Abu Dis, Sheikh Saed, Silwan, Olive Terminal
Anat Toeg, Luna (a visitor from the U.S) Nava Jenny Elyashar (reporting)
We were detained for an hour on the Palestinian side of the checkpoint, trying to co-ordinate our return to the Israeli side.
7:30 Sheikh Saed
A cold morning. We arrived with our American visitor, Luna, and were detained on the Palestinian side for an entire hour.
The sequence of events:
7:30: A border policeman tells us that "as I already told you in the past, if you enter Sheikh Saed, you will not be able to return without telephone co-ordination..." (we had no idea who to co-ordinate with). Anat told him that we regularly cross through the checkpoint, and we have the right to enter and leave, because this is area B.
7:45 After surveying the empty checkpoint, and relating the history of the checkpoint to our guest, we wanted to be on our way. Anat called the headquarters of the Jerusalem Envelope (the headquarters of the Civil Administration). The female soldier had no idea who Machsomwatch might be, but promised to find an officer who would authorize our crossing.
Meanwhile, we were approached by some of the "taxi drivers" waiting next to their private cars in expectation of a local who might need a ride. On a good day they can earn up to NIS 120. Supply exceeds demand, and the prices are not so high. One of the men led us to the grocery shop where they gave us three cups of piping hot coffee (not Arabic coffee, but the instant "mud" style made of Elite coffee). He and his friends clustered around our beautiful guest, Luna, who smiled shyly. An awkward and unpleasant situation.
7:55 The soldier at headquarters has not yet been able to locate her commander, and we are not allowed to cross back in the direction of Jerusalem. In the meantime, three border policemen approach from the hill, and at closer quarters observe us from the other side of the fence. To me, they appear very amused, as though their dreary daily routine has been broken.
8:05 Anat calls the humanitarian centre. A., who knows us, answers the phone and tries to get hold of one of the officers.
8:10 Anat connects with S., an officer in the humanitarian centre, who asks her to call back in a few minute, after he gets hold of the DCO officer who will relay an order to the checkpoint.
8:15 Anat gets back to S. and tells him that unless we are allowed to cross through the checkpoint, we will have to take a Palestinian taxi to take us to the Olive Terminal, and asks if that is what they had in mind when they spoke of "co-ordination" and "protecting our security."
8:25 S. announces that there is co-ordination and that we try to cross. When we reached the checking booth a different policeman sits there, he allows Anat to cross but stops Luna when she displays her American passport.
I am stuck behind between turnstiles, and fear we'll have to take Luna back in a Palestinian taxi with the enthusiastic young driver who has already made her an offer of marriage... I called out to the policeman in the booth, apprised him of my anxiety about possible complications should this be necessary.
8:27 Anat, still in conversation with S., explains that Luna is our guest and wears our identifying tag. She says that in the past we had come with visitors carrying a foreign passport, and had never been stopped.
8:30 I am released from the turnstile and we leave the checkpoint.
8:35 We called S. from our car-phone to thank him for his help. He apologized for the incident, and said this had been an anomaly which he hoped would not recur. We ask him to give clear orders emphasizing our right to be there in the framework of our right (as a civil rights organisation which we represent), to cross and recross the checkpoint.
Nothing has changed since our visit last week. Along the way we pointed out, for the benefit of our guest, the landmark buildings flying the Israeli flag, dotting the Palestinian community.
9:15 Abu Dis
A tour along the wall, as far as the hotel, and back, through the houses remaining on the Israeli side but encircled from the back (at private expense) by a separation fence more attractive than the regular dreary wall. The back balconies of homes abutting the border on their eastern side, are all blocked thickets of by iron railings from the ground to the roof.
9:30 Olive Terminal
In the course of our drive we told Hanna of the event with the border policeman at the Sheikh Saed checkpoint. She told us that if the soldiers at the checkpoint insist on regulations, they won't allow Luna with her foreign passport to cross at the Olive Terminal, and she will be sent to the Bethlehem checkpoint (300) or Qalandia. We therefore abandoned plans to enter the Terminal. From the outside the checkpoint looked empty, and we observed no problems.