Deir Sharaf, Habla, Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim), Ras 'Atiya, Wed 18.11.09, Afternoon
12:00 Habla Agricultural Gate, Gate 1392
The soldiers take no notice of the large group of women and men, the latter, for once, in the same numbers as the women! A number of carts, drawn by horses, the "cowboy" minus his summer hat with a horse - typical day at this gate crossing, enlivened by Omar at his nursery who is articulate in explaining, in Hebrew, with our translation, the situation in Qalqiliya and the destruction/reduction of this large and prosperous agricultural center, from 60,000 to 45,000 people, and problems with takeover of lands along the Seam Line.
Near settlement of Alfe Menashe
The new Separation Wall being built, work ongoing at new road and, presumably, new Seam Line checkpoint - soldiers on guard.
Ras Atiya: Seam Line checkpoint at Seam Line village (west of Separation Barrier).
School kids returning from school west of the checkpoint, go across the checkpoint, no IDs needed. The soldier in the lookout position shouts that no film or photos allowed. One detainee, hidden by camouflage netting, visible only on being escorted to the Porta-toilet. An altercation follows with the soldiers when we ask why he's detained. A military policewoman comes out of the concrete checking house to berate us as we attempt to find out from the young man what's going on. The commander insists that we leave the middle of the checkpoint, promises to come and explain to us if we do. Surprise, surprise, he doesn't.
Qalqiliya - no checkpoint today.
On Route 55
Nabi Elias - lunch, much appreciated and enjoyed by the visitors
Azzun - no earth mound today
Qedumim - Settlement where new building continues, nobody visible at the cave outpost
Deir Sharaf - Soldiers who do nothing to stop vehicles. Pit stop for "knafeh" and visit with Jabal Moussa and his father, Abu Hussein, at their mini market.
Anabta - the newly enlarged vehicle checkpoint has no line of waiting vehicles.
Jubara - Young boys pester, quite aggressively, for shekels as we wait in the long line trying to get through.
16:30 -17:45 Shaare Efraim/Irtah -As we stand by the security fence, just across from Irtah, two plainclothes men approach us, flashing ID cards, indicating they're security (no longer dressed in black). They insist that photos and filming are not allowed. One of the visitors stands by the huge concrete wall that surrounds one part of the "terminal," trying to gauge the height of the security wall -- and have it captured on film. We move our cars into the parking lot and go to observe what's going on.
At this late afternoon hour, many returning Palestinians emerge from minibuses and contractors' cars. The line leading to the terminal is endless, there is pushing and shoving, there are women and children, and only two, it seems, windows at work inside the building. We are just about to make phone calls when, all of a sudden, more windows are, magically, at work. We have been seen! The line begins to move, the crowding and shoving cease. Some of the members of the visitor's group find a couple of English speaking Palestinians waiting in line, and they explain, on film, that windows are opened when MachsomWatch women appear, but are closed as soon as they leave. They go on and talk about their daily experiences, the wait this morning, as most mornings, waiting from one to three hours to get through the terminal and complain, rightly so, about the disgraceful situation here.
Just then the two security guards appear, and the larger one begins to jostle and manhandle one of the Americans, demands his film, tries to smash the camera and shouts that he is to stop, etc. Since neither of the two visitors will hand over the camera, and tell the guard, in no uncertain terms to lay off, the two security guards now say they will close the gate of the compound, meaning, we can't leave with our two parked cars, and that Palestinians can't get in, or contractors' cars out. "This is a closed military area" (with Palestinians inside)!! They carry out their threat; and we start to make phone calls. One of the visitors stands at the now closed gate, the security guard "in charge" there asks him why, and he indicates to "observe." Gradually the gate is opened to let a trickle of Palestinians in, and they immediately proceed to run towards the terminal, fearing yet more delays.
As we make phone calls to our lawyers, to Tami, etc., two army jeeps suddenly appear and zoom into the compound, pulling up sharply more or less at our feet. Out emerge a total of eight soldiers, guns at the ready! The larger of the two security guards from the private company running this place hovers as an officer, a major, begins to talk, in not bad English, to the visitors. He insists that he see what they've been filming. He is satisfied with what he sees (no need to explain what has happened to the offending film). But the security guard, hovering over the army officer, now insists that there is more film, and that this must be viewed too. The major asks where it is, asks if we all want to spend the night here (he's talking to six American citizens), and suddenly, it seems something clicks in his brain: "You were all just about to leave, right? So, why don't you just go?" We do, and leave a reality that is clearly more than a little suggestive of an autocratic state.