Hamra, Ma'ale Efrayim, Tayasir, Thu 24.12.09, Afternoon
11:30 Maalei Ephraim
A Palestinian car is being checked as we arrive, and another is waiting at a distance. A soldier greets us with a friendly "shalom," which is wiped off his face when he learns who we are. Nevertheless, he doesn't try to chase us away. After five minutes the car goes on its way, and two more, with suitcases strapped to the roof, are passed through quickly.
A line of seven cars from the east waiting to go west into the West Bank. After a few minutes the soldiers begin to process from both directions, and the line vanishes. From time to time, a maximum of two cars waiting. The Palesinians keep asking "come more often;: when you are here, the checkpoint is much better."
A taxi driver from Jenin relates that he was compelled to change the address in his ID card to Jiftlik (in the Valley) in order to carry passengers from the West Bank to the Jordan Valley. We saw last week that they do not allow taxis from the West Bank to pass, and what are travellers coming from Jenin or Nablus supposed to do? The soldiers tell them (and the DCO officer repeated it on the phone) "they should get out of the taxi, and take another one from Jiftlik," but there are no taxis at the checkpoint and no one has a phone number to call a taxi. The taxis that pass through the checkpoint are full and travelling to specific destinations.
The checkpoint commander tells us not to approach the soldiers or photograph them, but does not try to chase us away. His soldiers, on the other hand, come to convince him to get rid of us, or they will close the checkpoint. He does not respond.
The Palestinians complain that in all weather they are forced to get out of their cars a hundred metres before the checkpoint, and to proceed on foot; the need to open coats, raise sweaters and remove belts is humiliating and bothersome.
We met a Palestinian who lives at the checkpoint junction, has a number of houses and tents, but is not a Bedouin. He has land registry certification for the land where he lives. In the past his property has been destroyed a few times, and then he went to Jordan to bring back the land certificate. But the army has also placed here signs "Firing Zone" next to his house, and when I ask him what he feels about the signs, he says "it’s the army wanting us to be careful..."
Happy is he who believes.
As we arrive, two cars are waiting on the east side and a lot of people are getting out of three taxis coming from the West Bank. Transit was fast, and within a few minutes all have moved on. Previously colleagues told us that the checkpoint was problematic, and that it was closed on Sunday for 12 hours (I got phone calls about it – people waited two and a half hours, then were told to go to Hamra because this checkpoint would not open till the next morning. The DCO also refused to tell me the reason.) On Friday evening the checkpoint was also closed for six hours (from 14:30 to 20:30) on the contention that a Palestinian had been caught with a knife, which changed to a Palestinian with two packages, which also didn’t exist. The fact is that nothing was published about it even though we got a reporter involved). Here too the Palestinians ask us to come often, because when we are here it’s good, and when we are not – it’s bad.
The soldiers signal to the Palestinians to approach with a wave of the hand, but they don’t always see the invitation and then come the shouts "Yalla, Yalla!".
Surprise!!! An army jeep comes five minutes early to open the gate, which stays open until 15:30. At 15:15 three Palestinians come on foot from the direction of Aatuf village, east of the gate. They stop, and one calls hesitantly "shalom" to the soldiers and begins to pull out his ID, but the soldier throws at him "it’s open, isn’t it?" They pass. In the past, only those on the soldiers’ lists who live in Hadidia area permanently could cross, and we saw many people sent to Hamra because they were not listed. Five minutes later another three pass with the same ease, going in the opposite direction.
No line from the east and no people waiting for taxis to collect them having come from the west. We did not stop.
A fancy car slowly approaches the soldiers, but they send it back. The driver approached before the soldiers told him to. After a few minutes, the soldier permits him to approach and demands that all the passengers alight from the car. He sends the woman who gets out back into the vehicle. After some debate, the car which came from Jenin on the way to Jericho, but which is not listed on the name of anyone from the Valley, is sent back. We see it drive down the Allon Road southwards, not turning back towards Jenin. The driver didn’t argue because he will turn east to Jericho at Rimmonim Junction, where there is no checkpoint, and so he will have no problem. A small detour, minor nuisance. Exactly like the path that the Palestinians opened 20 metres alongside the locked Gucia Gate. There’s no doubt that the army sees the path. Moreover, it also sees who uses it, and when it suits them they ignore it, and when they want they will arrest those who pass that way, take them to Hamra and detain them. Yet another means of control and harassment...