Jordan Valley, Tayasir, Thu 14.4.11, Afternoon
14:00 Gochia barrier
Our focus on checkpoints that disrupt Palestinians’ normal human life makes us forget the fact that the checkpoints are only a part of the problem – the total closure of the Palestinian Jordan Valley with ditches (that have been widely expanded lately), dirt piles (made higher recently), gates, concrete blocks etc. Gochia barrier is one of these.
This is a metal gate closed with chains and supposedly open to passage of Jordan Valley residents merely three times a week – Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., for a mere half hour. Is it really opened? That depends on the army’s whims. Since this gate is not opened daily, all children of the Jordan Valley (the Hadidiya, Homsa, and Makhul clans) live with relatives in the West Bank from the age of six, in order to be able to attend school. Because of this gate, sick people have no access medical care, people cannot shop or run any kind of errands, and fulfilling any normal needs depends on the goodwill of the soldiers to come and open the gate. We have waited several times for hours, in scathing heat or in the freezing dark, and the soldiers never came, or came very late. In our absence, the gate has remained closed many times to Palestinians, and they went back where they came from or were forced to find alternatives, got caught and arrested.
Today we arrived at the gate just at the official opening time. A family was disembarking from a large vehicle – a father and mother, five small children (including a 2-months-old baby) and a 12-year-old girl – on the western side of the gate (the West Bank side). Their hands were filled with bags of goodies and presents. Not knowing it was forbidden, they crossed the gate on foot without waiting for the soldiers. We asked them where they were headed and they explained they were from Tamun, and on their way to visit relatives they had not seen for ages. (Because of this closure, residents of the area are disconnected from their relatives and such family visits are rare). “Okay, how will you get there?” we asked. “We’ll walk”. Their relatives live about a 2-hour walk away, at least, and here they are loaded down with babies and presents. But there is no other way. Had they crossed a checkpoint, there is no public transportation in the region and the checkpoint is even further away. It is a hot day for the season, temperatures already climbing up to 30 degrees centigrade. We made them get into our car and in two quick rounds, brought them closer to their family. But this case illuminated another new point about closing the Jordan Valley – the isolation of families living in the region.
15:15 Back to the gate; it had not yet been opened, and this time on its western side a tractor was parked, attached to a water tanker. The driver, whom we know from spending many hours waiting at the locked gate with him, was bringing his children home from school in Tamun. He was bringing six children, and another was sitting on top of the water tanker along with his father, also an acquaintance of ours from the area, dressed in traditional religious garb. We call the DCO and are told that the soldiers are still new and not yet used to procedures.
At 15:35 the army jeep arrives, the soldiers disembark with obvious reluctance and open the gate. Except that they have no clear instructions as to whom to allow through or not. Then their phone calls to the brigade HQ begin, to inquire whether the tractor driver and his children or the religious man sitting on top of the water tanker and his child may get back to their homes, God forbid. Everyone waits around for the answer. After 15 minutes it arrives – the tractor driver and his children, yes, the religious man – no. (Is it because he looks like a Hamas man to them?)
They order the religious man down from his perch, in Hebrew, a language that none of these Palestinians understand, and with hand gestures. The tractor driver asks them to let him wait until the okay comes through for his neighbor, but the soldiers chase him off and the religious man leaves his 5-year old son at the care of his neighbor (they’re all from the Hadidiya clan) and remains on the spot alone. When he will be released, he will have to walk home for hours. We ask the soldiers to let the tractor driver wait for him or – better yet – let the man through. We do not receive any answer. We have turned into air.
We called Majd at the DCO, who told us that the soldiers had received orders to let EVERYONE through. But they really didn’t feel like it, apparently! Not quite ten minutes passed, the tractor was gone in a reddish cloud of Jordan Valley dust, and the religious man also received permission to proceed homeward. We offered him a ride but he shrugged angrily and began his long trek home.
11:45 Maale Efrayim checkpoint- manned by two soldiers, another two hanging around.
12:15 Hamra Checkpoint
As soon as we arrive, the commander tries to have us back off behind the water tank, about 20 meters away. “For your own good”. Vehicles pass after a swift, light check. People coming from the east get off the cars about 30 meters from the checkpoint, in the sun, and wait for permission to approach the actual checkpoint compound. It’s hot in the sun, and three women with babies in their arms advance towards the shed. “Whoa, whoa – stop!!!” yells the soldiers and sends them back to the sun. Who do they think they are, these women? He lets only two at a time approach. All the men are required to take off their belts, including 10-year old children. Two cars belonging to non-residents of the Jordan Valley are sent back to the West Bank. The shed put up for the benefit of the Palestinians is locked behind iron bars and serves as a storeroom for the soldiers’ gear.
The Palestinians coming from the east, for whom this shed was originally erected (but never serving this purpose) wait in the sun on the road until the soldier deigns to notice and summon them. These are workers whose employer lets them off before the checkpoint and mainly schoolchildren. They pass without a check.
13:25 Tyassir Checkpoint
As we arrived, five cars were waiting coming from the east, another from the west. The drivers told us they have been waiting for 40 minutes. Five minutes after we get there everyone gets through and until we leave, no further waiting lines accumulated.
An old car approaches hesitantly and stops about 30 meters from the checking soldier – should it continue? Stop? The soldier looks at it and does not respond at all so the car slowly inches forward. Then the soldier barks out “Get back, come on!” and makes the driver reverse about 30 meters to learn his lesson.
The soldiers are new, most of them converse with each other in Russian. In both directions only IDs are checked – a considerable relief compared to recent months.
Alon Road, near Maskiyot – the bulldozers are working busily above the Bedouin encampment at the junction, and the residents are very concerned that soon these same bulldozers will be overturning their homes.
17:45 – Maale Efrayim on our way back
Three soldiers man the checkpoint and woman settlers wait for a ride inside the checkpoint compound.