Hamra (Beqaot), Tayasir, Za'tara (Tapuah)
Raja Shehadeh writes in the introduction to his book, Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscapethat before the settlements were established near his home he used to leave his house and immediately begin hiking through the surrounding hills. But the Israeli occupation, which over the years has continued to narrow the space in which Palestinians may live their lives, no longer permits Shehadeh his solitary walks in the region without his risking detention or injury by the Israeli army and/or the settlers.
Are limitations on the ability of Palestinians to go on hikes at will equivalent to expulsions, dispossessions, demolition of homes, and restrictions on earning a living in the Jordan Valley, where we’re bound for today’s shift? Perhaps the answer is no, but limitations on Palestinians’ freedom of movement,t which consequently restrict their fundamental right to leisure and to enjoy the country’s beauty are strikingly obvious, when it goes without saying that young settlers start hiking as soon as the Passover holiday arrives, behaving as if they are lords of the land, protected by the army.
Za’tara checkpoint 10:20
Inspection stations not manned, parking lot blocked, an observation post on a dirt hill opposite the plaza.
We noted the above-mentioned difference when, at the Za’tara checkpoint on Highway 505, after the turn to the Jordan Valley, we picked up two young settlers from a settlement located east of Rosh Ha’ayin. Both were carrying camping equipment. They told us they were heading for Beit She’an. We left them at the Ptzael junction.
Ma’ale Efrayim checkpoint, 10:35
Who owns the land, or – to be exact – who are the lords and who their subjects, who rules and who does their bidding, became increasingly clear as we drove on.
10:45 Two men sit by the roadside beyond the Gitit settlement, joined by a third. One is a shepherd from Aqraba, the second works in a nearby field of basil. The shepherd describes a circular business deal: the settlement of Gitit, to which the government has granted rights to the land, leases it to a person who lives in Tel Aviv – in other words, not only those living in the territory occupied in 1967 are settlers. The resident of Tel Aviv employs a Palestinian from ‘Aqraba who works the field. Remember – this land had been owned by Palestinians before 1967. And so Palestinian land returns to Palestinian hands while a few Jews clip coupons along the way.
The shepherd also tells us that about 20 days ago soldiers grabbed his brother, blindfolded him, tied him up and brought him to the Hamra checkpoint where he was held for six hours. Then they let him go. From what we understood he was detained because he’d grazed his flock in a nature preserve. Such illegal detentions happen repeatedly in the northern Jordan Valley.
The shepherd told us that four years ago settlers slaughtered much of his flock. The Palestinian and Israeli DCL and the Israeli police were involved, but didn’t do anything. We gave him the phone number of Yesh Din (legal aid).
11:15 Hamra checkpoint. A few cars inspected in turn – one from the east, one from the west. Not every driver is asked to show ID. The waiting time is very short. We left after 10 minutes.
11:35 Gochia checkpoint
Closed (it had been open at this hour during other Machsom Watch shifts).
11:50 Further on, slightly past Ro’I, near the new vineyard west of the road (where the trance party had been held a few weeks ago), dozens of festively-dressed Palestinians filled the area stretching from the vineyard to the Kfir Brigade’s military base. Military and police vehicles were also there, including a vehicle for dispersing demonstrations; we’d seen and heard it from Hamra checkpoint – racing along the road, filling the air with a warning siren.
The gathering was a non-violent, popular protest to prevent the settlement of Ro’i from taking over the land adjoining the vineyard, which belongs to a Palestinian living in Tubas (it’s registered in his name). The vineyard which had been planted a year or two ago is also on that man’s land (the matter is under adjudication). People from throughout the Jordan Valley came to support the land’s owner. We asked people how they knew; they’d read it on Facebook. The only non-Palestinians were a few EAPPI activists, some soldiers and Israeli police, and us. The soldiers stood without intervening. People were glad to see us, welcomed the presence of Israelis, spoke about coexistence and Rina was honored by being asked to plant a tree.
One of the EAPPI volunteers told us that last week 200 people were removed from Ibziq, a locality that doesn’t appear on Israeli maps that show only Mt. Bezeq. Two days before the removal residents were ordered to vacate the site from 6 AM to 4 PM. The same occurred the next day. The locality suffered considerable damage during those two days. She also said that last Thursday the army fired rockets over ‘Aqraba (her Facebook page includes many photos of the incident).
We left the checkpoint for Khalet Makhul; they told us the army had stopped showing up.
13:54 Tayasir checkpoint
Few cars; they stop at the inspection post and continue.
14:15 We left.
On our way back we visited K.’s encampment. His sons tell us that the settlers at Maskiyot won’t hire them; their construction workers come from Tubas. Building continues at Maskiyot, which keeps expanding.
Five cars heading west crossed after a brief inspection. The inspection posts at the Ma’ale Efrayim and Za’tara checkpoints aren’t manned.
 Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape, Profile Books, London, 2010