In such beleaguered times for NGOs here, it's as well to remind ourselves of some of the reasons for which we stand: "…to monitor, observe and document." How else do the Israeli and publics abroad learn what is happening in the West Bank every day? Through the credibility we've acquired over the years of the Second Intifada by our "professional" monitoring of the conduct of the security forces, and our protection of Palestinian human rights, we prove time and time again that we cannot sit and be silent. Yet perhaps the best statement of what is going on today was provided by two plant nursery owners on the Seam Line, protesting once again renewed harassment by soldiers, and their complaints being confirmed by the DCO -- "it's the new politics." Indeed!
What's new here? A stop sign at the edge of the Separation Barrier (just like on a street in Israel proper), much more razor wire on the gate and around it, and spikes which have to be manually pulled from side to side, by a soldier, every time a truck wishes to cross the Separation Barrier in either direction.
There's mud and sun, trucks, more trucks and people -- Palestinian men, who, again, tell us of their "hard life." "We're farmers, nursery owners, and I have ten families to take care of…. but each day is like Big Ben, checking in the morning, checking in the evening.… Demanding my children's birth certificates! Do you, I asked a soldier at the gate here, go about with your children's birth certificates….. I have five of them. Am I supposed to go about with all five of them?" We note, silently, that his small children don't come here, to the agricultural gate at Habla, which is open when the authorities deign to open it. The questions about the birth certificates are mere harassment. Of course, Rashid is used to being accused, almost every day, of overstaying his time in "Israel" – on the other side of Gate 1392, and being told further, "Today you're not allowed back" -- into the nursery that he and his family own.
11:55 -- as the midday muezzin sounds in the village beyond the gate, a flock of sheep advance from Habla and a bevy of horses from the side of the gate where we're standing advance in the opposite direction. The animals cross the Separation Barrier in the middle as the soldiers, on guard here, stand and stare. A soldier asks that this irresistible photo not include faces of soldiers.
12:00 -- a pick up truck with young kumquat trees is thoroughly inspected before being allowed to cross. Pedestrians all have to wander into the concrete windowless structure for computer ID checking before being allowed to cross the Separation Barrier.
Another soldier comes up to talk about Edna Canetti's TV appearances. (Note: Edna recently emerged from "Big Brother, " a reality show, which has a huge audience in Israel).
On the way to Ras Atiya: everywhere sheep and shepherds, an earth covered in bright, Irish green, with white pink and yellow flowers carpeting it, and a starting display of just a few almond trees and anemones, heralding spring, but otherwise no new beginnings here in the OPT. A tractor works on a new roadway where it even looks as if buildings will soon be constsuctetd near Alfe Menashe (two telltale caravans on the hillside). The Separation Barrier wall is finished by the village of Ras Atira.
12:30 Ras Atiya.
An in-your-face brand new, huge, clean flag decorates the far side of the Separation Barrier checkpoint. The soldier in the lookout box is now protected from the cold wind that blows here by Plexiglas, and, below him, five soldiers stand around and, usually all five, including the one military police person, inspect trucks, taxis and private cars.
12:40 -- a taxi and passenger alight on the far side, leave the vehicle, go to the concrete and windowless checking post, return after a few minutes to the taxi; the trunk is thoroughly checked, and they proceed on their way. Same series of events with a covered truck (the kind used by movers here), a minibus, another taxi, another truck: a slow passage for all. Permits and IDs are checked for everybody entering the village. It's business as usual.
12:50 -- a mini bus, "donated by the Italian government," written on its side, shuttles back and forth, ferrying passengers in and out of the village. Schools are on vacation in the OPT, but a few small children now wander across the Separation Barrier, encumbered by huge backpacks.
The lone soldier in the checkpoint (a closed checkpoint according to the government) eats his lunch, doesn't bother to look at passing vehicles in and out of the city. On the hillside above, the settlement of Zufim continues with its building program. Having gouged out a pristine hillside, the beginnings of concrete housing structures can be seen.
On the way past the large settlements of Maale Shomron and Qarne Shomron, new large flags have been planted. A filthy, muddy pickup truck, hilltop youth in the passenger cab, drives past us and waves. (Maybe they, too, have seen Big Brother)?!
13:35 Shavei Shomron
There is no traffic going up the Route 60 hill. At the top is a hand painted "no entry" sign on a concrete boulder, and as we approach the vehicle-less road, two soldiers' heads pop up from the central booth. They disappear as we wend our way back to Deir Sharaf, noting a badly worded Hebrew and English sign saying that Sebastia cannot be approached via Route 60. We learn that, in fact, the Palestinian Authority is improving Route 60 – northwards to Jenin.
Deir Sharaf: the village, not the checkpoint which is no more. Likewise, the new road to the settlement of Shavei Shomron above, lies almost, but not quite finished, and unused. What was the point? Tearing down more olive trees to create a brand new unused road?Creating a new checkpoint, misleadingly called "the Barrels" by many MachsomWatchers, only to tear it down?
14:30 -- Anabta, of course, was an even larger waste.
Four lanes, checking booths, a new lookout tower: all unused, no abandoned.
Today, not a soldier in sight. The area, once again, left to its almost bucolic loveliness: shepherd and goats and sheep in the silvery olive grove, the animals happily munching, surrounded by the anemones which are always picture perfect here.
We make a half hearted effort, requesting to go up to the Seam Zone village, and five soldiers surround the car: there is little for them to do today, little traffic, not true on the Qalqiliya side of our route where Israeli cars pass in both directions non stop. A military policewoman, who tells us that she is the commander, informs that we can never, ever go up to Jubarra without written permission. We congratulate the IDF on making a woman commander of a checkpoint, but she is clearly lying…. One of the soldiers now asks, "Where's Edna?" Tells us that we are "nice women." But the "nice women" failed in their quest to monitor this Seam Zone village today!
All the white contractors' vans are parked outside the half open gate, but a lone security guard waves us in. We are the only car parked in the large parking lot. Why?
Even for this hour, there are a lot of men and women returning from work in Israel proper. Men complain that the terminal is not opening at 4:00 but at 4:30 in the morning, making the pressure of crowding that much greater, and that the wait is often two hours to get through from the other side. (DAWN SHIFTS, please take note of opening hours, and issue complaints). In fact, we are told, that the crush is so great, that, last Thursday, 4.2.10, two men had to be taken to hospital.
The checking, two booths open, is very slow. A group of women, one with infant in arms, waits, and only later, when we leave, do we realize that they are coming into Israel, and are not returning. As is usual, one doesn't know which way people are going since there is only one turnstile. A man waits with us, and it is soon clear why. A very old woman, blind in one eye, limps slowly to the exit, but the gate is locked: the only entry/exit here is by the turnstile.
Groups of workers return, some with huge, huge bags, laden with freshly picked oranges. A woman balances a deep tray of strawberries on her head, negotiates the turnstile without missing a beat.
At the entrance of the terminal, an in-your-face new stone entrance sign, proclaiming, in Hebrew only, "Shaare Efraim," and since there is not enough of the Occupier's might, or enough to make a point about Occupation, there's another flowerbed style mosaic, with the same nomenclature planted in the ground. The village of Irtah is forgotten, just laundry hanging on a balcony in the brisk breeze, not so far away from where we stand, reminding us that there are people living close by.