'Attil, Deir al Ghusun, Shwekha
We looked for agricultural gates we don’t usual visit and discovered a situation that was even more surreal than Hani’s.
In response to a request from EAPPI volunteers we tried to see whether we could reach some of the agricultural gates north of Tulkarm. Aided by detailed maps and Google Earth photos that Nina had prepared, and with the help of some residents of Zemer (a lovely village Israel created by combining four villages on Highway 574) we arrived near the ‘Attil checkpoint. We parked in the shade of some agricultural structures; some workers came and one accompanied us to the checkpoint. There, among potato fields and greenhouses, we met G., the owner. He has serious complaints: Though this gate (609) opens three times every day, it opens first only at 07:15. In the afternoon it’s impossible to work in the greenhouses. The fence runs across his land; greenhouses are located on both sides. He always began working in the greenhouses at 05:30 (which is when the checkpoint used to open), returned home at 11:00, showered, ate, rested, and returned to work at 16:00 when the heat eased. If the army erected the fence in the middle of his land, he says, instead of along the Green Line, it must allow him to work it as before. He’s asked the head of the DCL a number of times to have the gate open earlier, without success. He doesn’t understand how the large, wealthy Israeli army can’t assign a few more soldiers and pay for a little more gas to open a few gates early in the morning – two soldiers are stationed there all day anyway. Now we also see them; they approached the gate to chase away three laborers who’d sat to rest in the shade of a container, but finally allowed them to remain.
Photo: ‘Attil checkpoint (609) with the container where people wait for the checkpoint to open.
He gets water from a well beyond the fence; whenever he needs water he asks someone from the village to open the faucet. A few months ago a fire broke out at night - apparently arson - and burned all the cartons ready for packing produce which were stored in a greenhouse; the fire also spread to the greenhouse nearby. Residents of Zemer called the fire department and extinguished the blaze, but the soldiers didn’t allow him through the gate for hours. On the way to the car we stopped at a pile of construction waste that people from Zemer discard on his land; he has no one to turn to.
We received directions to the next checkpoint.
12:40 Deir al Ghusun (623) (They pronounce it “Deir al-Lakhsun”). We meet some farmers and a donkey cart waiting for the gate to open at 13:15, for 45 minutes. It opens in the morning from 06:15 to 07:00. The village is two kilometers from the gate. The farmers then go to their olive groves in the hills, which may also be a considerable distance away.
Photo: The closed checkpoint, looking towards Deir al Ghusuan
Photo: Waiting in the shade of the olive trees for the Deir al Ghusan gate to open
They say permits are no longer being granted, or they’re good for only a few days, or a week. That’s not enough; it’s a large area and each time they must reach another section. Some workers in the greenhouses don’t have permits for Gate 609; if they get caught on the path to the greenhouse near Gate 609 (where we’d come from), or on their way back, where they’re allowed to cross, they could be arrested. Sometimes, when they go through the gate, the soldiers register them by hand, and sometimes by computer, but when the lists don’t match, people must go to the DCL to obtain new permits (that recently happened to 80 people) just because the soldiers were careless in their registration. It occurred also to an 80-year old man who has trouble walking; they accused him of remaining on his land overnight, sleeping there.
They told us about a Palestinian family living west of the fence, near a military checkpoint. Whenever they have to go east, to where most of their daily activities are located – school, shopping, work, hospital – they have to telephone the DCL to send soldiers to open the checkpoint. The DCL is then supposed to telephone the IDF, and someone from the IDF is supposed to send a patrol vehicle to open the gate. They said two Israeli families live near them. We found our way with the help of a nice man in a commercial vehicle who accompanied us.
On a hilltop, south of Zemer, stand two large buildings, one earth-colored, very impressive, the second more modest – that’s the one we bet on. We climbed the porch, called “hello.” A pleasant looking woman appeared; we explained who we are and what we’re looking for. In excellent Hebrew she told us she doesn’t have any information but perhaps her father might be able to help us even though he’s just been discharged from the hospital.
They hosted us in their living room, despite the father’s obvious weakness. He told us in fine Hebrew (he’s an attorney) that the Palestinian family living not far away is his brother’s. After the 1948 war the border ran between his house and his brother’s, 400 meters to the east. He doesn’t want to discuss the separation fence; he knows that some oppose and some support it – also among Arabs. He also understands Israel’s security needs. He doesn’t understand the absurd route of the fence erected east of his brother’s house. His brother had already died; his sons moved to Shwekha because they couldn’t bear the day-to-day difficulties. Only one son stayed; he and his sons who work on the West Bank must call the army a few times a day when they leave and return, for work, shopping, visiting friends and relatives. We didn’t see the checkpoint or his nephew’s house, but he promised to arrange a visit to the family which is completely cut off from its village and from the West Bank, and of course they’re not allowed to come to Zemer.
Note: If you look at a map of the area, it’s very difficult to understand why the separation fence wasn’t erected on the Green Line. There are no settlements which might want to expand. The only logical explanation, in my opinion, is a desire to annex/rob more land.
We recommend visiting these checkpoints and gates occasionally – or asking colleagues in the north to do so. If someone is interested, contact us and we’ll explain how to get there.