An especially difficult day.
09:30 Departure from Rosh Ha'Ayin.
10:00 Arrival at Dir Balut. We were supposed to begin a session with a group of women, as was agreed with them last week. The feeling is festive. To our surprise, a lad arrives from the council house and informs us that the women will not come. Without prior notification, without explanation. Nadim calls Nivin, the organizer. At first she is evasive. And bit by bit the truth is exposed: one of the council memebers opposes our activity and under his influence it was decided to cancel our activities.
How can such a step be explained? One reason which, as far as we are concerned, it is easier to digest is – "the conservative men don't want to expose the women to "modernity". A more difficult reason – "we don't need your favours". Be it as it may,the fact was that we were kicked out. Sad.
10:15 Departure for a tour.
As we had time on our hands, we decided to make it an expanded tour. We didn't imagine that we would find ourselves in the heart of a terrorist attack which would develop into Price Tag. On the way to the Tapuah junction we already saw more military vehicles that usual. At the junction itself. Near the bus station, there was a big gathering.
Policemen, soldiers, armed settlers. We approach and try to find out what has happened. It turned out that around 09:00 hrs a Palestinian fatally stabbed a settler from Yitzhar, snatched his weapons, and tried to get away. Soldiers shot at him and wounded him. He isn't around anymore, was evacuated by ambulance to the hospital.
A woman settler tells us assuredly that the assassin is from Kafr Yassuf, near Yitzhar. Later it transpires that he came from afar: from the village of Shwayka near Tul Karem (it may be hoped that at least for the moment Kafr Yassuf is saved from a retaliatory act…).
We tried to extract explanations: what led to the stabbing? After all it is not logical to assume that a person looking for revenge would choose such a long trail so far from his home (which makes his rescues in a hiding place more difficult) just in order to stab somebody? Just like that? What was the trigger that cause the violent outburst? Was there a prior acquaintanceship between them? What inflamed the atmosphere between the settler and the Palestinian prior to the stabbing?
We didn't get any answers to our querries. Will the investigators eventually try to find out whether the stabber had a motive? This remains to be seen.
While the military Zaka people (a religious organization of volunteers for finding and rescuing people injured in a disaster) perform their work, young people who fit according to their looks the description of the Youth of the Hills arrive from nowhere and the atmosphere becomes heated. One young man tries to shoo us away. "Who are you, are you the police?" we ask. And the answer, directed at Natalie is: "If you weren't a woman, I would crack your skull".
11:00 We leave. On the radio we hear the details of the event. Military jeeps patrol along the road. Every 100-200 meters there is a group of soldiers who block with spikes vehicles which drive in the direction of the Tapuah intersection. We, driving in the opposite direction. Pass without being checked.
All along the way, at the entries to each village, there are road blocks. Nobody can enter or leave. We arrive at Huwwara. Surprisingly the main road is lively. But in sporadic conversations with people it transpires that they are aware of the going-ons: "There is a mess". And indeed there is.
Ambulances pass with sirens, driving at high speed in both directions. And that's the reason: at the exit from Huwwara, at the roadside, there is a parked bus which drove girl pupils from their school. The front window is smashed. Wounded girls are transferred by ambulance for medical treatment. The price tag has begun its activities.
At the order of the border policemen we turn around and go in the opposite direction. Large groups of settlers, some of whom are armed, are seen along the road. How did they manage to pass through the police and army checkpoints??
12:30 Back to Rosh Ha'Ayin, to another reality, to another country. The news announce that the price tag activities which we witnessed are only the beginning.
It’s a gray, hot, hazy day; the world around us seems to have passed out…
13:00 Tapuach Junction checkpoint
Unmanned. On our way back, at 17:30, still unmanned, but 3 Border Policemen sit there, openly bored.
13:20 – Maale Efraim checkpoint
Unmanned. In the afternoon, at 17:15, 3 reservists man the checkpoint but cars pass unchecked.
15:00 and 16:45- Hamra checkpoint
Manned by reservists. Passengers in both directions are not required to disembark. This is a relief, that can be repealed at any moment as we saw on March 19, when in the morning people could cross in their cars and in the afternoon they were forced to disembark and cross the checkpoint on foot.
Cars traveling to the Jordan Valley are checked, their driver made to disembark and stand beside the car. Cars traveling into the West Bank were not checked.
On March 23, the checkpoint was closed for about 3.5 hours (according to a phone report). It was evening and the soldiers directed the Palestinian vehicles to the fields south of the checkpoint and instructed them to bypass it, unchecked. A bus load of school children on their way home from a school trip was not able to manage the dirt road and the children had to sit still inside the bus for all of 3.5 hours. Around 8 p.m. the checkpoint was reopened for traffic. A phone call to the DCO produced the following answers:
1. A Palestinian reached the checkpoint and tried to attack the soldiers.
2. (later) An explosive charge was discovered in his things and they were waiting for a robot to come and detonate it.
Before the checkpoint was reopened a blast was heard.
Talking with a Palestinian today, we heard there’s a rumor about that a 15-year-old boy was arrested following the blast incident and passed on for interrogation to the Palestinian security services. Admittedly, this is but a rumor and has not been verified by anyone.
15:30 Tyassir checkpoint
Here too, the soldiers are reservists, friendly and smiling. The traffic is scant and passage swift. Passengers cross inside their cars, wave to us in greeting and say that crossing this morning was alright, too.
Generally speaking, things are calm, we saw no army forces on maneuvers, and the presence of soldiers on the ground was relatively scant. The Palestinians also report an easy day at the checkpoints, and that they’ve suffered no extraordinary violence in the past few days. Just plain old quiet routine oppression.
Translator: Charles K.
While Barack Obama, the President of the United States, is in Israel giving a speech about peace – a notice posted on the fence of the Huwwara checkpoint announces the establishment of new settlements in Palestinian territory.
Note: While conditions have been eased at the checkpoints in comparison to what we’ve seen in the past, the occupier’s presence has been expanded, as will be seen from this report.
14:00 Habla checkpoint
We arrived as the gate closed. It will reopen only in the evening for laborers returning from work.
14:07 Eliyahu crossing
The driver of a car with Israeli license plates is having his documents checked as he leaves Israel.
14:13 An army jeep is parked before the Ma’aleh Shomron settlement.
14:20 An army pickup truck going in the opposite direction passes us near the Gil’ad Farm.
14:25 Jit junction
A new observation post has been
erected on the northern hill.
14:30 The Israeli police stopped a Palestinian car before the village of Asira al Kabaliyya to ticket it.
14:35 A military jeep drives toward us from the junction of Highway 60 and the Huwwara-Burin road.
We wait at that junction behind a military Hummer for a break in the traffic so we can both turn north toward the Huwwara checkpoint.
14:39 Huwwara checkpoint
Soldiers stationed in the observation tower at the checkpoint, the guard tower at the hitchhiking station at the exit from the Beracha settlement and the hitchhiking station at the settlement’s entrance.
Stones have been arranged in the form of a low wall
on the fence at the Huwwara checkpoint – where the
adjacent area has recently been “upgraded” – and carob trees have been planted, opposite the plaza that has also been “ungraded” – Who paid for the work? What’s it for?
It’s too bad Obama hadn’t been there and didn’t see with his own eyes how the settlements surrounding Nablus are choking the city.
There’s only one notice now on the fence from which the signs posted by the settlers were recently removed: “New localities in Judea and Samaria. To join, call [phone number]. The Nahalasettlement movement.”
14:40 A military truck turns toward the Huwwara DCO.
14:42 Awarta checkpoint
Closed as usual. No access to Nablus.
A military truck next to a military firing range located on the way to the village of Huwwara.
14:45 Beit Furik checkpoint
A minibus driver coming from Beit Dajan says that occasionally the army unexpectedly sets up flying checkpoints at the entrance to the village.
15:05 An army jeep drives through the village of Huwwara.
15:30 Za’tara checkpoint
Soldiers relax in the parking lot. No inspections.
16:00 The bus terminal at the Oranit settlement
We waited to see whether the police arrive. The police have been in the habit of making Palestinians get off the bus and not allowing them to continue. The police didn’t come. Let’s hope that continues. In any event, we’ll keep checking.
16:50 Azzun Atma checkpoint.
There was no congestion while we were there as laborers returned home through the checkpoint.
freedom theatre in the jordan valley
jordan valley solidarity and freedom theatre bus building a school
Zaatara checkpoint - passengers taken off a bus on thier way home
The Freedom Bus (of the Freedom Theatre, Jenin) goes down to the Jordan Valley;
Don’t discard me when I get old – the elderly couple whose home was demolished on January 24th, 2013, what is happening with them now?
Dog trainers practicing at Tapuach Checkpoint – at the expense of Palestinians.
10:50, Tapuach Checkpoint – unmanned,
but two bored Border Policemen are busy sitting and eating at the roadside. On the hill overlooking the roundabout, a single soldier stands next to the watchtower.
11:10 – Maale Efrayim Checkpoint- manned by 3 soldiers checking vehicles entering the Palestinian Jordan Valley.
11:35, Hamra Checkpoint – cars traveling in both directions are allowed through without passengers having to disembark for
inspection. The soldiers attempt to force us away from our usual (distant) spot, we insist on staying, they give in. Even when cars are not inspected, every car that arrives is required to stop about 50 meters before the checkpoint and await the soldier’s slight gesture signaling it to approach. How do the Palestinians know they must stop? There is no sign instructing them to do so. Just like the apartheid roads, here, too the instructions are kept unwritten, so as not to be photographed and seen publicly, but they are the law and woe to any who dares overlook them.
12:10, Gokhia Gate – a single soldier with lots of gear and five submachine guns pointing north, stands by the closed gate, waiting for his unit. When it arrives they will cross the gate east-bound for another series of maneuvers (a few days ago the inhabitants of Ras Al Ahmar were forced away from their homes for 24 hours, for the sake of these maneuvers).
A Palestinians arrives at the gate from the Jordan Valley side, to pick up his brother. They tell us that the gate is never, ever opened. Neither at 3 p.m. nor at 8 a.m. (when it is supposed to be opened at their disposal, as agreed upon at the Red Cross’ demand). Neither when Palestinians show up nor when they don’t. The occupier has decided to forego even this faint illusion of passage and now it is official – the prison that is the Palestinian Jordan Valley is closed.
12:40, Tyassir checkpoint – scant traffic, fast passage, no delays. The passengers are allowed through inside the vehicles, without disembarking.
Fighter planes and distance explosions resound throughout the afternoon.
We stopped at Hamam Al Malih to see the elderly couple whose hovel had been demolished twice (the second time, January 24th, 2013, the tent supplied by the Red Cross and all their effects were taken as well). The woman, N., came out to greet us from their neighbors’ tent, where she and her husband have been dwelling since the demolitions. They are prevented from returning to the place where they lived for years (I personally have been their guest often in the past 6 years), where they raised their children who have long since flown away to live elsewhere. In their advanced age, the two have become homeless. N.’s arm is still very swollen since she did not get medical treatment for injury, fearing she couldn’t afford such care. Only yesterday she finally went to have it examined and was informed that her shoulder is fractured and forearm badly bruised.
13:30, Samara (south of the Um Zuka reserve) - members of the Jenin Freedom Theatre, founded by Arna Mer and her son Juliano, have come out on a wondrous journey to visit the brave residents of the Jordan Valley who are holding on to their land steadfastly in both the Palestinian Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills (the bus will be visiting there next week). In daytime the young actors keep the children busy with games, singing and dancing, and in the evening they perform for the adults. In between they sit under a tree and play music – strumming the oud, drumming the darbouka, playing the accordion and other instruments whose names are unfamiliar to me, but their lovely tones float up in the warm breeze above the reddish hills of the Jordan Valley and carry a message of freedom and rectitude. Next to them a group of youngsters from Finland, Wales and even Majdal Shams has joined the activists of Jordan Valley Solidarity in order to build a schoolhouse for the children of the region, out of mud bricks.
Two of Samara’s inhabitants approach me, seeking help. M. and his brother graze their flock, and at the end of summer when the grass is scarce, they enter that miserably neglected place which the occupier has named “Um Zuka nature reserve” in search of food for their livestock. Every time they are caught there with their flock, they are fined thousands of shekels. They say they have documents proving their ownership claim to the land inside the reserve from those days when the region’s people were allowed to make their living out of the valley’s growth. They have consulted with a lawyer who told them there was nothing to be done. On the other hand, while a nature reserve, the area is also a “firing zone” for the army (the two signs stand next to each other…) and the army’s maneuvers often set the reserve in flames. M. and his brother tell us how on different occasions they recruited their extended family to fight the flames, as none of those authorities who so hastily fine them for grazing there never came to the rescue… They are seeking some protection, help against this abuse.
15:00, Hamra checkpoint – 4 Palestinians are standing at the side, detained 15 minutes for inspection. As soon as we showed up, their papers are returned to them and they get on their way. One of them wants to go back to Nablus but does not know the way. He tries to walk back, but the soldiers run towards him to prevent this and make him get on the road. He goes around the fence and proceeds towards the soldiers on the road, but then they remember there’s a special track for pedestrians bound for Nablus, except that it means going back 50 meters to the junction and that is where they send him. The man, embarrassed and rather scared, signals to the soldiers that his leg hurts. They relent and let him use the road.
Unlike this morning, now all those arriving from the West Bank hills are required to disembark about30 meters before the checkpoint, cross on foot and wait for the vehicle on the other side. Everything, after all, depends on the whims of the soldiers manning the checkpoint. In the middle of the checkpoint a military vehicle stands, blocking the road, so no car is able to get through, for about 20 minutes. When the cars begin to cross, every driver is asked “Where to? What for?” as if that should be the soldier’s business…
16:30, Maale Efrayim Checkpoint – manned, every car entering the Jordan Valley is checked.
16:45, Tapuach Checkpoint at Zaatara Junction - a bus is parked in the lot, having brought a detector dog unit to the checkpoint. Every female soldier-trainer has a dog. 3 cars stand parallel to each other, a dog is made to enter each, climbing on the front as well as back seats, salivating and sniffing. About 10 meters to the back stand the passengers in a straight line, looking on with disgust, having been ordered by the soldiers. The dog is an unclean animal in Islam and the Palestinians have a very hard time with having dogs introduced into their cars. The large number of trainers attests to this being no security matter but rather a training practice for the soldiers and their dogs. I believe that only a security need of the highest degree might be an excuse to hurt people’s religious feelings so severely. The practice should be done some other way…
The dog trainers don't like our photographing the situation and summon the policeman to order us away. The obedient policeman tells us to keep our distance and not take pictures, claiming it's forbidden. We explain we're photographing from behind but he is not convinced. Finally the practice is over, IDs are returned to the Palestinians standing in line, and they angrily get on their way. The trainers continue hanging around the checkpoint, each with her dog.
In the meantime we notice that on road 60 vehicles bound for Nablus are being stopped. We didn't notice this before because the inspections are usually held in cars coming from Nablus and heading south, and the whole structure of the checkpoint is built accordingly. But this time, "to confuse the enemy", some Border Policemen stand on the north-bound lane, and have stopped a red car and a bus full of youngsters heading back from a demonstration in Ramallah. The passengers of the red car disembark and the car is thoroughly checked, as if the soldiers have some kind of information on it. 15 minutes later it is released. THe soldiers order all male passengers off the bus, while the women remain inside. 25 young men stand on the sidewalk, their IDs taken. "Photograph this!" they say. "Take a picture of the driver!" they laugh, and he, a jolly chubby type, poses for us, sporting his paunch with a good natured smile, and everyone has a moment's relief in this imposed halt...
Two of the youngsters have no IDs, they've forgotten them at home so they are made to stand apart. A third young man is led to the shack in the middle of the road and is held there, with the soldiers trying to turn him around so he wouldn't "observe" them, but this is rather impossible for he can "observe" something from every angle. They give up. The youngster looks stressed. Finally, after 220 minutes, he is allowed to get back to the bus. The soldiers check the ID numbers one by one on their radio. They even bother calling the homes of the two ID-less persons, asking for their numbers to check their legitimacy. When the soldiers are finally satisfaied, half an hour later, the bus continues home to Tul Karm.
13:40 Habla gate. The children’s bus comes from Habla to the exit, three girls get off and are taken to the scanner for inspection, the bus awaits them outside. When they came out I asked them why they in particular were taken to be inspected. The answer: they’re older and have ID cards.
Two Palestinians waited under the canopy near the gate. When they saw us they began complaining that they’ve been waiting half an hour and the worker they hired to pick lemons isn’t being allowed through. The soldier told him that “you can’t go through because of the holiday.” I telephoned ‘Adel who didn’t understand what holiday she was talking about. He promised to take care of it. Meanwhile the two men got tired of waiting; they said they wanted to return home before the gate closed and they’d have to wait until evening. I told them that it was being taken care of; they said they’d wait on the other side with their worker. Meanwhile Tedesa telephoned me (after ‘Adel spoke to him); he said he’d spoken to the soldier in charge who told him that nothing like that had happened. Meanwhile I see the three of them approaching the gate and told Tedesa that she’d just released him.
14:10 The Eliyahu crossing was filled with military vehicles; something must have happened, but they wouldn’t answer my questions. We continued; two Hummers were parked opposite the entrance to Ma’aleh Shomron. There were also soldiers at the entrance to Qedumim, and two jeeps. Well, the lords have to be protected, no?
Jit junction. A new military position on the north side behind the railing is manned.
Huwwara is empty.
Za’tara. Manned, inspections underway with dogs.
16:10 A group of soldiers stood at the Hars traffic light on the north side behind the railing. Five vehicles were detained for inspection.
16:20 Azzun Atma. No laborers crossing. We drove to the parking lot opposite Oranit where the Palestinian laborers get out of their transportation. Three laborers were there. They told us they were from Aqraba, planning to walk to the checkpoint and get a taxi from there because there are no taxis to their villages from where they’re let off. It’s so disheartening…
Translator: Charles K.
Why do the soldiers hate the leftist organizations?
Za’tara/Tapuach junction checkpoint.
Border police soldiers in the booth on the Huwwara side. We saw no vehicles detained or being inspected. We picked up an ultra-orthodox hitchhiker. He was born in Emanuel, and was doing national service in Yitzhar as a janitor in kindergartens and dormitories. His older brothers serve in the army.
Ma’aleh Efrayim checkpoint.
Genial (to us) reservists explain that the only people not allowed through the checkpoint to the Jordan Valley are Palestinians coming from Gaza (???). There were no soldiers at the checkpoint when we returned.
Ein el Hilweh.
A children’s theater group from Ramallah has erected a tent. The performance will be at 6 PM. There will be an additional show at Hamam el Malih. M.’s two wives said they won’t be allowed to watch it. When we returned we saw many volunteers from Jordan Valley Solidarity and other organizations, as well as the actors (we didn’t stay to see the show…).
A scathing speech from a reservist, a kibbutznik, a leftist who’s against the occupation and the settlements. Why do he and his fellow-soldiers hate all the left wing groups, without exception? He and his friends man the checkpoints unwillingly (no one wants to be there!), but the left wing groups who come to the checkpoints, instead of supporting the soldiers, who are in a difficult position, accuse them of carrying out a terrible assignment, photograph them, take things out of context, and unfairly portray them as brutes. He compared us to the settlers – both of us make his life as a soldier unbearable.
What does he recommend we do to end the occupation? We should focus on convincing Israelis within the Green Line.
Reservists here as well. They say pedestrians are selected randomly for inspection. Sometimes people exit their vehicles out of habit and come to be inspected as they were used to doing in the past. There are no restrictions on vehicles entering from the western part of the West Bank, but Palestinians with Israeli IDs aren’t allowed through.
Za’tara/Tapuach junction checkpoint.
Two cars detained. Border Police soldiers on the road from Nablus directed them to the plaza where they were inspected by a dog. The passengers were required to move away from the cars and waited a few meters away during the entire inspection – they were all young, most of them male. A car is stopped for inspection about every five minutes; the inspection lasts about 10 minutes. Six female soldiers conduct it; one handles the dog and the others inspect the contents of the trunks, instruct the passengers waiting outside and observed the inspection. It looked like a training exercise for the Oketz dog unit, and that the cars had been stopped randomly for that purpose (in particular since the passengers were young men…).
We should note again that, according to Islam, the dog is an unclean animal, and everyone who comes into contact with one must purify themselves.