Eyal Crossing, 'Anabta, 'Azzun, Deir Sharaf, Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim), Jubara (Kafriat), Sun 23.8.09, Afternoon
Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, began yesterday, the first time Ramadan has fallen in August in 33 years. Since fasting goes on from sunrise to sundown, it's really tough going during these long, hot days of summer. President Barack Obama sent Ramadan greetings to the world's Muslims "These rituals remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam's role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings." The Israeli media made short shrift of Ramadan: no mention in today's Haaretz (English edition) at all. On the other hand, Civil Administration representatives, we are told, briefed forces regarding holiday times and traditions and distributed educational pamphlets on the topic. IDF soldiers, we were further told, have been given orders to show special consideration for the residents of the Judea and Samaria region and, wherever possible to refrain from eating and drinking in
public, especially at the various crossings so as to demonstrate a high
level of respect and understanding. As to the reality, and how the civilian companies that now control the "terminals" behave, please read on....
14:00 Ras Atiya
At this seam line crossing, it is unbearably hot on this first day of Ramadan. There are two pillboxes, one containing a soldier, high on the bluff overlooking the seam line barrier's sun baked sands and the second, on the barrier itself, containing a well camouflaged drinking water container! We are immediately approached by the soldiers and told, "No photos allowed, it's a military area," etc. when no cameras had been pointed at anything.
There are six soldiers at work, two of them military police, checking all IDs, permits, trunks and backs of cars, having no compunction about sending people, or cars, back from whence they came. There is a small but steady stream of people going in both directions, but mainly out of Ras Atiya.
The soldiers refuse to let a car through, its passenger, a tired looking woman, holding her head, as if she had a headache, which she probably did (heat and Ramadan fasting) but the driver, her son or her husband, had a new, secondhand car, and his permit did not match the car's registration. The result: the car could not cross from the seam line village, but its passengers could proceed on foot. Meanwhile, we are told in no uncertain terms that we are disturbing the work of the soldiers.....As is usual from this checkpoint, we gave rides to a an elderly man, 67years old, who does not remember having many Ramadans in August and a slim young woman, both of whom descend at the usual junction with the next village.
A special Ramadan surprise greets us, although it's already over a week old: the closure of the town with the usual earth mound, making vehicular traffic impossible and making passage for all but the most physically able, today carrying bottles of soda or coca cola, all but impossible. It's over a week that the army imposed a curfew on the town, at around 20:00, and then proceeded to make its usual mountain out of a molehill of debris and sand. The locals who make their way over the mound of earth, a barricade if ever there was one, are, as usual, stoical. What the army gives, the army also takes away. Watch this space for the next few weeks, or months, during which time the earth mound is bound to be taken away for the same non reason that it appeared once more at Azzun.
On Route 55, nothing untoward, and no activity at the outposts around Qedumim
15:00 Deir Sharaf
It's very quiet, and an empty taxi stops to offer us a ride. Most unusual: normally, taxis here are filled to the brim. Today, it's Ramadan, and people have, we assume, already shopped and are preserving their energy by staying at home. The soldiers on duty have no idea about what is allowed, what is not allowed at this checkpoint. True, no Israeli cars are allowed, they tell us. But Palestinian Israelis in Palestinian taxis, we suppose, as do the soldiers, that's another story.... As for Saturdays, and if Palestinian Israelis are allowed in on that day, as they were before the month long shopping festival when they were permitted free access on any day, they've no idea. Cars, we note, are not checked on either side, but as we leave, we see a small pickup van being stopped, trying to make its way towards Nablus.
It should be noted that all over the OPT today, are posters, written in Hebrew, in a garish fluorescent green, announcing, not some daring new political movement, but a common and garden promotion for pizza which can be delivered all over "Samaria." We find this a particularly sensitive piece of advertising for the month of Ramadan. Only the settlers could have dreamed up such a campaign at such a time!
There are plenty of Israeli vehicles (yellow license plates) bumping their way through the newly built checkpoint. It's rough, in more ways than one. On purpose, the roadway has been gouged out to give an abrasive, uneven surface, ensuring that cars have to slow down as they make their way towards Tulkarm.
Very few vehicles, but plenty of soldiers with little to do. Although they indicate willingness to open the gate to go up to the hamlet and Gate 753, they seem equally willing to have us stand at the gate, which remains unlocked long enough for us to give up in disgust, since there is clearly not going to be any authorization from higher ups forthcoming.
16:00 Irtah/Shaare Efraim
Only one checking booth is open, and there is a crowd of men who arrive in a never ending flow from small trucks and minibuses disgorging them into the heat after a day's work.. It is hot, it is Ramadan, and the men have been fasting, not a drop to drink, all day, and they have worked, often, as they tell us, in the fields of Israel, under a boiling sun. The last insult, to arrive at their homeward bound point to find but one working booth. A disgrace. We make phone calls, and another booth, of the eight that are here at the "terminal" is open. But that is not enough. Added to which there are a few women, and there is no way that women should have to endure the crush of men, particularly at Ramadan. Sensitivity, "special consideration," "respect and understanding" not found here. A phone call to the Matak (DCL office) tells us nothing more than the place where we are "is not Irtah, it is Shaare Efraim," meaning, don't forget this is Israel, not the PA.
A complete contrast to Irtah/Shaare Efraim. Here there are very few Palestinians trying to go home, there is one booth open, but the employee there has little to do. We note that half the hall of eight booths has been shut off with a temporary folding wall (keeping the working half of the hall cool?)
A Palestinian family, a number of men, a couple of women, one of whom is fully and completely covered, are held up by the large group of soldiers stationed here.
Neither the lookout tower nor the raised checking booth of the soldiers are manned. Traffic, therefore, flows non stop in both directions, and we drive a kilometer or so towards the city, noting not an army vehicle or a soldier in sight.
The car in front of us has his trunk checked, his ID scrutinized, but we are let go with "MachsomWatch, what's that?"
17:05 Habla, Gate 1393
Everything is quiet in the nurseries here, the owners have long since gone home, and we are surprised that the gate is already open. The non communicative, rude soldiers, three of them, one sitting in the army jeep alongside, tell us that they've been there since the "authorized time." Since, in our books, that is 17:30, we express surprise, and learn that the gate is now open from 16:45 until 18:00. (At midday, from 11:15-12:15). At which point, the commander tells the soldier not to give us further information or to talk to us.... Each pedestrian's ID and permit are closely examined, the name compared to a print out by one of the soldiers (just as at Ras Atiya).
Respect and understanding: not found amid the occupying forces today.