Eyal Crossing, 'Anabta, 'Azzun 'Atma, Beit Iba, Deir Sharaf, Jubara (Kafriat), Shave Shomron, Te'enim Crossing, Sun 12.7.09, Af
What is the reality behind the pleasant calm and stillness of the OPT minus many of the infamous checkpoints and roadblocks which made day-to-day life -- through violation of the freedom of movement -- so burdensome and time-consuming for Palestinians? There's a continuing grip over life in the OPT, a separation barrier which engenders not only a dividing up but a deluge of daily degradation of ordinary people seeking to go about their everyday lives and a reality from which we, as MachsomWatchers, checkpoint monitors and observers, cannot turn our eyes. The dignity and human rights of another people, our neighbors, is at stake and the pleasant quietitude, as often impressed on us by the Israeli media is, in the long run, ruinous to the future image and character of this country.
14:15 Ras Atiya
Habla and Ras Atiya are isolated from their "mother" city, Qalqiliya. Why? They are situated on the separation barrier whose aim is not only to encompass surrounding Israeli colonies but, as we saw today, to extend them more and more. On the way up to Alfei Menashe from Route 555, there's a brand new poster advertising new apartments: yes, in this day and age! But the advertisement on the side of the main highway into the OPT is not the only new object to see. As we climb the steep hills above the plant nurseries of Habla, we come upon a brand new, blindingly white, retaining wall and, one after the other, huge trucks bearing rocks and bringing or taking away material which is essential for construction of a new infrastructure, we must assume, for the "natural" growth of the nearest settlement/colony.
14:15 -- we move on to Ras Atiya where the soldiers have no objection to us crossing the separation barrier and heading on into the village. Twenty meters from the checkpoint is a school on whose wall is written, "Let me learn peaceful" (in English) and "Stop killing children." A youngish woman is returning home from working in Jajulya (not far away as the crow flies) but light years in distance and hurdles for a Palestinian trying to eke out a living to feed six children (via Eyal as well as Ras Atiya) .
On exiting Ras Atiya, we take some wrong turns and drive on well paved beautiful roads beyond Azzun Atme (we're on the other side from where MW usually goes) and drive in the beautiful hilly countryside through sleepy villages passing curious and friendly children on holiday from school, all the while trying to find our way back to Route 555! Having driven through "forests" of olive trees, we land up in Biddya with its broad and straight main street and dwarf palm trees and finally make our way back to Funduk through Emanuel.
Back to the reality of Occupation, we're greeted by a rolling checkpoint, a jeep at the junction with Routes 555 and 5066, and two border police either harassing or joking with a teenager on the other side of the road as a truck which has obviously already been stopped, turns around in the middle of the roadway and heads back in the direction from whence it came. .
Few workers, all men, going in, and a stream observed leaving the terminal building. We follow a few men from the time they approach the terminal for the checking procedure until they are seen outside the building: never more than two minutes.
Open, little traffic, but many settler cars returning "home." No Palestinians at the gate.
The peaceful nature of the nurseries belies what goes on after dark, long after watchful observers are at home. Just a few nights ago, a large group of soldiers, wearing night vision glasses, burst through the peace and quiet of the night at Habla, seeking, so they say, youngsters who were "trying to get into Israel," and they were there until 2:00 a.m.! They trampled over everything, made a ruckus and were rude and insolent too, to the elderly father of one of the nursery owners who, in daylight hours was not allowed the special privilege to get through the line -- to sit and wait -- at CP 109. He must be treated "equally" (badly) and had to stand in line.
15:50 Deir Sharaf
We have been told that entry to Nablus is open to Israelis today, and that we should try to go through the checkpoint with the car. We do so! The commander, a corporal, tells that it's true that usually it's only Saturdays, and that although coming out of Nablus is fine, going in is another problem..."You can come out, but you can't go in" Yet, today, "I'll let you, but I need to see your IDs." He is puzzled by the Hebrew nomenclature (Mamlacha Meuchedet) for the UK! "What on earth country is that?" he asks.
Traffic flows freely in the direction of Nablus, and it's quite heavy.
Nablus itself, we learn, is more or less left alone by the IDF, other than incursions once or twice a month (different from nightly incursions of just a short while ago). The Palestinian Police are effective, but the economy is very weak.
Deir Sharaf now boasts a Nablus bakery which has the most delectable "knafeh," the dessert for which Nablus is famous. We sample it and make out way to the defunct Beit Iba. It's hard to believe today what once went on there. The kiosks are shuttered, there are no taxis awaiting pedestrians, and an endless stream of traffic flows into and out of the city. We venture a few more kilometers to the village of Beit Iba itself, furniture showrooms and workshops on both sides of the road.
16:55 Shavei Shomron
Just to remind us of a real checkpoint, we drive up Route 60 to the checkpoint at the back end of Shavei Shomron. Soldiers tell us we can't be there, and when we ask how come Israeli Jews were there less than a week ago (on the way to bury books in Homesh) the soldier replies, "I wasn't there then" (as if laws are dependent only on an individual's say so!) An Israeli pickup truck with a sick Palestinian in it is stopped at the checkpoint, can't proceed. We don't' see the end of this as we have been told, in no uncertain terms, to leave immediately.
17:05 -- on our return to the checkpoint at Deir Sharaf, there is a long, long line of vehicles, waiting to be checked. Within ten minutes we're in front of a soldier who asks us what we're about. We tell him that his commander told us we could cross the checkpoint. He points to two imagininary stripes on his shoulder to make sure that this was the person we meant. We ask why every vehicle is being checked. "We're looking for somebody." The work on the new road to Shavei Shomron appears to have stopped completely.
17: 20 Anabta
Back to checkpoint reality: several hundred meters before Anabta, we're greeted by one sign after another. "Approaching checkpoint.... or "Stop, checkpoint ahead," etc. But before the road divides into four or five lanes for vehicle checking there is one huge red metal poster with lettering nearly a foot high, exclaiming "A" and then continuing in Hebrew only that "this road brings you to area A, to which entrance is forbidden to Israelis... endangering your lives ....and is an illegal act." We take note of it and of the endless stream of cars with yellow license plates approaching the checkpoint (Israeli cars): what this sign has to do with them is not clear. Somehow, it's another indicator of the rampant racism we're now accustomed to. Israeli Jews are not allowed into Area A but Palestinian Israelis - that's a different matter.
The renovated Anabta checkpoint now boasts a bigger and better lookout tower as well as its older, stubbier forerunner. As we approach the checkpoint proper, a soldier comes up to us, demanding to know who we are. He has never heard of MachsomWatch, and even after our explanation asks, "So, you're journalists?" Photos, of course, are forbidden, etc., etc.
Not a fig tree in sight at the so-named access point to the OPT, but a long line of slowly moving vehicles. When we get to the checking post proper a military policeman comes up to us, knowing who and what MachsomWatch is, but telling us we should have gone into the other lane (which could not be seen from the end of the line). We notice that a number of Israeli vehicles, yellow license plates have been turned back from entering the OPT. Why is not clear. There are police, as usual, stationed at the entry point to the OPT. We note that the traffic light is no more at the closed gate leading up to the village of Jubara.