Habla, Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim), Sun 19.9.10, Afternoon
A few years ago, it was problematic to use the term "apartheid." No longer, so maybe it's time to employ "Bantustanization" to describe what we monitor in the OPT. Ariel Sharon believed (so Akiva Eldar has written) 'the Bantustan plan was the most suitable solution to [Israel's] conflict.' Yet Israeli leaders rarely speak publicly of Bantustans, instead using euphemisms with which we have become familiar, like 'separation,' 'disengagement' or 'convergence.' While emphasizing their goal of a 'two-state solution,' they continue to support construction of the Separation Barrier, Jewish-only settlements, etc. In fact, settlement construction had proceeded with little hindrance since Netanyahu announced the freeze in November of 2009. "You'd have to be blind, an idiot, or a member of the Yesha Council of settlements to use the term `freeze' to describe the real estate situation in Judea and Samaria" (Akiva Eldar). Stay tuned to see what happens after next week when the supposed "freeze" comes to an end…. but, at the same time, we should remember – as we saw today – that the so-called authorities find other ways to "separate" people(s), particularly at agricultural gates where the soldiers' rule is law, the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian laws well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) be damned!
13:40-15:30 Habla, Gate 1392-3
On the far, Palestinian side, a bus is already waiting with a load of school kids and is soon after joined by a second one. A man complains of the hundreds of people here at the gate each morning, but now there are only about 15-20 desirous of returning home after a long morning's work.
No soldiers in sight, although the announced opening time is 13:45. They finally arrive in a Hummer at 14:00 and take their sweet time getting organized. This is exacerbated by the surely deliberately slow method of opening the padlocked gates. Admittedly, the decidedly chubby soldier by the gate where we stand is surely handicapped in not being able to find the correct key for this particular padlock…. Meanwhile time is marching on, but not for the Occupier who couldn't care less that it is very hot, that there are huge busloads of children waiting and waiting some more, or for the female face of the Occupation which is personified by a soldier, leaning comfortably, legs splayed in front of her, sitting on the side wall of the concrete soldiers' "position," smoking , chatting on the phone or intent on studying something which is either a crossword or Sudoko.
14:05 -- although the gates are, theoretically, open, one of the series of gates on each side is always left closed, and a soldier, it seems, is now employed to handle this newer aspect of the IDF'S mission which includes opening it a bit, then closing it some more. A game?
14:10 -- the sergeant commander seems to be on duty, gun pointing at each Palestinian who walks towards the concrete checking booth for computer checking.
14:15 -- at this point, the military policewoman shouts, and the other soldiers begin to run, having locked all the gates they had so recently opened. Nobody runs immediately to the Hummer they've arrived in, however. No, there's more "balagan" (muddle) to this operation than the military manoeuvre we are supposed to be witnessing. We recall that last week, the gates were all locked as, we were told, there had been an "incident." So, what is the story this week? We don't know, the soldiers refuse to talk to us, and the Hummer, with all aboard, drives off in a whoosh, leaving two busloads of schoolkids, many vehicles, of all kinds, on both sides, and many more Palestinian workers ditched, abandoned or what you will.
The MW observers go into action, making phone calls to whomever we think should be apprised of the situation, and whoever should know of the shockingly cavalier way in which the Occupier behaves insofar as human beings, in this case, many primary schoolchildren, are concerned.
The phone calls bring little relief, "they (the soldiers, we are told) had to go," promises are made, but no change in the facts on the ground. More phone calls, more waiting. A horse whinnies, and a man says that there will never be peace since "they want balagan (muddle) and get it."
14:40 -- after an uncounted number of phone calls, a Hummer finally arrives, bringing back all the soldiers who were meant to arrive at 13:45 and leave at 15:00. The same chubby soldier struggles with the padlock on the gate nearest where we stand, lets the woman MP try on his sunglasses, and the "game" continues. Or, is it policy? A policy to make the Palestinians decide to give up, to leave, so that Alfei Menashe and settlements of its ilk can expand more and more? If that is the case the Occupier has no understanding of "sumud."
A contractor's van and a jeep have joined the soldiers, and two men, contractors, begin to clamber up on the roof of the concrete checking booth, or playing around with the door.
15:10 -- one and a half hours after their arrival the two school buses pass through the gates, as if participating in an obstacle course, since only half a gate is ever open, although the bus is Egged size. One bus contains boys, the other, girls in striped school uniform smocks. The latter smile and wave shyly. Their mothers must be anxiously waiting for them….
15:15 -- after a horse passes, the gates are again all closed; three soldiers, including the newly arrived captain, confer in the middle of the Separation Barrier. Nothing moves, again. Half the time, the gates are half closed, and when open, held by a soldier. This is a high tech army….
15:20 -- a cart with hay, a truck bearing trees bound to or from a plant nursery make their way to the other side, but the pedestrians are the last ones to be allowed to cross. The woman MP calls out, "Five at a time," as the chubby soldier sips water from his army pouch as the Palestinian workers wait -- and wait some more. The one saving grace is that after this last group of pedestrians, there are no more would be crossers to the other side.
At Jit, army and police with army truck and civilian large truck stop and talk to a civilian: the driver?
Deir Sharaf, Anabta as usual and at Jubarra, as we make our way out of the OPT, the soldier looks at us, at the MW flag and says "Yuck" very, very loudly.
A steady stream of returning workers, and although it seems that only one checking booth is open, there appears to be no checking, as everybody passes quickly and smoothly to the other side.