"Who's in charge here?" is not the start, or the end, of a feeble
joke but a vivid description of the occupation. It's not only the
continuous humiliation and the endless harassment, but the offhand
manner – gun of course at the ready -- in which the occupier goes
about his business, often creating mayhem but making sure that
accountability is pinned on no one.
Few vehicles going in or out of the checkpoint. Going up the road to
the village, two small, grubby children play with empty cans found on
the side of the road. The game is to place them in a line across the
road (they have learned well what a checkpoint consists of), then to
kick them all over the place, and start all over again. Not a bad way
of describing 40 years of occupation! We notice the distressingly
miserable faces: not a smile can be gotten out of the boy or the
little girl, whose bright, sad blue eyes are heartrending.
It's lunchtime, the soldiers are relaxed and eating, but at their
posts. There's no checking of the few vehicles that pass to or from
Tulkarm or to or from Jubarra. We decline the invitation to join them
with a cup of coffee!
Lunchtime here too, and to be noted, now in evidence at all
checkpoints we visit, the large red and white sign, in three
languages, indicating that behind it is "Palestine": (indeed, since
the "A" of Area A has been blocked out, in Arabic, English and Hebrew)
This very same sign causes us "trouble" in Anabta. Here a blue
(Israeli) police truck is parked by the military lookout tower, and
two policemen are harassing (no other word for it) particularly
Israeli vehicles (Palestinian Israelis). We stand, as is our wont,
near the central checkpoint, near the lookout tower. The soldiers are
indifferent to our presence, in fact, more or less oblivious to
everything about them. They spend their time, eating, drinking or
chitchatting, often not bothering to man all three checkposts. No
need, the Israeli police is doing all the work, including telling us
that we're "annoying the soldiers." Neither they, nor we, have
exchanged a word! "Go back 50 meters," we're ordered by Abu Aslan
(name tags are mandatory for Israel Police). We wonder if the police
are now in charge of the checkpoint as an open truck, filled with
clean, woolly white sheep and pristine white lambs drives past?
While telling us off, a Palestinian car is waved aside by this same
policeman, and it's clear they don't want us to see what they're up
13:30 -- the same policeman now tells us that he never said "50
meters," but "behind the red sign" (the one in three languages
posted, vertically on a huge concrete boulder by the entrance to the
checkpoint). As the line to Tulkarm grows, from zero to twelve, the
police continue to make us the agenda: "I know who you are, and the
law says…. I don't care about your lawyers and what they say. I will
arrest you." We decline the offer as the first policeman is joined by
his mate, who's been in the police van, probably checking vehicle
licenses against the computer, but we can't see what goes on behind
the lookout tower as we're (almost) 50 meters from it!
When there are no vehicles coming into Tulkarm, the policeman
switches sides (of the road) and interferes with the freedom of
movement of vehicles exiting Tulkarm. The soldiers continue to take
time out, as if having ceded all authority to the police. They drink,
chitchat and wave the waiting vehicles on in their own sweet time.
Sometimes when the soldiers beckon vehicles to advance to the center
of the checkpoint, the police flags them down. It's a mad, mad world,
no, correction, a mad, mad occupation.
13:45 -- the line on both sides grows and grows, up to 16 from
Tulkarm. Cars, usually Palestinian Israeli, but Palestinian too, are
stopped and searched, beneath the hood, in the trunk, but it's
completely random, sometimes on their way to Tulkarm, and sometimes
those leaving Tulkarm, while the yellow taxis just whiz by. On the
other hand, when the police search is over, the policeman gives his
fellow citizens a whacking great thump of camaraderie on the
shoulder…. not granted to Palestinians.
We leave, as it seems there will be no end to the kind of
occupation "games" at this checkpoint today. We're not expecting
genuine "war games" (see Beit Iba report).
At the big check post - no queues. Few cars are going through without delays. At the children's gate there are no delays either, and no detainees.
At the exit from Tulkarm - a queue of about 8 cars, but traffic is flowing. The inspection is limited to the driver's papers. At the checkpost overlooking the entire road block from above - an armed soldier . He tries to chase us away with "you are disturbing our work". In contrast the checkpoint commander - Sergeant Oren Cohen tells him to leave it be.... he greets us warmly. A pleasant conversation between him and Tammi on the origins of the different Cohen families.We said our goodbyes in a friendly manner.
We stopped at the cabs' parking lot, from where they had tried to chase us away a few days ago, but where Tammi succeeded to avert this decree. A cab driver standing by his cab asks us - who is Tammi? Tammi identified herself. Next to him stood an Israeli cab driver. Both showered Tammi with thanks.
We carried on to the checkpoint itself. Flowing traffic in both directions. The entrance to Anabta (and Tulkarm) is not checked. At the exit - random inspections. Israeli Arabs are allowed in to Anabta , but Israeli Jews are not.The road block commander (a Colonel) checks on the cleanliness, A soldier sweeps up. Relaxed atmosphere. We leave for Beit Iba.
Tul Karem Roadblocks
As we arrive soldiers are changing guards, so the traffic is temporarily stopped. There are 15 cars waiting at the exit from Tul Karem. But the new shift quickly organizes itself, and they wave the cars through freely. Within a few minutes no cars are waiting. There are no special restrictions today, and the order is only to sample check the cars.
At the children’s gate soldiers assign numbers to those entering the village; when they leave, they are expected to report their number so that the soldiers can cross them off the list of visitors they have complied in their notebook. The soldiers complain of the old man who is no waiting to leave; he entered in the morning, and by now he doesn’t remember his number.
Here also no special restrictions and only sample checkups. Traffic flows relatively easily today.
Since last week we haven't been trying to take care of the issue of the expulsion of the taxi drivers from the place where they used to park in the last two years, disturbing nobody. We have also tried to find out who the coffee seller disturbed. The place is quite distant from the checkpoint, there is plenty of parking space and drivers with permits to enter Tulkarm and also to go to Qalqiliya and Ramallah used to come here regularly. Despite the expulsion order, one of the drivers parked his car there, but he said that as soon as he saw a military jeep approaching, he would take off immediately, thus losing his meager earning.
The checkpoint commander who approached us and asks if everything is all right answers our question concerning the expulsion of the drivers that the instruction has probably been given by the brigade commander to prevent blocking the junction. When we argue that the junction is far away, he just shrugs. As for olive picking, he says there shouldn't be any problem and, coordinating it with the checkpoint commander, picking should be possible also in the area between the checkpoint and Einav settlement which is on the hill overlooking the checkpoint. He says that these are the instructions he has gotten.
My phone call to the IDF Humanitarian Center is answered with the words "We'll try to find out".
All of a sudden, an Israeli car arrives, storming forward and passing dangerously Palestinian cars, and parks between the two Hummer vehicles. Two "Blue and White" women [right wing activists] get out… The inspections stop because the soldiers have to enjoy the refreshments brought to them and in the meantime the jam at the junction is getting worse. Do you remember that the coffee seller has been expelled because he is causing a blockage at the junction?
Frances, who has not yet experienced an encounter with the Blue and White women, goes towards the soldiers, followed immediately by these women, of course. Since she speaks English with them, they are somewhat milder. Nevertheless, she is getting a long history lesson from them, while I am waiting in the car, trying to call Tami and the Center about the blockage at the junction.
Today's shift served as a disturbing reminder of the ubiquity of man's inhumanity to man, and what Arendt called the "banality of evil." Today was the last day of the three day festival celebrating the end of Ramadan, Eid el Fitr, a time for joyous celebrations with families, a time of festivities and merriment, visits to the homes of friends and relatives with new clothes for everybody and gifts for the children. And the occupying forces, what knowledge or deference did they show for this, one of the two most important festivals in the Muslim calendar? When, if ever, had they been taught that everybody is of equal worth and deserves equal respect? When, if ever, had they encountered bigotry and prejudice in their own lives (forgetting, of course, their own thousands of years old history)? Instead, the occupier seemed to savor the idea that families are divided, and that family members are denied entry to join in the celebrations. If only these revelations would make "countless thousands mourn" (Robert Burns) when shown a portrait of "man's inhumanity to man."
The bright red sign telling us, in English, Arabic and Hebrew, that Israelis can go no further as beyond lies "Area ?" , a blank, greets us. We note, however, that a handwritten sign is propped up against one of the checking posts, in the middle of the roadway, and written, in Hebrew only, is that "Area A" is ahead…..
The vehicles, taxis, private cars and buses that want to enter Tulkarm whiz by in the gloom of the early darkness. None are checked. As usual, the line from Tulkarm stretches far into the distance, and, again, as usual, many are checked. A carload of festival revellers, on their way to Tulkarm, tell us that it's already taken them three hours from Ramallah. Why? Because of the numerous checkpoints, because of the hardheartedness of the occupier whose only holidays and festivals are his own.
17:10 Gate 753
Here the revellers are the three soldiers who sit around idling the time away – smoking and making it clear to us that they have neither time nor interest in returning our greeting.
Such a beautiful and heartrending sight greets us here: the sun setting behind the razor wire. Here the soldiers don't return our greeting. Instead, they initiate it (and they don't smoke on the job)! Few passing cars, several are checked, the solider at the checking post calling in IDs, but delay is but for a couple of minutes.
17:20 Gate 753 again
On our way back, there's a delay. The now non–smoking soldiers hold up a truck and cause a back up of vehicles and pedestrians coming out of Jubara. It's now dark, there are no lights until we come to the brightly lit up entry way to Israel:
Here we've been told, only a short while ago, before heading up to the village, that we can't go to A-Ras, but then, the magic word, "Watch?" falls from the soldier's mouth in the form of a question, and we're on our way.
Translator Orna B
Jubara Road Block 14:30
No queues at all. Vehicles are waiting for a very short time and then pass. We visited the family of Abu Hatem and brought them pastries that Tami had sent them for their holiday.
A-Ras Road Block15:00
Traffic flows freely in the direction of Tulkarm with no inspection. At the exit from Tulkarm every car is checked rapidly, especially the driver. His paper is taken away from him for comparison with the soldier's list, and then returned to him. A cab that has overtaken is sent to the end of the queue. The driver refuses and then his paper is taken away from him. He has no choice but to yield and return to the end of the queue. When his turn comes his paper will be returned to him. (Let that be lesson to him for next time).
15:15 We leave inthe direction of Anabta. At the children's gate about 15 are awaiting inspection. They are returning from Jubara to Tulkarm. They are inspected one by one and then pass.
Everything flowing in both direction. No apprent problems. We leave in the direction of Beit Iba.
There are 10 vehicles waiting to enter Tulkarm and none coming out. Israeli vehicles are waved through without any check, while Palestinians taxis are often stopped and checked sporadically
The fig vendor is no longer here, two weeks ago he had shown us a letter from the authorities to move from the spot because he was obstructing the flow of traffic, since last week he was gone.
Very quiet, hardly any traffic, the soldiers are very friendly, actually the only ones that spoke to us the entire day.
We ended our day stopping in at Abu Ghatem and his family, his grandson was visiting so it was a joyful end to another stressful day at the checkpoints.
14:10 – A minibus on its way south has been detained for the last 20 minutes according to one of the passengers. I asked the checkpoint commander for the reason, and his answer is that they are not detained. I go on asking what the pile of ID cards is doing on the counter. The commander turns to his friend and asks him if he has detained them. When the show is over he returns the ID cards to the driver and the minibus goes on its way.
Jubara checkpoint (gate 753)
14:53 – The soldier is holding lists probably with names of those allowed to enter the village. The two people in the car hand their ID cards and the soldier leafs through the list for quite a while until he finally finds their names. He returns the ID cards and they drive away.
The village of Shufa on road 557
14:20 – In the light of the report on blocking the exit from the village with an iron gate, we entered the village to check whether there was such a blockade and were happy not to find any. What the report had said probably concerned an iron gate situated on the army patrol road. We asked a few youngsters who were sitting beside the road about the blockade and they said there wasn't any. We also learned from them that the entrance to Izbit Shufa (the houses closest to the border passage) was from road 57 (Anabta junction in the direction of Tulkarm). We tried to imagine what the area had looked like before road 557, constructed on a big rampart, came into being, and now close the villages Shufa and Safarin had been before it became necessary to travel via Beit Lid or via Tulkarm in order to get from one to the other, by taxi, of course.
14:45 – At Anabta there is no line because cars are not checked (perhaps due to a shift change).
17:30 – On the way to Qalqiliya checkpoint, the roads are empty. The Moslems are having the meal to break their fast and the Jewish people are celebrating the Rejoicing of the Law.
We can see from afar that Qalqiliya checkpoint is empty and we don't enter. There are no soldiers at the entrance to Azzun. When we get to Eliyahu Passage, we remove all the Machsom Watch signs and pass without even an eyelid flicker on the part of the soldiers.
7:00 – a bus enters Jubara freely to drive children to school.
Traffic is sparse. An old man with a walking cane, the one who regularly tries to enter Jubara but has no permit, is sent back.
7:30 – we were received by a courteous sergeant, who was willing to speak with us. Then it turned out that he is new and never heard of Machsom Watch. We began to explain, and a discussion evolved about the checkpoints. One soldier who was standing at a different post and refused to return our "hello" earlier, now joined the conversation.
Translation: Judith Green
14:40 – Jubara
A line of about 15 vehicles in the direction of Israel, but moving.
14:55 – A-Ras
At the exit from Jabara to A-Ras the pedestrians wait for a one-by-one inspection, and pass through. No vehicles at A-Ras. Whoever arrives from Tulkarm is checked quickly. Going into Tulkarm, there is no inspection.
We see an older woman walking in the heat with a huge bundle on her head. Dalia offers her a ride. When we stop near her house in the village of Jimal, the woman is so thankful that she invites us in. In her house (which includes a room for the animals: goats, donkey and a horse), she brings us refreshments, even though everyone in the house is observing the Ramadan fast.. Ahmad, the brother of the woman we helped, tells us that, a few days ago, some soldiers came at 2 AM and took away his and his son's work permits. This was after his son (Mahmud) was caught working in the vicinity of the fence with his brother's work permit (Hacham). Now Ahmad and his two sons are left without any income (Ahmad actually was working in Israel). Then the woman gives us some necklaces and, after a few photographs, we leave at 15:45.
16:20 - Beit Iba
No vehicles at the entrance to Nablus. The cars are checked one by one, but relatively quickly. At the exit from Nablus a bus is checked without taking out all of the passengers. On the next bus, the men are taken out for inspection. At the checkpoint were 3 volunteers from the World Council of Churches.
There were 2 detainees: one, a policeman, 33 yrs old, from Jenin. He says that he has been in detention since 11:30 because he refused to give the soldiers his uniform. The soldiers confiscated his cellphone and his money. His hands were handcuffed behind his back. He complained of pains and showed us that the handcuffs were very tight. The soldier refused to loosen the pressure a bit, on the grounds that the policeman had attacked a soldier. The volunteers said that they had telephoned the Humanitarian Hotline. We call again, and are told that the case is being handled.
The second detainee was 24, from Azoun. He travelled on the forbidden road to Kuchin. In addition to the 2 detainees, every few minutes a group of youths were brought in for about 20 minutes. A soldier (Alex) stood next to the inspection booth and, every few minutes, would ask the soldier who was inspecting the bags, "Send me one". The soldier picked randomly one of the people going through the checkpoint and sent him to Alex. They would be taken for inspection into the cell for a few minutes and then released.
We called Naomi concerning the handcuffs.
16:40 - At the entrance there is a line because of the inspection of a wagon with bundles. A truck is inspected and sent back – not allowed through.
17:00 – The checkpoint is empty except for the soldiers, 2 detainees, the foreign volunteers and us. We call the Hotline again, they say they will get back to us and that the incident is being investigated. Dalia asks the checkpoint commander about the policeman, and he answers her that he is waiting for the police. Naomi says that the DCO claims that they are responsible for the case.
17:30 – the fast is over, we remind the soldiers to give the detainees, who haven't drunk all day, some water. The detainees refuse to take the water from the soldiers and we bring them our water. The young detainee is forced to "water" the handcuffed policeman. The policeman is groaning in pain and tries to loosen the strong grip of the handcuffs. He asks the other detainee for help. The soldiers notice and separate them, saying "Each one at another end of the bench."
17:45 – The international volunteers leave the checkpoint.
18:00 – The policeman let Naomi know that they have given notice that they are not taking the policeman. The DCO says that an order has already been given to release the detainee and that he in fact has just been released. The checkpoint commander says that he will release the policeman only when he gets an order from his officer, and that such an order has not yet been given. Dalia tries to get the commanding officer, but he doesn't answer. The young detainee is released after 3 hours. The soldier tells him that he can go home, but without his car. It is dark and there are no taxis.
18:45 - We leave the checkpoint. The policeman, who has been detained since 11:30, has not been to the bathroom and is still fasting since yesterday, still in handcuffs. We think that the order to release him is stuck in military bureaucracy, in order to punish him. Perhaps when we leave the area it will be easier for the soldiers to release him. We take his phone number.
In the evening, Miki calls the number and somebody else answers the phone; apparently it is not the correct number.