Qalqiliya, Sun 21.6.09, Morning
Today was intended as a tour of the checkpoints, a first time for one visitor, and a second for the other. The intent was one thing, to look at the status of things in the Occupied Palestinian Territories -- the outcome another: a demonstration of prejudice, xenophobia and nationalism, and an unexpectedly graphic and evocative illustration of the relationship between nationalism, xenophobia, racial prejudice and other social and political values found in this part of the world today.
10:15 Habla: Gate 1393
This visit to the seam line and its agricultural gate illustrated only too well the nonsensical aspects of Occupation. Only one gate was closed, as if the army can no longer bother to close both of them. The yellow sign, telling when it’s open, still stands, without, of course, opening times being written.
At the plant nursery, the owner, O., is willing to talk, fluently and articulately about the latest horrors experienced at Gate 109 which he goes through, twice a day, on his way to and from work. The behavior of the soldiers is intolerable, cruel, inhuman and they take upon themselves the right to jeer and sneer at the plight of Palestinians trying to eke out a living, trying to go to their own lands, to visit friends or the doctor, etc. What they want, says O., is that “We get high blood pressure, that we get heart attacks, that we just go away and die….” One of the (Israeli) regulars, E., doing business with O., waits patiently and expounds on his feelings towards “security,” “the barrier,” Palestinians and Israelis. He gives a perfect demonstration of the Israeli attitude which knows and cares not at all about the daily lives of the Palestinians. Yet, here he is, sitting amid the beauty of the plants and flowers, talking only of Israeli suffering, bombs, etc. The permit system: “It’s fine, since only those who are ‘OK’ can enter Israel.” So, why not O.? Well, E. has to think, “he talks too much.” (Indeed, O. speaks Hebrew well.). When O. tells of H., who works in the nursery, but who is also lucky enough to have a permit, but has to get to Eyal at 4:00 a.m. to enter Israel to work “and hardly sleeps,” E. turns off. He is here to “do business,” and that’s the time for us to leave.
Although the checkpoint has gone, we are surprised to see to soldiers (reservists) up in a military tower (temporary structure not there last week). One can predict that checkpoints come and checkpoints go, but checkpoints go on forever (apologies to Lord Tennyson). We ask what they’re doing. They don’t know. We ask if Palestinian Israelis are allowed through without being stopped. They don’t know. All this time, vehicles are passing in both directions, many of them with yellow license plates (Israeli).
En route on 55 to Jit Junction
The outposts are alive and well, around Qarnei Shomorn and around Qedumim. There is definitely a Bedouin type tent up on the hill near Qedumim, and below, nearer the road, a young man stands ‘neath an olive tree (not his) and prays. So much for the end of outposts.
After Jit Junction, a decision is made to see a “real” checkpoint before heading back the usual route, westwards to Anabta and Jubara and on to the “terminals” at Irtah/Shaare Efraim and Eyal.
We drive to Huwwara, park the car and walk towards the checkpoint. We are seen by a soldier in the look out tower on the roadway before the roundabout, and he makes a phone call. Sure enough, we are soon greeted by the commander and his sidekick, the former “ordering” to show the photos that have been taken. One of the visitors has taken photos of the checkpoint and the vehicles going through it from afar. The commander, A., whose name we learn only nearly an hour later, says that “This is my checkpoint, this is my law, and you do as I say.” He wants the camera, and this being refused, says he will call the police. We urge him to do so. Meanwhile, the sidekick, a young soldier, tells us that “I am from Sderot,” and learns that one of the visitors has been there several times. How this information is meant to relate to photos being taken by two foreign nationals is, of course, not logical or rational. But whoever said that this Occupation was rational? Two IDs, a foreign and an Israeli, are taken by the commander and disappear into the famous, deep pockets of the IDF. The commander wanders off. We follow. It cannot be that MachsomWatch will allow a visitor’s ID to be taken by the army of Occupation. Well, the soldiers are at a loss. They don’t want us in the middle of the checkpoint. They also won’t give up the IDs. The commander, a sergeant, wanders back and forth from the slight shade afforded by a small hut and the checking posts in the middle of the checkpoint. The pedestrian area is quite a distance off and hard to see. Quite a bit of regular traffic, some checked, some not, some made to turn round, business as usual.
It’s hot, there is no shade, no water, and there’s a standoff. The police take their time in coming, and it’s clear that the commander also is in a quandary, cannot let us go after all this time, yet wants to get rid of the dilemma he’s caused for himself.
12:45 -- finally, a white police jeep (similar to the DCO’s) arrives at 12:45, and the policeman (from Ariel) and the commander engage in a powwow. It’s clear that the policeman also has no idea what to do (can’t even find the visa in the young woman’s passport), and he has even less idea as to what to do with the recalcitrant visitor, who also happens to be a diplomat. When the latter says, he will complain (up to the Prime Minister’s Office), the commander tells him that he should not trust this MachsomWatch woman who “is creating problems for you.” And so it goes, until finally, the visitors are told, “What are you doing in our country anyway?”
12:55 Ten minutes later, a new shift, with a new commander, arrives. He immediately tells us that we cannot stand where we are standing (but we’re standing by the police jeep together with the policeman, the sergeant and his men having crept away). One of the new soldiers insists he knows one of the visitors, a young woman, who’s arrived, for the first time in Israel a couple of days ago. He continues to insist. This “insistence” is incessant, whether it makes sense or not!
13:00 -- we are given the IDs and passport back by the policeman. End of checkpoint tour. Beginnings of understanding of the depth of change that has to occur here, not just with checkpoints, settlements and Occupation, but with attitudes towards “the other.”