-detectors bleep. (Hebron, 27-28.5)
**ATTENTION ARMY HUMANITARIAN HOTLINE:
Mohammad delivers milk to Nablus hospitals. On Maay 25th he applied to renew his entry permit into Nablus, about to expire on June 1st. Since then he has been reporting to the DCO in Qalqiliya daily, where he is always ordered to "come tomorrow". He has thus lost five work days and milk has not been delivered to the hospitals. The permit that Mohammad holds notes that he is assigned "to supply food within closure areas, on humanitarian and medical grounds". This has been confirmed by the Public Inquiries Officers at the Civil Administration. In the past, too, Mohammad has met bureaucratic obstacles whenever applying for renewing his permit and our intervention has been required for him to finally receive the necessary documents. Our appeals to DCO Qalqiliya have not solved the problem. Considering the urgency of the matter, on June 4th we requested the intervention of the Public Inquiries Officer at the Civil Administration. Complying with his request, we faxed him all the details of this case, and thus another day went by without milk for Nablus hospitals. Following this intervention, we were informed on Thursday June 5th that the permit will indeed be given to Mohammad, but only in five days' time, after the Shavuoth (Jewish) holiday, for "tomorrow is Friday, then Saturday, and then Sunday is holiday eve, and Monday is holiday". In the meantime Mohammad tried to get into Nablus on his delivery days through the various checkpoints surrounding the city - once at Huwwara, once in Beit Iba. When soldiers refused him passage, he called us, we called the DCO, and under directions from the Head of the DCO the milk was let through into town for the hospitals. On Tuesday, June 10th , after helping Mohammad yet again to get the milk through, he went back to DCO Qalqiliya (Eyal). There, he told us, he was informed that since he had complained and "been a trouble-maker", he must re-apply. Yet again we were called upon to intervene and demand of DCO Qalqiliya to do his duty. Finally Mohammad received the blessed permit, after hours of waiting. And for how long is this permit valid? Not a year, God forbid, not half a year: merely three months. And then, the wheels will presumably have to start rolling again. And this is called "relief for the Palestinians' fabric of life", and "making movement easier for the Palestinians". (Qalqiliya, 25.5)
To Major General (Res.) Ehud Barak
Minister of Defense
You have promised the removal of blockages in order to relieve the Palestinians' "life fabric" in the West Bank. Not one checkpoint has been dismantled, not one earth-mound removed. Barriers have been added, more concrete walls, more metal gates.
In the sweep of the pendulum between human rights and security - every barrier you add reduces security and contributes to growing hatred and violence. You are responsible for the symbiosis generated between all security forces in this area and the Jewish settlers. You are responsible for violating the Palestinians' human rights. You bear the responsibility for the separation/apartheid policy practiced in Hebron - that constantly grants more rights to the settlers and reduces the rights of Palestinians. Is this the right way to fight terrorism, or is this the surest way to preserve terrorism as a stabilizing factor in our region?
The gap dissonance between your declarations and their implementation on the ground enhances frustration and mistrust. Let us not forget that the land we came to had not been empty, and that we have all been created in God's image. Disregarding the lives and dignity of Palestinians deprives Zionism of its moral significance, its values and humaneness. Where are we going with this? (Southern West Bank, 6.5)
Near the concrete slabs marking the edge of the H2 area, behind the Jewish cemetery, another flying (temporary) checkpoint has been posted. The lieutenant stands there, pointing his rifle beside a stone wall, behind him in the background laundry hangs to dry next to a house still inhabited by Palestinians. Opposite on the entrance steps to a house, another soldier stands with a pointed gun, and on both sides of the road, another four soldiers. All of this is seen about 300 meters above the Tel Romeida Checkpoint, where Palestinians would be inspected again in any case. Why has another checkpoint been posted here? The commander's answer: "From here to Tel Romeida Checkpoint they might still manage to carry out a terrorist attack."
Against whom? Their own neighbors? This is a Palestinian neighborhood, containing not a single Jew. So why the checkpoint, if not to show who's in charge?!
And who passes through there? A old blind man, groping along, youngsters and the elderly who are required by the soldiers to open their coats, lift them, turn a pirouette. Some of them are held against the concrete wall, and with the rifle, they are urged to splay open their legs, as the insides of their thighs are tap-searched. (Tel Romeida, Hebron, 1.4)
Suddenly a horrible surge of noise rises from the loudspeakers posed on the roof of the building containing the settlers' snack and souvenir shop: "Hebron is ours, by right of our forefathers, Hebron belongs to the Jewish People, Hebron is mine, Hebron, the Holy City was given to the Holy People by the Lord Almighty." The Palestinians in their own souvenir shop across the street say this noise drives them crazy all day long and all night. We asked for the volume to be lowered.
Out of the snack shop comes a man who turns into a bully on the spot, identifies himself as Ofer Ohana, sticks a video camera in my face, claims he holds a journalist card, swears at us. He calls out to the youths gathering around us to pray for our deaths. The souvenir shopkeeper, turning into a bully as well, begins to shout aggressively, "Traitors" and the like. "I served in the army for four years, and I know you are a security hazard." More passers-by add their own two bits. Border Patrol men look on and do nothing. A brave policeman arrives and the settlers charge at him as well, swearing, pushing and threatening. A police car with more policemen arrives, one of them takes out a video camera - the only item that deters the bullies who try to avoid being photographed.
An older man informs us we've "always been whores", a boy suggests that my son should marry an Arab woman, a youngster wearing a large white skullcap goes berserk and confronts policemen, while the first two bullies continue to yell, swearing and threatening: "When we take over, we'll hang you from a high tree like Haman", "You shame us in front of the Palestinians", "You are a disgrace to your family".
The Border Patrol's usual solution: To remove us rather than our assailants from the public area into the nearby police station to lodge a complaint. At the end of the procedure, the interrogator tells us she receives letters from the local settlers addressed to "Mrs. Eichmann". (Cave of the Fathers, Hebron, 6.4)
Ofer Ohana invites us again to live on Traitors Street no. 9. He explains to the Border Patrolmen that if a Palestinian stabs soldiers we would dance over their blood. (Hebron, 17.4)
At the gate between Hebron and Kiryat Arba, the guard asks to see our driver's ID. At this point, Ofer Ohana stands in front of the vehicle to block it from moving. The gate is closed, as well. We get out of the car and ask the policeman to move the people and let us through. The policeman explains to the guard that we are with him, but at this point about 50 settlers, most of them men, boys and little children crowd around. The vehicle becomes a target. Spitting, rocking the car, yelling, threatening, swearing.
Outside, six policemen and some soldiers are pacing around but none of them does anything to prevent damage to the car or check the escalating violence. Another police car arrives, bringing another three policemen on the scene. The policeman driving it hugs one of the settlers and the riot outside continues. Someone lets the air out of our back tire, and some minutes later, someone else punctures the front tire with a knife.
A policeman is pushed and hit by a group of 5-6 settlers. No one does a thing to open the gate, take charge of the situation and enable us to move on. Instead, after over half an hour, one of the policemen joins us inside the car and we are told to reach the police station. We are all detained for having participated in an illegal gathering.
On two punctured tires we ascend towards the police station. While inside the car, we don't see any of the policemen actually taking matters seriously. The boys who hit policemen have not been detained, and the police have not done a thing to document the crowding and violence that had taken place. The policemen were afraid to confront the settlers and preferred to stay inside their station. It is saddening to witness the helplessness and feel - first hand - the flagrant symbiosis between the security forces and the settlers. (Hebron, 25.4)
This alert is dedicated to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who while addressing a brigade commanders' meeting last week, asked them to "think about the Palestinians having to strip at the checkpoints. This might become a bubbling cauldron that will suddenly explode and inflict terrible burns, and t can be something else - depending entirely upon your own judgment and your ability to act wisely and with determination." Come, Mr. Prime Minister, take a look at what really goes on at the checkpoints.
"Madison Road" - who knows what that is?
"Madison Road" ? I know where that is...
16:00 On the roadside just outside the checkpoint compound, 7 vehicles are parked, their drivers and passengers standing by them in a stalled stance that speaks volumes.
There are 2 refrigerated trucks, one truck carrying oxygen tanks, another empty truck, a van carrying medication with the Red Crescent emblem, a private vehicle whose owner is a physician from Huwwara village. DCO Captain A. (of the Civil Administration) arrives within 10 minutes, and before we even begin to ask questions, announces that he knows all the cases! They all traveled "Madison road", breaking the law. We ask, if there is a law forbidding Palestinians to travel this road, why is there no road sign explicitly stating this for all to see?? "That's right", he answers. And why do the soldiers who catch them not prevent them from getting on that road? "You go and stand over there!" he answers us. The drivers get on the road, are detected by the army but caught only at the end of the forbidden road. Then he informs us (repeatedly) that they (the Palestinian drivers) are all 'fucking our minds' (maybe he means us too) and releases the truck carrying the oxygen tanks. "There's the law that the brigade commander has set, he's the one who decides and they know it. Let's go and ask them, one by one"...Then he releases the doctor. "Just for your sake. If he's a doctor he is intelligent and he is still living in Huwwara so he should know where he is permitted to drive and where he isn't".
We said that sometimes people are in a hurry, or tired, and the alternative road for Palestinians is long winding and potholed and it is only human to choose the shorter, smoother road since "the law" is not legal, thus the violation is no violation. And what about the medication carrier? "He is a conniving liar, I know him." After a while he too is released. All the others are kept waiting until 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 'do their time' of punishment. The soldiers kept their eyes on the watch and stuck to the letter of every second... (Huwwara, 2.3)
We noticed hands waving to us from a concrete cubicle at the side of the checkpoint. We approached and discovered a doorless concrete hold containing 14 (!) youngsters, all students who were detained 3 hours earlier while trying to cross the "Madison Route on foot en route to Awarta (probably in the attempt to spare themselves the Huwwara checkpoint). The camaraderie of 14 youngsters might have relieved the waiting, but because of the crowded conditions a few of them "leaked" out over the concrete ledge between them and freedom. The checkpoint commander kept warning them to get back into the hold. Suddenly he ran up to us and demanded we give him a ride to chase 6 Palestinians that were observed by him crossing the same road. We were stunned and, of course, refused: "We should take you in our car to catch Palestinians??" He was cross with us, for they - as he put it - are walking straight from "Madison Route" (connecting Nablus and Awarta) to Tel Aviv...
The commander came to release the youngsters, but keeps the four who were outside the cubicle detained. However, he does not remember which these were. He tries to pressure the Palestinians into turning the culprits in, but all are united in solidarity and ready to remain in detention and not turning the "violators". Finally he chooses whom he'll detain further, and releases all the rest after lecturing them in English (first he asked us to translate into Arabic, but we instantly forgot the little Arabic we know). The youngsters first refused to leave without their mate, but when they realized the commander couldn't care less if they stay, they turned to go. Our pleas were of no help. The commander refused to release the single detainee. He said the fellow would suffer on our account, and we thought that perhaps our presence makes him hold this detainee longer (this proved to be wrong, he kept him there for another hour and a quarter after we left). They were all directed back to Nablus, let them now proceed through the checkpoint, meaning another hour's delay at least. (Awarta, 6.4)
Leaving Awarta at the "Madison" junction, soldiers are putting up a spike road barrier to catch the 'violators' that will be driving from Beit Furiq and Beit Dajam on this hallowed colonist road.
We reached the Awarta Checkpoint, now closed down, at 18:45. The soldiers stay cozy in the watchtower, and a single car with four Palestinian men stands waiting idly to be released. They tell us they were detained at 4:30 p.m. As we arrive, a blinding spotlight is switched on in our eyes, and then the soldiers approach us. The commander says the men are detained since 5:10 p.m. There is no meaning to these discrepancies - they were caught near Huwwara at 4:30 p.m. and brought to Awarta at 5:10 p.m., everyone's right... But from the moment the CP commander receives the 'goods' he may hold on to them for three hours by the clock and that's exactly what he intends to do. These passengers, too, are from Ramallah and unfamiliar with the 'rules' and bans in the Nablus area. We called the DCO about them, and asked the soldiers why no one puts up a road sign so Palestinians would know they are forbidden to travel this road, and thus spare the trouble to punish them for something they do not know. This idea produced an outraged response from the CP commander: "That would be such a racist road-sign!!" He also claimed that "the Palestinians spin you like a corkscrew. They're not from Ramallah, they're from here, this village, I know him." And to show us how good he is, he said about the passengers, indeed from Ramallah, that "They were okay, they didn't make trouble for me so I let them sit in their car and not in the detention cubicle". Any one of those four detainees could easily have been father to these soldiers, age-wise. (Awarta, 15.3)
"Madison Route" - in Israeli army jargon - is road no. 557 that branches off road no. 60 south of Nablus and leads eastwards to the Jewish colony of Itamar, the Palestinian villages Beit Furiq and Beit Dajan, and ends in the Jewish colony of Alon More.
No Palestinian traffic is permitted along this road, neither vehicular nor pedestrian - neither on it nor alongside it, for the supposed "security" of the Jewish colonists.
The Palestinian villagers here wishing to travel south to Ramallah, Bethlehem or Hebron, for example, must go north through Beit Furiq Checkpoint into Nablus, cross the city westwards, and exit southbound through the Huwwara Checkpoint. This entails three hours of traveling on the average (including the waiting in two checkpoints), instead of a several-minute drive.
Among the barriers mentioned as "removed" by the defense authorities lately, appears one that is located on "Madison Route" itself. We have been driving along this route for years daily, and have never witnessed this "mysterious" barrier. Where was it? From where has it been removed?? Anyone?
Bethlehem Checkpoint (the 'Rachel Crossing') is one of the 'terminals' that the Defence Ministry built to organise the crossing from the southern West Bank into Jerusalem. Close to 4,000 people pass through it checkpoint daily, on their way to work 05:00 to 08:30, then returning home - from 15:00 to 17:00. This is the announcement made in the Knesset about the construction of the terminals:
Minutes no. 495
- a meeting of the
Interior & Environmental Quality Committee
10:00 - Wednesday 27 July 2005
(Address by Mr. Taiber)
"The state and the Defence Ministry have assumed the task of transforming these crossings into the most humane sort of crossing possible, that will provide the most appropriate services in all senses of the words. In terms of the visual and physical aspects - they must be the most attractive, appropriate, and suitable for the people using it. And as far as the terminals are concerned - they should be of a level equivalent to international terminals".
That sounds like a really bad joke. "Humane ... equivalent to international terminals?" There are no toilets; no benches; no protection from the elements; no "humane" crossing that takes into account the presence of children and women; no water-cooler - (and - how surprising - not even a duty-free).
The 'terminal" for people crossing on foot was built as a spacious hall on the Israeli side with 12 checking-positions. Only five of them are functioning, however. In comparison, on the Palestinian side there are only 2 checking-positions. And so appalling congestion that endangers everyone in the checkpoint is generated each morning, when thousands of people try to get to work on time.
We reached the checkpoint at 05:10. People had started crossing a few minutes previously. Behind the walls on the outskirts of the checkpoint - an area that's out of bounds for us - are the downtrodden Palestinian labourers holding their coats, their belts unbuckled, shoes in their hands, or wearing shoes without laces. These phenomena are invisible in the fable of the 'fabric of life' and the 'human aspect'... nor are the people running towards the checking positions pulling on their clothes, hoping that the transport to work won't 'escape' them meanwhile.
It's everyday hell that's typical of this checkpoint. A young man holding an infant was standing in line in the checkpoint area, by the entrance. He was obviously waiting for the baby's mother. The guards tried to get him to move out of the checkpoint, to the extreme cold outside. Common sense prevailed this time, and he was permitted to remain standing in the hall. Apparently the baby wasn't his; its mother was on the other side, but with the terrible crowding it was impossible to create any space so she could get to the head of the line. So the baby was passed from hand-to-hand until it landed in this young man's arms. It took 50 minutes until mother and baby were reunited.
Another man held a sick infant, and was accompanied by his 11-year-old daughter: he asked the guards to allow him to leave the checkpoint without standing in line. He showed his daughter's birth certificate - confirming that she was indeed 11 years old. But no - he could leave with the baby, but not with the big girl! He was afraid that the child couldn't find her was back home alone. So what? The child had to go home alone. (5 February 2008)
The checkpoint on the Israeli side opened at 05:05. Only four checking positions were open for business. The overcrowding was terrible. More and more people were crowded together in an inhuman way: the disorder was absolute.
There was no chance of helping in "trivial" cases - like someone whose magnetic card gave an expiry date in 2009 but "the computer in the soldier's position says that it will expire this week"; or someone who until two days ago had worked without problems, but since the previous day had been blacklisted by the GSS. At 06:55 another position was opened by an officer. We asked him to try and get the crowds moving. He took a seat at a position where the exit turnstile wasn't functioning. People were standing in line behind that position. After a while, when the problem became obvious, he moved to another position, and this of course caused more disorder.
The situation was one of lack of control and aggressiveness. The Palestinians pushed, shouted and argued. The guards shouted at them to move back. Sometimes the guards pushed them to try and get them to move back. Some people tried to get through the unstaffed positions. Some were successful, others failed.
At 06:50, a man of around 45 collapsed after crossing through the checkpoint. The private security staff called for an ambulance which arrived some 20 minutes later. They examined him, and a Palestinian ophthalmologist who was there mediated between the staff (who didn't speak Arabic) and the patient. According to the ambulance staff the man had not suffered a heart attack, and they called for a Palestinian ambulance. The man was evacuated after lying on the floor for about an hour. He had collapsed as a result of fractured ribs caused by the overcrowding. The Israeli police and border police gave first aid.
As for the general situation at the checkpoint they had just one solution: shout at people to stand in line, close positions when the Palestinians failed to do so (thus worsening the congestion), and then reopen the positions once collective punishment did nothing to help. We spoke to a police officer and asked him to allow the women to go through - they were helpless in the face of the anarchy. His answer: they will wait like everyone else.. (7 February 2008).
Because we see sights like this every day, we complained to the responsible people several times. On 16 March 2000 we sent the following letter to Mr. Matan Vilnai, Deputy Defence-Minister: General Gad Shamni, Chief of Central Command ; General Yossef Mishlav - Coordinator of Activities in the Occupied Territories; Brig. Yoav Mordechai, Head of the Civil Administration.
Today is Sunday - the start of the working week. This is not classified information. Every resident and citizen of Israel knows that Sunday is the start of the working week.
It's now 06:00 and there has already been a 'battle' at the entrance to the Rachel Crossing (Checkpoint 300)- but today is worse than usual. People from the civilian company that operates the facility are behaving with extreme violence, pushing, shoving, screaming and cursing - appalling behaviour (and this is a restrained description).
06:00 - We contacted the IDF's humanitarian hotline - " I don't think I can help about the civilian company - I contacted the DCO - but at this time of day ... and on a Sunday..."
06:05 - The checkpoint is closed down - the pressure is immense, what a surprise, who would have imagined pressure like this on a Sunday morning?
This situation has been going on for weeks. We were told that another sleeve would be opened in Bethlehem - when will this happen? Why this daily abuse? Must there be a disaster before it stops?
06:30 - the entrance is still closed. At last - a fifth checking position is opened.
How many workers will miss a day's work today?
How many humiliations will remain in their memories? "
This letter received an answer only from the office of the Chief of Central Command, informing us that the checkpoint is the responsibility of the Israeli Police - Jerusalem district, and our query had been referred to them.
This was written by the General in charge of the Central Command - the sovereign power in the West Bank!
WE HAVE NOW BEEN STANDING VIGIL AT THE CHECKPOINTS FOR SEVEN YEARS
Four-and-a-half years have gone by since we began to issue our special alerts - the monthly summary of the goings-on in the very back yard of the State of Israel.
Our reports clearly reflect the collective punishment policy exercised in the West Bank. Bureaucratic stranglehold and restriction of movement critically disable Palestinians from living their everyday lives. The acute damages to livelihood, education, healthcare services and democratic community life comprise merely the tip of the iceberg at this time in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The expression "fabric of life" does not begin to relate to the trampling of Palestinians' human rights, dignity and freedom.
Van Leer Institute recently held a conference (February 13, 2008) on the subject of the checkpoints. The participants - mostly retired senior army officials some of whom had taken active part in the creation of the checkpoint apparatus - now all realize that this system's harm far exceeds any advantage they were aiming to achieve.
In recent weeks, we have witnessed time and again soldiers brutalizing Palestinians at Beit Iba Checkpoint. Having beaten the Palestinian, the soldier then accuses him of the very same assault:
A soldier pushes an elderly man trying to reach the detainees' pen and forces him into the waiting line. The Checkpoint commander uses his rifle to hit a Palestinian lying on the floor of the pen. We approach and see it is the commander who is beating and kicking him. This was finally stopped as a result of the DCO representative's interference. The man forced into the line is the brother of the beaten victim. The soldiers claim that the Palestinian slapped the soldier as they argued. Palestinian eye-witnesses did not see any slapping. The DCO officer summons an ambulance and two paramedics need to treat the young man for about an hour, then helping him into the ambulance. The paramedic said the man has just undergone surgery and the beating may have damaged his scars.
During the same shift, the pushing soldier is constantly rough and rude, yells incessantly and occasionally punishes for no reason at all other people undergoing checks. (23.1)
A violent incident took place at the checkpoint, whereby the commander smashed a car's windshield. The car was standing at a 'no parking' area and the driver claimed he wasn't aware of being ordered to stop. (12.2)
12:00 - A cab driver who approached passengers at the checkpoint to offer them a ride was hit in his head by the soldiers and his hand was fractured. After being sent to the detainees' pen he was bandaged by a military medic. At 17:30 he was still being detained in the pen on grounds that the police was to come take him for questioning as he is charged with assaulting a soldier. A detention warrant has been issued for him for 69 hours - the maximum the law allows. He has not had anything to eat or drink since noon, his eyes are reddened and he is clearly in pain, and has not been allowed to use the toilet. We later found out the man was further held at the checkpoint until midnight. An ambulance then arrived and delivered him to Rafidiya Hospital in Nablus, where he was hospitalized with a fractured hand and headaches.
The wounded man's ID remained with the soldiers. When family members arrived the next day to take back his ID, they were told that since charges are being pressed against him for assaulting a soldier, his ID will not be returned.
Upon his release from the hospital he approached the checkpoint to get his ID, and was told to get it at the DCO. A call to the DCO informed him that his ID was not there. The man tried to get to the DCO himself, but having no ID, he was not allowed through the checkpoint... (13.2)
At 14:00 a young man from Nakura was taken off a bus by two soldiers, and after arguing they began to beat him accusing him of assaulting a soldier. He was forced to stand in the pouring rain, and shivering in the cold he called a human rights organization representative asking to save him "before he dies here". At 20:00 he was not yet released, and then there was no more contact with him. The next day we were informed that he was held in the detainees' pen until 22:00. He testified that after the officer left the checkpoint, soldiers came and beat him up again. (14.2)
In all the cases described above, Palestinians are accused of assaulting the same soldiers who beat them. This phenomenon has been observed repeatedly at Beit Iba Checkpoint. No such "violations" as they are described can possibly justify such violence and harassment on the part of soldiers.
The Bethlehem checkpoint - as Christmas approaches
Lift up your heads, O ye gates: and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in (Psalms, 24 vii)
The famous chorale from Handel's Messiah, based on these verses, is sung around the world as Christmas approaches. The original words - sung on Jewish holidays when the Torah scrolls are replaced in the ark - relate the divine revelation of Yahweh, while their Christian interpretation refers to the infant Jesus who will establish the Kingdom of God. At the Bethlehem checkpoint, we saw very little revelation and not much that recalled a holy kingdom. Nevertheless, the Christmas opening of the gate that for most of the year blocks what was once the main entrance to Bethlehem is such a rare phenomenon that it provided a quasi-miraculous glimpse into a closed-off world. Passage was restricted to Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem who is considered God's representative on earth - and the patriarch's entourage. Ordinary mortals, like they do every day, had to cope with the checkpoint.
The road to Bethlehem and the checkpoint were decorated for the season. Hebron Road, starting from the outskirts of the Arnona neighbourhood, was decorated like every year with Christmas lights. There was a row of decorative stars with large Israeli flags hanging underneath, to leave no doubt who was in charge here - in united Jerusalem, across the Green Line - the sovereign ruler. At the checkpoint itself, as well as the signs placed in the track for cars, reading "Jerusalem-Bethlehem * Love and Peace" - there were two signs bearing greetings in English from the Tourism Ministry for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. At the track for pedestrians was a sign with a picture of the Tower of David and season's greetings in Hebrew, Arabic, English, French, German, Italian and Russian. Its message was "Greetings for the Holiday Season - Christmas - Hanukkah - Id el Adha - may this holiday season herald a period of peace and prosperity". In the European languages, the Jewish and Muslim holidays were avoided and made do (with some spelling mistakes) with greetings for a New Year that would supply all humanity with goodwill, peace, and prosperity.
Early in the morning, it was an ordinary day for all purposes, with the usual checkpoint-and-queue routine, with hundreds of people intent on reaching Jerusalem. At the car-track, there was considerable traffic en route to Bethlehem. In honour of the holiday, Israeli Christians were allowed to enter the Forbidden City - which is in Area A. To prevent any delusionary chance of a Jewish Israeli "slipping into" Bethlehem a large sign was erected, reading "Entrance to the Palestinian Authority. No entry for Israelis". The identity cards of passengers in private cars were checked, but less attention was paid to the buses and Transit vans.
All this activity, however, was unfolding in background. The main event was the entry to Bethlehem of Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch and head of Roman Catholic Christians in the Holy Land. And that was what had brought the army and police officers here, and had caused the deploying of police officers along the Hebron Road, as well as the massive police presence next to the Mar Elias monastery.
According to the official brochure describing the Christmas ceremony, his Beatitude would be welcomed at 13:00 by the Catholic priest of Bethlehem and representatives of the towns of Bethlehem, Beit Jallah, and Beit Sahur at Rachel's Tomb. Half an hour later there would be a festive entrance into the Church of the Nativity. The wording reminded us of the days when Rachel's Tomb symbolised the entrance to Bethlehem and was the fitting place for a local VIPs to meet and welcome honoured guests to their city. Today there is a checkpoint that must be crossed, Israeli officers are organising the Patriarch's visit to Bethlehem, and Rachel's Tomb is hidden away behind a wall, and serves as a place of prayer for Jews only, with a separate entrance. None of this appeared in the description of the ceremony. It is the nature of church diplomacy, like the 'enlightened occupation' policy of conducting affairs by ignoring reality.
At 12:15 the grey metal gate moved aside as if by a magician, revealing a momentary glimpse of life behind the wall. Five minutes later, the entourage of waiting dignitaries would welcome the Patriarch set out for a place not overshadowed by the checkpoint and the wall - the Mar Elias monastery, midway between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, in the only open area between the two towns. The ancient olive trees growing in the rocky terrain can evoke the times of Jesus. Heading the entourage was a white Civil Administration car, flying a particularly high and extremely large blue-and-white flag.
The drive to Mar Elias takes two or three minutes, but it took some time until everyone had welcomed everyone else and the convoy started slowly moving off towards Bethlehem. A group of army and police officers stood in the middle of the road. At 12:50 the gate was reopened, and 15 minutes later the road was empty of any cars which had no role in the ceremony - what the army calls a 'sterile zone'. The convoy, about 50 cars, drew closer. At its head was a Border Police Jeep, a police vehicle, and that civil administration car with its huge flag. Immediately afterwards came the Patriarch's car - flying a green flag slightly bigger than the blue-and-white flag. Next were dignitaries from Bethlehem and Jerusalem, as well as Christians intent on celebrating in Bethlehem and who were caught in the convoy. Originally, the directive was to allow only VIPs to cross through the gates, and to divert others to the checkpoint. The officers realised that the separation would hamper the convoy's progress, so they permitted everyone to cross through the main road. Even one or two Jerusalem - Bethlehem buses had managed to sneak into the convoy, but their drivers were immediately told to let their passengers off at the side. The passengers were the first labourers returning from a hard day's work. Although the gate was still open, for them it was as good as locked: they had to cross to the other side of the wall, by way of the checks, the turnstiles, and checkpoint gates - as they do every day.
That wasn't the main convoy, though. The Patriarch's car arrived at 13:20, surrounded by five Border Police horsemen holding Border Police and Israeli banners in their hands. Michel Sabbah was seated in the car, expressionless, looking straight ahead. The riders halted in front of the gate, a gesture hinting that this was where Israeli sovereignty terminated and another sovereignty took over. Nevertheless, the Civil Administration car, its huge flag aloft, crossed the border into Bethlehem.
At 15:00 we returned to the checkpoint. No ceremony now: the labourers simply wanted to go home and the tourists wanted to get to the Church of the Nativity. On the Hebron Road, we had already seen some groups on their way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. At the checkpoint car-track, there was still considerable traffic bound for Bethlehem. Huge bags of sweets were handed out - a holiday gift to tourists, courtesy of the Tourism Ministry. Lots of officers were in place, to ensure that things went smoothly. Now and then, via the soldiers' communication system, we overheard that they weren't sure whether or not if they should allow a group with blue identity cards to enter Bethlehem. And every so often announcements were made about the number of people who had crossed - separate statistics provided for Israelis and foreigners.
While the officers were showing interest in the cars crossing over, at the pedestrian-crossing the 'usual' situation was developing as the labourers started returning home. A disciplined queue that rapidly grew from 15 to 45 people waited at the entrance to the checking area. Every so often, the security-company guard at the entrance would let five people in to ensure that the main pressure would be outside, not inside. When tourists were in the queue (not as disciplined as the labourers, because they were unfamiliar with the checkpoint rule "If you don't behave properly, you don't go through") the guards let them in faster.
Inside there was only one checking-position towards Bethlehem and one towards Jerusalem. So far there were only a few labourers, while in half an hour's time there would be many more, and the queues much longer. The Civil Administration heads were standing by the car-crossing, so we had an opportunity to lodge complaints with them directly. "There are only two or three people there" we said, inviting them to come see for themselves. They weren't allowed to enter the checkpoint, they replied. But suddenly there was a Christmas miracle and one position towards Bethlehem grew into five and eventually six positions. The queue outside dispersed as if it had never been. Processing was quick, even at the peak time between 16:00 and 17:00, when scores of labourers arrived. Now and then a soldier's nerves snapped...and we heard the growled "Magnetic" from the hall, when the exhausted labourers failed to quickly present their magnetic card that allows them to go through the crossing.
Once the labourers reached the checkpoint and exited the buses and Transit vans, they didn't know of course that there was no queue and no need to fight for a good place. So we constantly saw men running from cars to the checkpoint hoping to overtake their friends and save themselves some waiting time. This is how the occupation forces people to focus on themselves and their individual struggle to survive each day. When they saw that there was no queue, many smiled, perhaps out of happiness and maybe laughing at themselves.
At 17:30 two positions were closed. Traffic dwindled. We drove back to Jerusalem under the full moon, along the Hebron Road under the golden light of the star decorations, with the flags below in the dark. For a moment there was an illusion of a serene holiday atmosphere like in the Christian world. You could be fooled into thinking that the words of the angels blessing the baby born in Bethlehem - "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke, 2: xiv) had actually come true.