Qalandiya checkpoint, 2:15 p.m. - Roni H and Ivonne M (reporting)
The southern part of the checkpoint (the Jerusalem "side") is full of cars and there is a big traffic jam that does not ease throughout our shift. As the work-week in Israel ends because of the holiday, Palestinians working in Jerusalem go back to West Bank cities. We hear the soldier inside the pillbox at the northern end of the checkpoint shouting and when we pay closer attention we hear he is communicating with his friend Yoni through the loudspeaker for all to hear.
At the pedestrian line, going home to Jerusalem, we see many young boys and girls coming back from school. There is a long line at the first cages and then another long line inside the checkpoint before the checking stations.
At the northern roundabout we see many empty minibuses waiting to cross the checkpoint from north to south in order to pick up their passengers that had to go down and must continue their ride to Jerusalem from the other side of the pedestrian checkpoint. We then see clearly the soldier at the pillbox whom we had heard before, and now he is shouting through the loudspeaker to other soldiers.
The soldier at the booth shouts to the cars to go (that means advance towards the car checking lanes) but the soldier inside the pillbox shouts contradictory orders confusing the car drivers. This is probably what the soldier in the pillbox considers "fun".
Back at the pedestrian lane the soldiers keep people up to 10 minutes inside the cages before allowing them to advance to the checking station. These cages are closed from the sides and above and the feeling of claustrophobia is great, for anyone.
A man approaches us requesting our help: his sister needs a permit to go to hospital but the DCO is closed although, as far as we know, the army spokesman has declared that "All health problems will be solved at the premises". So much for declarations.
Inside the checking booth a young girl is being scolded and harassed by the female soldier. Her father and mother have already crossed and she stayed behind and her birth certificate is till not returned to her by the soldier, who shouts to her and asks in Hebrew for something, even we do not understand what she wants. The girl says in Arabic that she doesn't speak Hebrew. The soldier shouts to her again: "Speak Hebrew, this is Israel" and the girl starts to cry, while her desperate father stands at the other side of the metal bars and asks to be able to get in and help his daughter. After the soldier has brought tears to the girl, she is satisfied and lets her go and join her family.
An American woman married to a Palestinian who lives in Jerusalem and works in Ramallah tells us her 3 small children are waiting for her outside the school and she is already 1/2 hour waiting at the checkpoint. There is no reason for the checking of Jerusalemites and foreigners to take 1/2 hour, except that the soldiers are particularly taking their time to harass Palestinians on this Passover Eve.
A veiled woman approaches the checking station and is given a lot of trouble, even after she uncovers her face. When we leave, the soldier inside the pillbox is still shouting to the car drivers competing orders to those of the soldier in the booth by the roundabout.
06:10 -Aaneen checkpoint Less and less people go through this checkpoint. Today there are between 20-30 people waiting. There is no renewal of passage permits. Soldiers on site hold lists of names and they compare their lists with with documents presented to them by Palestinians at the gate. If a name does not appear on the list - The DCO person on site ecks the case over the phone. 06:35 - checks-Tura checkpoint There is no school today due to the prophet Muhammad's birthday. Very few people do cross over, only farmers. Due to the Jewish Holiday of Purim, there is no passage into Israel
07:00 Rihan-Barta'a checkpoint Purim Holiday - there is a closure. Passage into Israel was brought to an halt but the industrial zone Sha"chak workers are alowed to pass and so are the seamstresses that cross over to East Barta'a as usual. On the opposite direction we observed a few families with their children on their way into the West Bank for holiday visits. A relatively small number of pickup trucks loaded with merchandise, total os five, and a similar number of private cars on their way to the Seam Line zone. Vehicles driving to the West Bank stop down the road, the driver presents passengers' papers at the window following inserting the magnetic card on the wall of the booth. Passengers wait to the end of the inspection that takes about 10 minutes prior to entering the West Bank. There is no pressure at the terminal, people go in and get out within a few minutes.
08:15 The Shavei Shomron fence is extremely long and covers a huge surface. The checkpoint is unmanned, Traffic streams freely. 08:30 -Beit Iba checkpoint At the entrance to Nablus there is no inspection. At its exit inspection is through. All come out with their belts on.There are no soldiers with dogs and inspection of vehicles is swift. There are no lines and atmosphere is relaxed. The stream of people who go into Nablus is great and passage is free.Busses full of children are inspected within 5 minutes. An ambulance is sounding its siren hysterically and drives through within 5 minutes. One of those going through, who makes a living in transportation, tells us that tomorrow this checkpoint will be annulled.Pedestrians will go through without being inspected and vehicles would be redirected to Deir-Sharaf .
Translator: Charles K.
7:20 Za'tara - Tapuach.
About 10 vehicles from the west and only 3 cars waiting from the north. Two cars being inspected in the parking lot, surrounded by armed soldiers and by police. We went over to watch; the tumult dissipated in a couple of minutes and the vehicle went on its way, so we didn't try to find out what was going on.
Light traffic on Huwwara's village main road; shops have begun opening. We didn't see pupils going to school (see below - Curfew!).
A Border Police vehicle opposite Beita. The entrance was open at this hour.
7:30 Beit Furik - The checkpoint is empty, 2 soldiers on duty. They're checking randomly and fairly quickly.
7:50 Awarta -
A number of soldiers are manning the new booth farther in front, intended for commercial vehicles with permits and VIP vehicles. They're not pleased, to say the least, to see us and talk, and ask us to leave. One vehicle was being inspected while we were there; a second waited some distance away.
The lot is almost empty. Few people go through the new checkpoint. A humanitarian lane on the left. From where we're permitted to stand (next to the entry turnstile to Nablus) it's very hard to see anything happening on the left side.
Three turnstiles inside are operating, a metal detector and a place for possessions. Farther on, in front, three booths were inspections are conducted without physical contact. Soldier checking ID's sit behind a protective transparent wall. The ID is passed through a slot and returned to a lower pocket. There are exits on two sides, but both aren't always operating. We didn't observe any problems.
The Palestinians seem to have "gotten used" to the system.
One or two busses in the parking lot all the time we where there, but relatively few cars. There aren't any peddlers, but there are portable stands. Apparently they're allowed to move from place to place.
After the market was taken down they learned to improvise; candy and other things are again displayed on the concrete barriers near the checkpoint. The peddlers tell us that from time to time they're arrested in order to remove them from the checkpoint's area.
They're also angry at the DCO representative who actively participates in efforts to remove them.
There was a taxi driver in the isolation pen when we were there. He didn't obey instructions, and they decided to teach him a lesson. It appears to be punishment. We contacted the humanitarian office and also talked to the commander. After a short time the humanitarian center informed us they had contacted the checkpoint. We asked the commander not to "carry out the sentence;" people are having enough trouble as it is. He promised to try. From time to time we went back to the vicinity of the inspection booths and spoke with the checkpoint commander, trying to convince him to let us stand there rather than at a distance.
The vehicle lanes:
Unrestricted entry for vehicles, but we saw very few.
Rigorous inspections of almost every vehicle leaving Nablus.
In general, people are pretty confused, pained and fearful because of the situation.
9:50 Huwwara village is closed down. A curfew has been imposed again, as on previous days. The Border Patrol jeep that usually stands opposite the entrance to Beita isn't visible now. We called Zaharan and made clear our opinion about the automatic, uncreative reaction to incidents of youths throwing stones (it isn't how many there were that day, or where). We certainly warned them that the whole business would blow up in their face as anger accumulates and hatred increases. As if the war isn't enough, the curfew reminds everyone that the West Bank is also under occupation, and also severely damages normal life. He promised to talk to the brigade commander and get back to us, but nothing happened - not that we had any hopes, but we musn't give up!!!
Za'tara-Tapuach - A small number of vehicles waiting at the checkpoint from the north.
Translator: Charles K.
We stopped at Huwwara to observe the curfew procedure
which went into effect at 14:15
9 cars coming from Nablus. Mostly taxis. The line is moving.
14:45 Huwwara village,
The knafeh shop. Amit contacted me this morning. Yesterday afternoon she had seen the shop's owner detained at the Huwwara checkpoint, and then he disappeared from her view. She wanted us to find out today what happened.
The owner, M. L., arrives and is pleased we're interested. He serves us knafeh, and we sit together with H., the driver, to listen to his story. Yesterday the Border Police arrived in a column of vehicles to impose a curfew, as they've done for the past two weeks. M. didn't close his shop fast enough, and was arrested by their commander (with 3 bars on his shoulder), handcuffed, blindfolded and left in the Huwwara detainee pen for four hours. It's bitterly cold at Huwwara, he was shivering. Then they brought him to the DCO for three more hours of questioning. He was made to stand facing the wall, the soldier kicking his legs apart. Then the same commander who arrested him arrived with suggestions how to make the process more efficient: "Kick him harder, like this!," and also proposed jailing him for 4-6 months. He was released after a few phone calls. It was midnight.
That's how the army arrives every day, usually between 15:00-16:00, to impose a curfew. With no advance notice they demand that the stores close immediately and people keep off the street. They kick the storefronts, hit people and throw stun grenades. Yesterday the curfew was lifted at 19:00. Usually shops can reopen only the next morning.
While we're listening to M.'s account, a column of 5 armored jeeps appears with sirens wailing and announcements from loudspeakers, and impose a curfew. All the shopowners begin hysterically to move their wares inside and close their stores. At our shop they bring in the tables and chairs, the vegetable seller brings in his merchandise, the garage, the falafel stand, the pharmacy, all the stores on the street quickly close. Today they have to shut down at 14:15, and lose more of what little money they make.
"It's not serious today, because of you!" The jeeps pass by again on their way back, their loudspeakers blaring. They're now at the southern end of the street. We decide to see what they do. They throw a stun grenade. We stop next to them, without them seeing us coming up behind them, and catch them by surprise. I can't restrain myself when I see them firing another stun grenade toward the shops in the center of the village. I yell at the commander (who has three bars on his shoulder), "What are you doing to civilians; have you gone crazy?" The officer (Border Police) is completely surprised by our presence (as am I), comes within a few inches of me and yells through flecks of saliva that I should get out of here immediately! I was also shocked, but he quickly collected his soldiers in the two jeeps and drove away.
Huwwara's main street is desolate, though it's still daylight.
We continue to the checkpoints.
15:00 Beit Furik
The checkpoint has been reduced to three soldiers in a booth. "Random checks" of cars. The checkpoint is open between 05:00-22:00.
Awarta - No line.
Two lines. Few people. People in the humanitarian lane have their purses and packages inspected carefully. A woman veiled in black is asked to remove her veil. She objects, as does her husband who appears to be a religious functionary. But the female soldier orders her, in Hebrew, in the presence of the other people waiting on line, to remove it, and the woman lifts the veil...
A woman with a blue ID card from East Jerusalem, carrying a baby, makes the female soldier suspicious. Three other soldiers and an officer come over to examine her ID card from every angle, the baby's crying, the line is delayed, and they finally let her through.
The vehicle checkpoint - 30 cars on line from Nablus. Here's the procedure: The passengers get out some distance from the soldiers. The driver drives toward them. He shows documents, opens and closes the doors, hood and trunk, the passengers, standing at a distance, lift their shirts, remove belts, the driver returns to them in reverse, picks them up, and they go through.
A group of Master Sergeants stand around laughing: "Yallah - tonight there's a party for the 1000th person killed"...
17:00 Huwwara village - is under curfew. Only cars drive by.
Beita - Cars entering and leaving are inspected at a flying CP.
Za'tara - No lines. A military vehicle stars in the plaza.
Translator: Charles K.
Throughout our shift Palestinians would occasionally come over to us, angry about what our army was doing in Gaza. We didn't have many excuses. We told them we represent the other Israelis.
14:30 Tapu'ach junction.
The checkpoint for traffic from Israel: three cars waiting, inspected quickly.
The checkpoint for traffic from Nablus: 2 inspection lanes, 8 cars waiting on each. Not all cars are inspected, only younger drivers are checked.
15:00 Huwwara checkpoint
We were welcomed by Y., the commander, and I., the DCO representative. They explained that the area of the checkpoint is sterile (they referred to the letter from the brigade commander).
We stood in our assigned location, next to the turnstiles, taxi drivers on the other side seeking passengers. About 30 people waiting to go through the checkpoint. We timed it.
The inspection is very mechanical: the person arriving at the metal detector empties his pockets onto the shelf, proceeds to the MP, places his ID card in the appropriate slot. Turns around, retrieves his possessions, meanwhile his ID is checked, and if there's no problem it goes to the appropriate window, the person collects it and exits. Today people don't have to remove shoes and belts. Like a well-oiled machine, untouched by human hands. It takes 13 minutes from the time someone arrives until he completes the procedure. Things aren't too bad today, since there aren't many people; it's exam time and most students don't have classes.
15:30 The vehicle checkpoint.
12 vehicles waiting to leave Nablus. 2 inspection booths. Most of the cars aren't checked. From time to time people have to get out of the vehicles.
The truck for detecting explosives stands off to the side. The porter passes TV sets through for inspection.
One vehicle inspection booth closes. The soldiers went to relieve the one serving as lookout.
The vehicle inspection procedure: A car drives up to the soldiers and stops, the driver presents his documents. Backs up, lets the passengers out. Returns to the soldier. Gets out to open the trunk. Inspection of its contents, which may be passed through the metal detector. When the inspection is completed the passengers get back in and the vehicle is released.
The soldiers who left the booth march over to the watch tower, apparently for a coffee break. The booth reopens only at 15:00, after a quarter of an hour,. Meanwhile a line of cars has formed. I. says that today's a good day, only a 45 minute wait. Everything's relative; what would an Israeli citizen say if he had to wait 45 minutes to get on the Ayalon Freeway?
16:35 Beit Furik - Empty.
We don't see the soldiers. They must be in the watchtower, sheltering from the cold.
16:50 Back to Huwwara.
5 taxi drivers in detention. They're being punished, to teach them a lesson. The soldiers ceaselessly pursue taxi drivers who come too near the turnstiles looking for passengers.
Suddenly: We notice two more people being held in the inspection booth that was brought from the old checkpoint (on the far side of the turnstile). We ask I., who tells us "What are you talking about, that's not an inspection booth, it has no door or roof..." But we see that people are being held there. It turns out they're also taxi drivers, who were released after a talk with the commander and promises they made to him.
To the attention of Machsom Watch observers who go to Huwwara: Check whether there are detainees in the old inspection booth, which is hard to see from where we are "officially" stationed.
We returned to our station, and saw that the knafeh seller had joined the detainees. It turns out that a curfew had been imposed on Huwwara, and he was caught because he hadn't closed his shop fast enough. The Border Police ordered that he be detained at the checkpoint. While we were trying to find out what was going on, he disappeared, together with the taxi drivers.
17:20 We proceed to the ORG meeting , planning to buy falafel for our meeting, but unfortunately there's a "curfew" and all the stores in Huwwara village are closed. Why? The war in the south! That'll show them.
Translator: Charles K.
The checkpoint was manned by a new group of soldiers who spent part of the time paying attention to us rather than making the lines shorter. The soldiers said that about an hour before we arrived they arrested a youth who tried to stab a soldier.
At 15:00 a curfew was imposed on Huwwara.
14:20 Za'tara. No line, the checkpoint is open.
New soldiers at the checkpoint. A., the commander, says that only a sample of people are inspected, the checkpoint is open, soldiers point their rifles at the cold... The checkpoint is open between 05:00 and 22:00.
14:45 Awarta. 10 cars waiting at the exit to be inspected. Most of them private cars.
An hour before we arrived a stabbing incident occurred and the checkpoint was shut down. The "stabber" was arrested and taken away.
New soldiers here also. Itz., the commander, looks frightened and nervous. He chases us away from where we were standing (near the humanitarian lane), hears us complain and immediately calls the police to come deal with us.
5 soldiers come over to us, some of them officers and two female soldiers from the situation room. The soldiers, headed by someone from the IDF press office, stand opposite and point their weapons at us, advance, hem us to move us away from where people go through the checkpoint, toward the parking lot or the turnstile where people come in. We insist that we're not interfering with anything by standing here in the center, show them what's written in the regulations, photograph the way they're standing, while they photograph us. Soon they bring us a fax, dating from July, prohibiting us from crossing over the white line...
Following this ceremony of quiet violence, in which they tried to push us back by the show of militance just described, the soldier from the IDF press office stood facing us during our entire shift. As if he had been assigned to watch the Machsom Watch women, so they won't be an annoyance at the checkpoint. He was polite, and mumbled that we should move away from the central area where we were standing. He finally came to terms with our presence there, but kept tabs on us during our entire shift, accompanied by two female soldiers from the situation room, who might have been practicing on us.
3 lanes. People on the humanitarian lane complained they had to wait for two hours. Sometimes they had to remove their shoes. Most were students. Nadim says it's exam time. Some hissed curses as they came through. But some of the soldiers were busy with us instead of seeing that the lines moved more quickly.
Women wait for men in the middle of the path to the parking lot. Two soldiers move toward them, again in a militant manner, their rifles pointed at them, and push them toward the parking lot.
A., the DCO representative, is one of them.
16:45 It's cold at the checkpoint. We leave.
Burin junc. 4 cars on line to be checked.
Huwwara (the villlage). Empty. The shops are closed. There's a curfew. A man on his way to the mosque says that the curfew has been in effect for two hours. From 15:00. Is it because of the war in Gaza?
Beita. An army jeep stops vehicles going down onto the main road. 8 cars on line.
Very many laborers in the area where people wait for transport. Some workers – not many – are still near the entrance to the area. Families of prisoners are also entering.
7:20 Ar Ras – Routine
7:40 Anabta – Routine
8:00 Beit Iba
When we arrived the checkpoint was quiet and normal. No lines. Random inspections of people entering. Those leaving undergo all the inspections.
After a while we go over to the area of the taxi drivers. We with them and talk.
About 8:45 the checkpoint stops working. We go near the area where the soldiers stop people from coming closer and the soldier explains that a suspicious item was found at the checkpoint, it’s being examined, and it isn’t clear how long the checkpoint will remain closed. They’re waiting from the army bomb disposal person. After a few minutes the place fills with people waiting to go through, as well as military vehicles, and soldiers of various ranks.
The youth suspected of carrying the item is brought over to the side of the checkpoint. He’s handcuffed. Surrounded by soldiers and officers. We draw closer to the place he’s being interrogated. For some reason, no one stops us from standing and listening to the interrogation. The “bomb” looks like a spray can of paint (like a bottle of deodorant), and near it a few wires. We try to talk to the youth. He tells us what village he comes from. He’s a vegetable merchant, on the way to Tulkarm. Not frightened. About half an hour after the start of the incident the checkpoint resumes normal operation.
The bomb disposal person arrives. The robot is removed from its vehicle. The item is placed in a concrete cube and the robot makes its acquaintance. At this stage we left. No explosion was heard.
We asked for the phone number of relatives in order to follow up what happens to the suspect for the rest of the day.
We told Ra’aya the story, and later it was learned that he was released to go home.
7:30 AM, Bethlehem: Two checking stations open. Only soldiers with a badge MP on their shoulders walking about for security. When asked where is the private company, the answer is that they arrive only at eight o'clock. A complete closure in effect. A trickle of people coming through for humanitarian reasons.
It's the eve of yet another holiday in Israel, "Shavuot," so that
means there's enforced closure in the OPT: no Palestinian can come to
work in Israel until the holiday is over. Much as we would like to
bring closure to the Occupation, we must report, once again, on a lack
of resolution, no closure, since there is no satisfactory conclusion.
There is no end in sight, neither order nor peace are around the
corner. The lambs and kids we see on the roadways grow apace, the
fields have been shorn of their grasses and grains, and the first,
early summer fruits, plums and apricots, remind us that nature still
runs its course in spite of the Occupation. But, at the same time, the
Occupation enforces "closure," checkpoints or barriers can be set up
at random, a soldier can bring closure to any order, no matter how
trifling (Shavei Shomron, Beit Iba), while gateways to the OPT can be
opened or closed at random (Jubara).
11:40 Shavei Shomron
The gate is closed, but a soldier emerges from under the camouflage
netting, strung beneath the military lookout tower telling us that we
are in a forbidden area. We take no notice as a Palestinian vehicle, a
small white truck, approaches the gate from the far side. The soldier
goes over to the driver, takes his ID, and one of us goes up to the
Palestinian to find out what's going on. The driver is from Jericho,
has lost his way and wants to get to Sebastia, which he has already
passed! As the soldier returns the ID, he tells us that he will call
the police as we're not allowed to be where we stand! We go on our way.
12:30 Beit Iba
There are about 40 men in the two turnstile lanes, but more older men
and women, in the "fast" lane. In the turnstile lanes, there's the
ignominy of having to take off shoes – in thick summer dust – and
belts. All bags and briefcases burrowed into, shoe boxes with new
shoes examined closely. Nothing like that in the "fast" lane, with
occasional exceptions. A man, who says he is 40, is ill, but has no
certificate, merely pointing to his need for an inhaler, which is at
home, and the soldier relents, letting him go, having told him first:
"You don't have a permit….you can pass this time". A mother with
loudly wailing child passes, as does a young woman who gets through,
but barely, as she more or less faints on the other side, sitting
palely against the wall of the shed. The soldiers look on, continue
what they're doing as a man asks for water, provided by MachsomWatch….
A few older people make their way "out" of Nablus through the "into"
Nablus lane. One, quite elderly woman, manages to do so by shouting
and just walking straight ahead, not bothered by the soldiers at all.
Summer is here, and the "going is not pleasant."
Not much vehicular traffic: the now familiar container trucks, Zim,
Kline, as well as semitrailers, and most of the few cars are not
checked until a taxi is thoroughly searched, inside as well as the trunk.
Five young men are in the detention compound, their fellow students,
who have already passed, wait for them and complain that they don't
understand why their three friends have been stopped. The commander,
second lieutenant Y., makes clear that it's of no interest to him
whether they are students who pass here every day or not. They have to
be checked. He makes no distinction between these three and the other
two, older men. Ten minutes after our arrival, one of the detainees
is taken by a soldier to the central checking booth, passes the
checkpoint but has to make his way back to Nablus. The students are
finally united with their waiting friends. But the two older men,
remain detained, and when the military shift changes, we see Y. hand
the two offending green IDs to the new commander, but only after he's
on the phone, at the same time berating us as to where we stand,
"you're disturbing my view" (when he has his back to people in any
case). A few moments later he bawls out one of his soldiers who is
slow getting into place, and furiously takes the list from the hands
of one soldier and sticks it on to the glass of the checking booth. .
13:00 -- checking of people, particularly those coming from the Deir
Sharaf side into Nablus, where the line is often eight to ten people.
It's back to hand held lists to check from, until the arrival of the
new shift a few minutes before 13:00, when everything stops; the new
commander spends his time moving everybody trying to enter Nablus,
"Back, back." (There's now an infamous red line, painted vertically on
the wall of the concrete wall lining the passage way to the checking
booth.) So the Palestinians wait while the two shifts of soldiers josh
with each other, or flirt with the military policewoman who hangs about.
13:30 -- at one point, the army triumphs: a young man, trying to get
into Nablus, is carrying a black Nike bag and inside it is a brand new
camouflage outfit, pants and shirt and army green sweater. Labels are
studiously studied, the newly arrived DCO representative is called,
and both he and the commander now make phone calls to check the young
man. The line lengthens, the young man waits, but five minutes later,
he passes. The DCO representative is of no help with the remaining two
detainees, "They know why they're there."
A lighter moment. A man, visiting family in the OPT hands a U.S.
passport to the soldier as he exits towards Deir Sharaf. It's
thoroughly examined and, on being greeted and asked for whom he'll
vote in November, he smiles broadly and states, "I'm voting for Obama."