'Atara, Qalandiya, Sun 10.4.11, Afternoon
Translator: Charles K.
Just before leaving for the checkpoint I noticed that day’s headline on Ma’ariv’s back page: “A creative checkpoint.” That’s the title they gave to the article by Ahikam Moshe David, who reported on the “key verses” written by the commander of the military police battalion to guide the behavior of soldiers at the checkpoint. The article quoted them liberally: “Even if I know you/I won’t let you go through,” “If there’s a mob/We’re doing our job,” “In a trunk that won’t open/There’s an illegal person,” etc. The article also says that the fact that “no complaints have been filed against the soldiers” is proof that “they are careful to treat the Palestinian population very well.”
I brought the newspaper along to my shift (unfortunately, it doesn’t appear on Ma’ariv’s web site). I wanted Tamar to be happy also; for eight years, week after week, she’s been observing the hardships of the Palestinians at the Qalandiyya checkpoint. Zerocomplaints – what fantastic proof!
We arrived at the checkpoint about 15:00, and after observing the vehicle crossing we went to say hello to the children: the children from the refugee camp selling bottled water or chewing gum for one shekel, doing the best they can to help their families who are living on the verge of starvation.
At about 15:30 we went over to the pedestrian crossing.
Only two of the five booths – number 2 and 4 – at the pedestrian crossing were manned, even though the lines at them were long and moved slowly. While I haven’t spent a great deal of time at the Qalandiyya checkpoint, I’ve been here more than a few times, and have never seen more than three booths open simultaneously. Regardless of the length of the line, the long waiting time, or the congestion outside – they don’t open additional booths. And the Palestinians wait.
Fifty minutes – fifty minutes by the clock to reach the head of the line. Fifty minutes of listening to the grating metallic voice on the loudspeaker, belonging to the soldier in the glass cage at the entrance to the checkpoint - who’s in charge of opening the first revolving gate - and who decided to check the loudspeaker was operating correctly by stridently calling out “one, two, three; one, two, three,” over and over again.
Fifty minutes during which we repeatedly saw people going to Gate 5 – the one to the DCO, which is supposed to be open to the public until 16:00 – but remained closed.
The intercom that had been installed at the gate had been pried off, and there was no one to turn to. No person, no soldier, no policeman or other functionary whom one could see or talk to at the Qalandiyya checkpoint. They’re all concealed behind sealed, dirty, soundproof windows. All that someone needing the DCO could do was to shove his face between the bars of the revolving gate, try to push through the bars, hoping someone might see, might come. But nobody came. People waiting at the checkpoint explained that this gate is never manned, but that soldiers manning booth 4 come from time to time to the window overlooking this gate. But after 15:00 they usually don’t come over…
We spoke with a young woman who showed an interest in our badge. She’s a Palestinian, born in Jenin, who left years ago and moved to Australia. Two months ago one of her brothers fell seriously ill – he’s 40. Since then he’s been in Al Makassed Hospital, in Jerusalem. None of the family members received a permit to be with, or visit him in the hospital. All of them are “denied” passage. Having no alternative, and since she has an Australian passport, she was called back to be with him. Every day, for the past two weeks, she’s endured the torments of the round-trip journey between Jenin and Jerusalem.
“Yesha is fun,” [a play on the Hebrew slogan, “Yesha – Judea and Samaria – hu kan” – here], declared a headline in Ma’ariv six months ago. “A new book on pampering beyond the Green Line,” was the sub-heading. The Second Channel TV news also was part of the book’s publicity campaign. The book, according to the report, “lists all the welcoming locations in Judea and Samaria. And it also includes ideology: normalcy, to convince readers there’s no difference between Samaria and the Golan, or between Judea and the Galilee.” Fun. Simply fun. How cynical do you have to be to think of such a title?
We left the Qalandiyya checkpoint at about 17:00 and continued toward Nablus, to observed the Atara-Bir Zeit checkpoint. We drove slowly along Route 60, looking around. What was particularly noticeable were the soldiers and military vehicles next to every outpost and settlement, the high fences and patrol roads surrounding the areas taken over by the settlers – in contrast to the Palestinian villages, that had been there long before and were trying to survive with no guards, no defenses, exposed and abandoned to every cruel outburst by adherents to the ideology of destruction and expulsion, the rioters mocking us all when they characterize their actions as “exacting a price.” It’s shocking to see how easy it is for a Jewish mob on the West Bank to harass, threaten, abuse destroy and injure their neighbors whenever they decide that it’s time to “exact the price.” Pogroms are part of human history. It’s shocking to see how easy it is to conduct them when you’re safe behind fences, armed and – especially – when the weak who you abuse and injure lack any way of defending themselves and no one cares about them. The world is silent. The Atara-Bir Zeit checkpoint is manned and operating, which we didn’t expect. As part of “lightening the burden” and “removal” of checkpoints about which Israel boasts to the international community, this checkpoint was also to have been removed. It turns out that the building is still there, and the soldiers in the adjoining pillbox are ordered to come down from time to time and man the checkpoint in order to “show their presence,” or to check vehicle registrations, or for who-know-what other reason, which the soldiers don’t know either.
The three soldiers manning the checkpoint hardly delay traffic. They tell us they’ve been instructed to stop “certain vehicles” containing people “smuggling explosives and drugs.” Apparently no such vehicles went by while we were there, because no one was stopped, nor were any explosives or drugs found.
But we did find, on one of the concrete barriers, a box labeled “Alpha,” (an acronym for “means of crowd dispersal”), with empty casings which had contained crowd dispersal grenades…
At about 18:00, when we were again on Route 60 on our way back to Qalandiyya, we saw a police car and a policeman on the other side of the road, three soldiers and two Palestinians. We turned around and stopped near them. It turned out that the three soldiers had set up a flying checkpoint on the secondary road between Ramallah and the village of Silwadto check driver’s licenses of Palestinians using that road. The driver of the car in which the youths were riding was 17 years old and had no license. The soldiers stopped and detained them, and called the police. The policeman gave them a ticket and explained that they’ll be tried.
We asked the soldiers why they’re doing the work of the traffic police. They replied, angrily, that it’s an order.