Eyal Crossing, 'Anabta, 'Azzun, Deir Sharaf, Qalqiliya, Sun 26.7.09, Afternoon
Today's newspaper told us that "Israel will agree to temporarily freeze construction in settlements." Actually halt construction in the settlements? We thought we'd do some validation on a small number of "the detailed list of all projects in the West Bank currently under construction and which Israel believes cannot be halted." We can't be sure of the list that Defense Minister Ehud Barak has supplied to the Americans (but maybe we've provided him a few that he forgot)!
Around Qalqiliya (settlement of Alfei Menashe)
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: presumably a project that "cannot be halted." Indeed, as we climb the steep hills above the plant nurseries of Habla, we see that the brand new, blindingly white, retaining wall sits contentedly in the hot summer sun, and the new roadways carved behind it are preceding well -- huge trucks working on "essential growth" of the original settlement which is, of course, quite a distance away.
Ras Atiya (on the seam line)
14:50 - three soldiers outside and a group of young men in a car trying to cross, leave their car, disappear into the checking house (not a hut, since it's built of concrete), and emerge soon after, some of them crossing by car, some walking, and two coming with us.
Two soldiers, their backs turned to traffic in the small lookout tower, completely oblivious to the traffic in and out of the city. And it must be a city, not the "village" touted on the large, red "Entering Area A" sign. The entry, past the old checkpoint, is a divided highway, planted with flowers and new palm trees. Further, we don't venture!
On Route 555
Back to the reality of Occupation, we're greeted by a hidden Hummer on the north side of the roadway, west of Azzun. The town itself is open, but we note, from the "apartheid
road" that, parallel to it, the road used by Palestinians when Azzun is put under siege, has been newly asphalted, perhaps in preparation for the closing of the town once again, who knows when and under whose whim.
New housing signs are taken note of at all the colonies we pass: Maale Shomron, Qarnei Shomron, the infamous Qedumim.
At Qedumim there's activity on the hillside, south of the road. A settler, distinctive hairdo and dress, wanders around the mouth of the wide open cave, a new "tent" has been perched on the hilltop, and, below, another indicator of "settlement" or "outpost" - a green plastic awning shelters a seated man, or a woman, from the strong sun.
16:00 Deir Sharaf
Less traffic than usual, not so many vehicles with Israeli yellow plates (in spite of the huge month long shopping festival in Nablus which has attracted attention in Kuwait, Qatar and many other countries (other than this one). There are a lot of army vehicles, Hummers and jeeps all over the OPT today, more than has been normal of late, usually entering or exiting settlements.
At the entry to the checkpoint, on a boulder where the "big A" tells us that we, Israeli citizens (who happen not to be Palestinian in origin) are not welcome, is a lime green poster (which has been there for well over a week by now), telling: "Have you seen exceptional movements of the security forces? Do you have information on impending evacuation? Contact now the war room of the Settlements 052 630 2222." (Note: the wording is a literal translation of the Hebrew, but the intent is quite clear: what is odd is the placement of this notice on a boulder at a checkpoint, but on second thoughts, maybe not so odd!)
No checking at all, but the five soldiers, whose position is in the center of the said checkpoint, are more than a little displeased when we walk up to them to ask about the situation. One tells us that we cannot stand where we are; we tell him we need to ask questions. A second soldier, a woman, comes up to repeat the order and hovers over us as we make our way back to the start of the checkpoint. "You must stand 300 meters from the checkpoint." We assume she means from her and the other soldiers, but not from the checkpoint itself....
More Israeli cars (yellow license plates) here than at Deir Sharaf. A digger is busy at work, high above the new and expanded vehicle checkpoint, at the military camp overlooking everything. The five or six vehicles in line for checking, far from where we stand, when we arrive, increase soon to eleven or twelve. We already know from Palestinian sources that this checkpoint is alive and well and causes frequent bottlenecks and so hampers the new "freedom of movement."
Groups of up to 20 workers move at a brisk pace from the parking lot to the terminal and emerge a couple of minutes later, homeward bound, although home may still be hours away from their access point to making a living.... There seem to be waves of returning workers: as a minibus disgorges its passengers, they make their way speedily homewards.
17:10 Zufim gate
Open, little traffic, but many settler cars returning "home". No Palestinians at the gate.
Note: all settlements we pass have huge roadside advertisements for housing. But Zufim has at least three ongoing housing projects at work. One, Pomegranate Heights, overlooks Route 555, and it's alive and well with the infrastructure well in place. Another project, boasts a huge sign in the middle of the settlement, facing north, and everywhere on the northern face of the hill are small signs advertising "plots" with a mobile phone number to call. A settler youth, headgear and hairdo to match, walks a donkey, incongruously, in this well kept and suburban looking colony, the towers of Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv clearly in view.
17:35 Habla Gate 1393 (on the Seam Line)
As at Ras Atiya, the two soldiers by the open gate (as of 17:30) do nothing but stand guard. A disembodied voice calls out from an enclosed structure (concrete, so not a hut or checking booth) on the far side of the Separation Barrier, "Next in line," and a few of the waiting men saunter over to get their IDs checked - in order to go home! Sometimes, they return to retrieve a bicycle, and then continue on their way, all seemingly in good and cheerful mood.
17:40 Here come the sheep! They need no checking or IDs, but they, too, seem to know the ropes of this weird existence, cross the Separation Barrier (about the color of their shorn coats) and wander off into the distance.