'Anabta, 'Azzun, Deir Sharaf, Habla, Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim), Jit, Jubara (Kafriat), Sun 21.8.11, Afternoon
World Humanitarian Day took place just a couple of days ago and, though MachsomWatch is not a humanitarian organization, its issues often go hand in hand with human rights violations. We cannot but be aware of Palestinians in need of income to support their families, health and education for themselves and their children, as well as our dismay at the humiliation of endless checking at checkpoints and terminal buildings and the continuing onslaught of land grab, actual and attempted, in the Seam Zones. Even if we don’t ease Palestinian distress directly, we raise awareness of what goes on in the OPT, to fellow Israelis as well as fellow citizens of the world who share our belief in the need for an end to conflict, and for a future where we live together with our neighbors in dignity. Perhaps, then, we also bring hope, both to Israelis and to those who labor under the ugliness of Occupation and who endeavor to celebrate, both under its weight and the summer heat, in this the third week of Ramadan.
As we go towards Gate 1392, two armored military vehicles speed by in the same direction. Little surprise, then, that five minutes later, the gates at this checkpoint are already opened on one side. There are men already waiting, including two men ripping mallow leaves from their stems.
12:55 – two soldiers huddle in the relative shelter of the concrete position on our side of the Separation Barrier but refuse to let the waiting Ramadan fasters through earlier than the book tells them. To our greeting, they turn away. An old man, already well known to us, goes through first, on his horse cart, on which are weeds to feed his and other horses as well as a huge and photogenic gourd. A donkey cart’s owner has gone across the Separation Barrier to have his ID checked, and the waiting donkey proceeds, following the horse cart. Consternation on the faces of the soldiers guarding the State of Israel is apparent, as they bravely try to stop the donkey. And what a time it takes for the donkey’s owner to have his ID checked inside the concrete house! A waiting Palestinian man on the far side of the Separation Barrier offers to tie the donkey to one of the many gates that make up this particular “agricultural gate.”
13:15 – by now, there have been more horse and pony carts, one carrying a father and his two small children; a tractor, a couple of cars, three women from the Habla side and the greengrocer’s son, in a large, empty truck who is waved across without having to dismount. The soldiers appear to be easing up. On the other hand, a man with a permit for Gate 109, (Sh’aar Eliahu) up the road is refused permission to cross here in spite of the fact that it’s a long way round for him to go back there, and in spite of the fact that it is extremely hot, he’s fasting and it’s Ramadan. Another problem about which MachsomWatch, perhaps, can do something: a man with a horse and cart approaches us, shows a form from the Israel Police indicating that he cannot receive any permit until 2013: his crime, working in Israel, and caught there, without a permit, in 2009. Since then, no work, a large family, and he doesn’t have the necessary money to pay the fine…. “Obstacle Course,” indeed. We give him Sylvia’s number.
13:20 – it’s quiet, and the soldiers have retreated from the heat to the concrete house.
Eliahu Gate, Gate 109 and Route 55
As we drive along the road we think ahead as to what might be a month from now, since the Palestinian Authority has declared September 20 as the date when it will apply for the United Nations' recognition of Palestine as an independent state.
At Sha’ar Eliahu, pieces of seemingly leftover wall from the Separation Barrier have been placed on the southern side of the checkpoint, making a kind of compound. The checkpoint has already been enlarged.
Not far away, on Route 55, we note that Qalqiliya, as well as Zufim, now appear on a signpost, together, where once the city was not acknowledged but the settlement was…. Although we have no idea that this sign is so new, Qalqiliya was certainly never mentioned when the checkpoint at the entryway to the city of 45,000 people was manned. We decide to review its status today. No soldiers manning the checkpoint, but the military tower looming overhead at the military camp is manned. Moreover, there is a large sign outside the military camp, pointing to it, saying “Border Police.” That, we are certain, is new. Beyond this, the road leads to Qalqiliya itself, and mindful Israeli citizens that we are, we turn back to Route 55 but not before admiring the beautifully planted flowering divide in the middle of the roadway.
A military jeep is half hidden on the northern side of the roadway and just off it, clearly overseeing the access points to the town, as if the two military lookout towers, one on a hill above, the other on the northern side of the roadway, are not enough to maintain surveillance.
Just before the junction, on the green sign, indicating towns to the west or south, Netanya or Jerusalem, a yellow sign with black lettering has been placed over the larger green and white one: “Barrier ahead.” Shades of the past? A sign of the future?
An armored police jeep, one of the newer ones that we’ve sighted in the past couple of months, stands near the junction with Route 60, leading up to the former “back entrance” to the settlement of Shavei Shomron.
Here, in Deir Sharaf, we learn that, for Ramadan, the Palestinian Authority has changed the clock to winter hours, so that Iftar now starts at 18:30 in Palestine, at 19:30 in Israel. We note that there are many, many Palestinian vehicles on the road today, and many, many with Israeli license plates too (yellow), meaning Palestinian Israelis are here to shop for Ramadan.
We learn, also, that there is fear, not so much of what happens in September (it’s a long way off in this part of the world) but what will happen now that all hell has broken lose after the attack near Eilat and the ensuing Israeli incursion on to Egyptian territory.
15:00 Anabta and Route 57
At Anabta, there is a military jeep standing to the side of the checking booths, which are empty, but there are soldiers in the tower above. One of the two men who usually wanders about with a coffee thermos is today selling beautiful, round ripe figs by the roadway at the junction with Route 57.
We are asked by a group of Military Police women to show our IDs which are reviewed by a taciturn sergeant who later proceeds to open the trunk of the car as we talk to one of the women, without giving any indication that he is doing so…. One of the young women, S., we later learn is her name, asks why we don’t monitor “the other side.” One of us MachsomWatchers takes this literally, as S., meant – the other side of the checkpoint, the other one of us thinks S. is referring to the other’s viewpoint! She asks further questions, about our monitoring the entire IDF, and we point out that we monitor checkpoints and report on what happens at each, and that is often dependent on the individual soldiers stationed there. We decide to follow her advice, park the car, are met with stony, unpleasant stares by a volunteer soldier and another one of his ilk, and go up to the moderately new access point, only an exit from Tulkarm. Here another couple of Military Police – a woman and a man. Each of them greets the long stream of Palestinian Israeli vehicles, homeward bound, and the young woman also tells us that she wishes all “Ramadan karim.”
Back at the main checkpoint at Jubara, we ask S. if we can go and see Abu Ghatem, whose house is more and more put upon with the newly emerging Separation Barrier, placed further westwards, after a High Court ruling. She tells us, no way, that he is sick and that one, maybe two of his daughters have married, one recently. We are amazed, not so much by this news as by the fact that this is the first time in all our monitoring that a soldier, in this case, a Military Policewoman, has taken the initative and asked us to observe something. We are doubly amazed that she knows something about the area, and about who lives here. We are not so pleasantly amazed that she seems to have little idea of “occupation,” or that we are now on Palestinian lands. “Where, then is our country?” she asks, not in a hostile way but in a manner that seeks enlightenment.
15:45 Irtah Sha’ar Efraim
There is a steady stream of returning workers, many of whom splash themselves at the cold water trough after a hard day’s work, even if it seems that those lucky enough to obtain work permits to Israel are returning home earlier than usual – for the end of today’s fast.