Translator: Charles K.
A shift during which we had various contacts with the army and representatives of security companies working for the Ministry of Defense.
The army’s clarification regarding the legality of commerce at the Habla plant nurseries.
A suggestion: During our shifts we should make lists of lands in the seam zone that aren’t being cultivated because the owners have trouble accessing them.
Car owners from Hars are transported from the junction to their workplaces in the Barkan industrial zone because there aren’t enough parking spaces there.
13:30 Habla checkpoint
A horse harnessed to an empty cart waits for its owner to return from document inspection. He opens the large gate and takes the cart through.
A group of army personnel on the other side of the checkpoint. Three civilian Israeli cars and two military vehicles park next to the security road.
Some officers approach us a few minutes later. Col. Ofer H. introduces himself as the commander responsible for the entire seam zone. He’s accompanied by a colonel – a unit commander – and a captain responsible for the compound who’s very familiar with the area. Col. Ofer wants to know whether we’re aware of the reason for the Habla checkpoint (an agricultural gate).
After we reply, he explains that the purpose of the gate is to enable Palestinian farmers on the West Bank to cultivate their lands that remained on the other side of the fence or to work in their plant nurseries: butthe sale of plants to Israelis by the nurseries is illegal, because they’re in fact importing merchandise to Israel. Passage of goods is permitted only at designated crossings – the nearest being Efrayim gate. It’s true that sales are on a retail basis but (he points to the rows of olive trees), the merchandise comes through the checkpoint in wholesale quantities. The army allows it because the State doesn’t want to harm the Palestinians’ livelihood; we should be proud of the army. When we ask why people returning home from work aren’t allowed to bring with them shirts they’d received or small household goods they’d found discarded, he replies infuriatingly that often those clothes have been stolen, along with the clothesline and clothespins.
We asked the purpose of his visit; he said that every few months they visit every location in the seam zone to see what the land situation is. He’s the one who testifies in court to contradict the Palestinians’ claims they’re not able to work their land because access is difficult. He declares he doesn’t depend on others’ reports but goes to see for himself and tries to identify reputed uncultivated land in the seam zone (lands made inaccessible elsewhere in the West Bank aren’t his responsibility). He tells us he respects us, that we’re doing difficult work.
With regard to the request by residents of Khirbet Asla that the gate also be opened in the middle of the day, the captain who’s in charge claims that the farmers, in the presence of the head of the village, preferred, (when they had to choose) that it be opened twice a day for half an hour rather than three times a day for fifteen minutes. Everything’s agreed and based on the farmers’ requests. With respect to the gate’s location, which makes it impossible for some of the farmers to reach their land with agricultural equipment or vehicles, he replied that they have to access their lands via the Thult gate. It was neither the time nor place to get into a long discussion about it. We should ask again in the villages.
Had we mentioned the unconscionable requirement that farmers must coordinate with the army access to their own land because the state decided to erect a fence , we would have been treated to a lecture about security.
The two red minibuses with pupils go through. Soldiers get on to inspect and Col. Ofer continues lecturing us and his officers about the importance of maintaining the security of Israel’s inhabitants and about how wonderful, powerful and moral the army is. He gave us his business card!
We drove through ‘Arab a-Ramadin. The children had all gone into their “homes” and the “streets” were deserted. The school is still standing; another room has been added. Earthworks are underway in the village center; a broad area has been prepared – for construction?
14:15 Eliyahu gate
We parked in the lot. To cross the road we proceeded on foot through the “security area” and were amazed by the spectacular landscaping in the strip dividing it from the road. The seasonal flowers under drip irrigation are in full bloom. The drainage channels are elaborately decorated in a Gaudian style (I just returned from Barcelona) with broken pieces of colorful tiles. We wanted to photograph. A security man appeared immediately declaring that we’re in a security installation to which entry is forbidden. Two additional security men arrived, allowed us (this once) to photograph the flowers and demanded we move to the bus stop across the road. They showed us that no people waited on line. To the right we noticed five dog cages. Four cars with Palestinian license plates and one with Israeli plates were being inspected on the other side. A security man arrived with two German shepherds; the sight was shocking, particularly for someone seeing it for the first time who didn’t know such things existed.
On the way to Azzun we drove through Izbet Tabib, the tent and the remains of the protest against the demolition order for the school are still visible, and through H'irbet Asla, the village discussed previously with the army.
Two of Z’s sons were at his shop. We unloaded merchandise and acceded to his request to come home and meet his wife. Apparently the recent tests brought results, but he won’t be able to keep the appointment he has in Ichilov because he submitted the request to (re)enter Israel only one week in advance instead of two. His children (the little one is sick) again enchanted us. The covered porch at the entrance to the apartment has become a second-hand clothing store which Suhad runs.
From Azzun we drove back east on Highway 5. After driving through Al Funduq briefly to explain the problems of the village most of which is in Area C instead of Area B we returned to the junction and turned south on Highway 5066 that leads to Ariel via Emanuel.
We stopped at Hars to solve the mystery of the many cars parked at the village entrance. Most appeared in working order. The explanation: the cars belong to people who work in the Barkan industrial zone. They park where there’s room; their employers pick them up.
16:30 Azzun Atma
The crossing went quickly at the Shomron gate; no cars were detained.
There was no line at the Azzun Atma checkpoint. Few Palestinians arrived, mostly groups of 4-5 getting out of Israeli cars, a few on foot from the other side of the road carrying small marble panels. They went through quickly.
We waitedin vain for a Palestinian we’d arranged to meet regarding fines, he didn't show up, had to work late. It’s not clear why it can’t be done In a Palestinian post office, but that seems to be the procedure (meanwhile it turned out that if we give him the paperwork he can take care of it himself). We had a lively discussing with the soldiers who were interested in us. I. asked whether there was a bathroom there; a pleasant soldier opened the door to their “living quarters.” We were astounded to see the soldiers’ living conditions (in harsh contrast with the luxurious installations of the Security Company at Eliyahu Gate): the control tower has 2 narrow benches, one on top of the other, serving as beds, one filthy chemical toilet, a large water tank for washing.
It was sad and painful to see the effects of the occupation: the humiliating gate limiting the conquered Palestinians on the one hand, the occupying soldiers’ denigrating, inhumane living conditions on the other.
The agricultural gate at Falamya was closed because of a demonstration. The childrens' buses at Habla went through quickly.
06:05 'Azzun 'Atma
Many people have already come through; the gate is open and, behind it, is a line of about 60 people waiting. Every time, the same number of 4 people go through for inspection; when those are checked and released, another 4 go forward toward the gate. All the rest stand about one meter back from the gate; among them are soldiers who are watching them so that "they don't fight and so that they stand in line correctly". It is for their own good, the soldier tells me, because passing is fast which is to their advantage. During the time we were there, in spite of the fast passage, the line never got shorter since there were additional people coming all the time.
The soldiers have already opened the gate here, and at 07:00 the first people go through into the checkpoint. Here, as usual, the passage is slower than in 'Azzun 'Atma, but there is progress. In addition bicycles arrive, a wagon with horses, donkeys and a herd of sheep is allowed to cross to the grazing land along the border, after this has been denied them for more than 2 months by our authorities. They were punishing a shepherd, or, more exactly, his herd, for what the shepherd did which was not acceptable. At 07:20 the childrens' buses arrive and go through smoothly.
We continued by way of Eliyahu gate - 5 cars are being inspected and 5 wait in the pedestrian lane. On the way back, no one was in the pedestrian lane and there were also no cars awaiting inspection. The inspections were the same, with the dogs and everything.
'Azzun is open, there is no obstacle to entering the village.
It was quiet when we arrived, only a tractor with 4 passengers came to the gate - it makes a U-turn and returns. Strange.
And then we understood. The gate is closed and locked and there is no one in sight. No soldiers. In front of one of the closed gates, one can see a darkened area, as well as the gate itself, and then we understood that there had been a fire here. The tractor driver explained that a fire had been set yesterday, like in Jayyus a week ago. We hadn't known about that.
We rang the DCO, and they said that the gate had been set on fire yesterday evening and that they didn't know when it would be fixed, maybe today or tomorrow, but meanwhile there is no plan to open the gate, and there is also a technical problem as a result of the arson in opening it. He also said - they are "shooting themselves in the foot". We will follow-up by contacting the tractor driver again.
All this and we can only report that no one can claim that they didn't know there was any problem with the occupation, that it is awful, that civilians are oppressed and also "shoot themselves in the foot", since it apparently is no longer painful. During the past weeks, we frequently see things that the Palestinians do which could be called civil rebellion, even though it does harm their livelihood.
We continued to Madma in order to get the signature of a man on a petition to the court to release him from his status as "forbidden to work in Israel".
We left for our shift feeling combative because of the drumming of the third intifada in the media. What we found was something very different.
09:10 We left Rosh Ha’Ayin.
09:30 The Azzun Atma checkpoint. Two jeeps at the entrance, about ten soldiers wandering around, 6-7 detainees who didn’t have permits to be in Israel wait inside the checkpoint. One man exits, then two women laden with bundles. The others will be held forever. We try to talk to the soldiers. An impertinent little soldier announces “I don’t talk to women like you.” A less aggressive soldier promises to send the commander to speak with us. We wait; he never shows up; we leave.
09:50 En route to Hars. A settler sits at the bus stop, alongside an armed soldier whose job it is to protect him. It’s a familiar sight. But: in view of what General Mizrachi, the Central Command GCO, said about 18 recent attempts to kidnap soldiers, stationing a lone soldier at an isolated bus stop, thereby endangering his life, in order to guard lone settlers who happen to show up there, is both irresponsible and shows the army’s terrible lack of judgment.
In Hars we meet the club’s director who promises that by this coming Friday she’ll ask the municipality to find a room for the women’s English class.
Kifl Hars is quiet. The checkpoint is open. No military presence.
10:10 Kafr Yasuf. We came after hearing reports of vandalism by settlers, with the army’s backing, a few days ago. We met a man whose car tires had been punctured. His home is opposite the wall on which someone wrote “Price tag – rock-throwing terrorists;” it still hasn’t been erased. He says that the soldiers who followed the settlers to finish the job broke into a number of homes and took a young man away with them.
Meanwhile, hundreds of pupils burst happily into the street. There’s a partial teachers strike. They’re teaching only half a day in protest over not having been paid. It turns out that hospitals and clinics in the area are also on a partial strike for the same reason. Life here is neither quiet nor routine.
10:50 Huwwara. The town is lively. We meet a young man from Afula whose job is to guard the road crew five days a week. He’s very satisfied. “It’s paradise here,” he says. Each to his own.
We see a change in the army’s activity at the Jit junction. Two jeeps partially block the road and inspect Palestinian vehicles.
A pleasant surprise at Azzun. The checkpoint at the exit to Highway 55 is open, and the concrete barriers that were placed to block a small gap through which cars sneaked in have been moved aside.
And for dessert: A high tension line is being erected opposite the Gil’ad Farm, for the settlements in the area. And where are they putting it? In the middle of a Palestinian olive grove.
11:30 Back to the Rosh Ha’Ayin railroad station.
We tried to check the matter of removing people from the buses, but today we did not encounter this. In spite of the fact that it was a day of demonstrations in the occupied territories, we did not encounter any disorderly conduct.
15:30 The Oranit Terminal – a few buses arrived. Israeli passengers descended from them and got on them. There were no police during the time we were there nor on the way back from Azoun Atma. From a conversation with a man who was forced to leave the bus last week we learned that he left Kiryat Gat (where he works the whole week) at 2:30 on a train to the Diamond Exchange where he caught a bus to Ariel, with the intention of reaching his contractor. He was removed from the bus without an explanation at Oranit, and had to walk to the Azoun Atma CP and eventually reached home at 8 at night! Terrible.
15:50 'Azzun 'Atma–Exactly when we arrived workmen began arriving from work to return home. All the time there was a constant flow of people who passed through the CP without registration or checking. There was no queue. Everybody arrived already with ID cards in their hands, but they were not required to show them, only to indicate that they had papers.
The soldiers tried to remove us from where we stood, opposite the barrier on the sidewalk, behind a red plastic sign which indicates the prevention of passage. We insisted that we had the right to stand there and suggested they call the police, which they said they would do. The police did not arrive until we left.
On leaving we again passed through the Oranit terminal, where there were no police. We drove in the direction of Ariel behind a bus, to see what happens. A few Palestinian passengers dismounted at the Barkan junction, probably in order to continue in Palestinian cars which are allowed to pass there. Later many dismounted at the Ariel junction and went to the main road in order to continue. Near the junction there is a road going in the direction of workshops and there a few Palestinian cars were standing whose drivers said they were waiting for the passengers arriving on the busses, in order to drive them on. In reply to our question they seemed not to know about problems at the Oranit terminal, even not on Thursdays.
We continued driving along the road which passes north of Punduk/Jinspot and everything seemed quiet and calm.
16:40 'Azzun – We entered the village. We wanted to see whether there still were obstructions at the exit/entrance. Everything was tranquil and the commerce was conducted quietly,there was no sign of any disorder. We drove to Z.'s shop but he was not available, and when we returned to the exit from the village there was a military jeep standing on the side. The soldiers were busy chatting. We waited for 10 minutes but nothing changed and the entrance to the village remained open.
17:15 Habla –To our regret we were late. We wanted to see whether there were many people waiting before the barrier was opened, because they returned earlier from work,but we missed this because we waited at Azoun. The gate was already in action and the people - there were about 20 in the queue – passed in groups of five to the checking post, and after some time they reemerged and were allowed to pass on and go home. The passage is controlled by opening the gate for five people only each time, and by closing it again after they have entered. All the time more people arrived in a scatter, and it seemed as if less people return at night than those leaving in the morning – perhaps the others return via the Eliyahu passage. Tractors, carts and night watchmen arrived too, and passed from Habla in the direction of the plant nurseries.
17:25 The queue came to an end, and not whoever arrives passes immediately.
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We went to Azzun this week as well, at the request of the municipal council members. Five people awaited us, including the council head and the manager (whom we’d met last week), a representative of B’Tselem whose job is field research and two young men who were there to recount what occurred.
The situation in Azzun has become even worse during the past week. The checkpoint at the entrance to the village has been closed because, it’s claimed, residents have been throwing stones at vehicles driving on Highway 55. The checkpoint is guarded by three jeeps; the village has been declared a “closed military area.” Residents had taken advantage of a gap in the trees near the checkpoint through which small private cars began going out of the village. The army, determined to prevent people from leaving, hurried to close the gap with five concrete barriers and stationed soldiers there to block infiltration. Car keys were confiscated from drivers who tried to sneak through and not returned until the following day. Now the only route in and out of the village is the road through Izbet Tabib. That road lengthens the trip to Nablus considerably. But that road is also blocked intermittently by Border Police jeeps. Trucks, mostly carrying building material, are prevented from entering the village, delaying construction projects. Students and people who work in Nablus, Tulkarem or Ramallah must pay much more for transportation than they would for normal bus and taxi service to their destination. This additional cost is very burdensome for the impoverished residents, as Sa’adi, the representative of B’Tselem, tells us – he has a son who’s a student.
The Palestinian police are stationed in the village to prevent harassment. But their authority is limited. They’re permitted to be present only within the village itself, and only during the day, and are forbidden to intervene on the residents’ behalf. So all they’re really doing is showing up.
The economic condition of the village is very poor. People are losing their land because they haven’t money to hire lawyers. (Yesh Din is unable to deal with all the cases, which is why the villages have hired an attorney, a settler from Kedumim who’s become rich; we referred to her in the previous report). Much of the residents’ meager income goes to pay fines which can be as high at NIS 1000 to release a child who’s been caught on the street, and NIS 5000 or more to release youths who were arrested. To this should be added hundreds of people blacklisted by the Shabak who aren’t allowed to work in Israel. The result – poverty.
We go to see the checkpoint and the nearby gap and meet three pleasant soldiers from the Kfir brigade who are guarding it. They say the village is being punished because of stone throwing. Did they themselves see stones thrown? No. But that’s what they heard. Do they know that settlers enter the village and attack residents? They haven’t heard about that. They say, “We’re instructed by the brigade not to harm the population. Maybe the Border Police are the guilty ones…”
We leave the village by the long route which, for a change, is open.
13:55 Habla gate. As the soldiers begin to close the gates a young Palestinian man arrives. They start arguing with him, but when they see us looking at the clock and that there are still three minutes left to closing time they tell him OK, yallah, hurry up. They let him through and immediately closed the gate.
We left and drove via Azzun. Two jeeps and a Hummer stood at the entrance. The time was 14:05.
We continued to Huwwara via Jit junction. A flying checkpoint had stopped some vehicles at 14:20. Huwwara was empty. From there we drove to Za’tara. The checkpoint was manned; they were conducting inspections. Vehicles were detained on the roadside. Soldiers used dogs to inspect their interiors.
15:10 We continued to Kafr Yasuf. At 3 in the morning on February 17 settlers from Tapuach entered the village and wrote “Price Tag – Rock-throwing terrorists.” Soldiers came that night as well, damaged tires of cars parked next to homes, entered some homes, upended their contents, searched using dogs and arrested a youth named Tha’ar Nai’m Muhammad Khalil Abid. Police from the Ariel police station arrived the next day, the 18th, together with people from the DCO and the army, interrogated a few people and left. When we left the village we saw at the entrance a civilian car in which four soldiers sat.
We arrived at Azzun Atma at 16:15. There wasn’t a long line of laborers. We waited for about half an hour and left.
09:30 We entered through the Eliyahu Gate. Four Palestinian Police jeeps were standing at the road leading to Isbet Tabib. A short while later they passed us going in the direction of Nablus.
The main entrance to Azzun is closed with an iron gate and cement blocks. We were told that it had been closed for 4 days because the army claimed that there had been stone throwing at that point along the road. A car coming out of Azzun was going around the gate on a muddy path.
Huwwara checkpoint was empty and there was no sign of soldiers in that area.
At the Beit Furik checkpoint there was an army jeep but no one stopped a Palestinian taxi that went into Nablus
At the entrance to Itamar there was an army hummer. A little farther we saw another hummer and an army jeep, but we didn't see any unusual action.
We drove through Awarta and saw lots of children playing in the streets and the yards. We were told that there is a teachers' strike and the schools are closed because the teachers haven't been paid. That is because Israel is holding up payment of the tax money which is collected for the Palestinian Authority. Nice punishment. For what?
11:30 As we left through the Shomron Gate the guard asked Nadim his name. When Nadim answered the guard demanded to see all of our identity cards. Yes, we are all Israelis.
13:00 Habla - A vehicle from the Ta’oz battalion arrives and its occupants get to work. Six Palestinians, a horse cart and a tractor are waiting. The gate doesn’t open because the female MP isn’t able to open the door of the inspection building. We can see 10 people and a number of vehicles waiting from the other direction.
13:08 The staff finally solves the problem and the gate opens. The first five people enter and go through to the village in two minutes.
13:10 The first five coming from the village approach the revolving gate.
A Palestinian living in Jaljulya asks the soldier for permission to cross for a minute to the other gate to receive something from his brother who’s arrived from Habla, without having to go through inspection. The soldier agrees, escorts him. A welcome flexibility; too bad we don’t witness it more often.
One of those waiting says to us: “If we’re a minute late they don’t let us through but they’re allowed to be late opening the gate.”
13:17 Crossing continues with no problems. A large truck carrying two olive trees comes from Habla, followed by a cart and tractor. A flock of sheep, escorted by a shepherd and small boy.
Everyone who arrives crosses without delay.
13:30 We leave.
13:35 Eliyahu crossing – People cross quickly. No lines.
14:00 Azzun – We stop at Z’s shop to leave parcels. He greets us with a big smile, as usual. He hasn’t yet received the results of his tests at Ichilov Hospital.
14:10 Jayyous – A quick stop at N’s house to buy olive oil.
14:20 Falamya – More vehicles than usual, some waiting, others going through. Only those entering are inspected.
A person blacklisted by the Shabak approaches us; we give him Sylvia’s phone number.
14:40 A Palestinian arrives in his vehicle. He gets out, enters the inspection building. He emerges two minutes later. The vehicle is inspected and he drives away. The driver of a vehicle who came to pick up relatives tells us, in English: “You could travel all around the world without finding a place as tough as this. All day long we’re kept busy obtaining permits and being inspected. It’s awful.”
We drive north.
15:10 A bulldozer is working in the wadi on our way from Kafr Sur to Beit Lid.
15:15 Beit Lid – We meet a student from Al Najah in the grocery, who speaks English. He says things are usually quiet. There were problems only during the olive harvest season.
Tractors and bulldozers at work at the exit from Beit Lid, apparently widening the road.
15:30 Anabta checkpoint – Cars pass quickly without stopping. We don’t see soldiers or the coffee-seller.
15:50 Shufa – The checkpoint is open. The huge concrete cubes still lie by the roadside as a reminder of times past. A large red sign was added recently.
16:00 Te’anim checkpoint – Careful inspections of Palestinian vehicles with the help of dogs. I managed to photograph. Earthmoving equipment continues to be busy.
16:05 Efrayim checkpoint – Irtach - Heavy traffic at this hour. Many Israeli vehicles dropping workers off at the checkpoint. Hundreds hurry home. Some of the Palestinians keep asking us to come in the morning. “It’s hard, hard – a real battle in the morning,” they say.
Three empty buses wait. We weren’t able to find out why.
16:30 We leave.