Habla, Wed 14.3.12, Morning
Translator: Charles K.
06:50-08:40 The routine life of a village beyond the separation fences
When we arrived the “agricultural gate” – the Habla checkpoint – was open. About 40 people crowded behind the third set of gates and fences. It took two minutes for five people to go through the electric revolving gate into the inspection building, where they remained for about 7 minutes. That was approximately the rate at which people went through while we were there. People were admitted for inspection in groups of five, for 7-10 minutes. A total of 84 people left the village during the hour and forty minutes we were present. All those crossing are well-known to the group of soldiers opening and closing the checkpoint. One-third of them go back after having been permitted to leave in order to get their bicycles that have been inspected, along with their belongings, by soldiers in the area between the outer and second gates.
There were three soldiers in that area until 07:30 (one of them female), and five from 07:40, of different ranks - one from the DCO. The additional soldiers had arrived in non-military vehicles belonging to the army.
Three flocks of sheep left the village between 08:10-08:30, one with very few sheep, along with their shepherds. Between 07:45-08:20 five medium-sized trucks crossed loaded with many saplings (olive trees, cane), two closed commercial vehicles, an elegant automobile and a very young boy on a donkey.
Only one woman crossed while we were there.
Two people were not allowed through.
About one-third of those crossing were young; they appeared to be between 15 and 18.
A small tractor drove up to the gate at 07:15; the driver’s ID was checked, and he left. Another driver came from the village, his ID was checked and he drove the tractor in. A small horse cart came, a man on a bicycle, another (a guard) on a bicycle (see below).
A minibus and a bus arrived at 07:10, filled with children of all ages. They’re Bedouin, from the Bedouin locality hemmed in by the fences near Alfei Menashe settlement. The drivers get out, spend ten minutes being inspected in the building, return to the vehicles, and then an armed male and female soldier get on the bus and walk all the way to the rear seats, inspect the luggage compartment, and then allow the buses to continue. It takes the children 20 minutes to get through. A few children who noticed us and our badges smiled and waved at us through the closed windows.
Between the second gate and the third, closest to the village, is also a long iron bar that opens fully when the gates open. The fences are topped with concertina wire, the fence of the second gate that surrounds the place is electrified. There’s a ditch along the gate and the outermost fence. In the ditch, and in the concertina wire alongside, were two huge black sacks stuffed full of clothes.
Here’s what we learned from the checkpoint commander’s answers to the questions we asked while we were there:
There’s one female soldier and one inspection booth in the inspection building. The other soldiers don’t check ID cards because “they’re not in the military police; they’re only for protection and security.” “The IDF doesn’t have money to add another female soldier” so the inspection process would go faster and people wouldn’t have to wait as long.
Two people were sent back because their crossing permits were valid from 08:00 to 17:00, and they had many clothes with them. The two black sacks mentioned above also contained clothes that had been confiscated from people crossing. People with a 24-hour permit are allowed to bring only one change of clothes. Clothes are confiscated to prevent people bringing items to persons in Israel illegally. It was explained to us that even if they’re sneaking across “to work, not to carry out an attack, they’re breaking the law and taking jobs from Israelis.” So the task of the soldiers at the checkpoint is “ prevent not only smuggling of weapons and sabotage material, and sharp instruments, but any other help to people in Israel illegally.”
The checkpoint commander says that people who want to cross more quickly can travel to the Eliyahu crossing and go through there. Moreover, “people crossing here who aren’t farmers just make it harder for the others, and some of the owners of the plant nurseries complain that they delay their workers.” The commander said the gate opens at 06:00. We’ll verify that next week.
An Israeli farmer from the nearby Moshav Yarchiv (established in 1948) who’d waited for his workers with us more than half an hour complained about the slow, unnecessary – in his view – inspection of people the soldiers know well because they cross every day.
A man riding a bike who’s a night guard at the plant nurseries came to cross slightly before 08:00, gave up, went back and returned at 08:25 when the line had become much shorter. He waited with another young man to return home to the village. One of the soldiers didn’t let him in “because the gate is open only till 08:15.” At that moment a flock of sheep came from the village, a commercial vehicle, and people going through the inspection building. We intervened, saying he’d already been there earlier, but only after a discussion and confirmation by the female soldier of what we said was he allowed to return home, with a reprimand. The soldier told us that “when they finish working at the Ministry of Interior they also close up.” The young man wasn’t permitted to cross.
The checkpoint routine.