Hamra (Beqaot), Ma'ale Efrayim
As if in a separate universe, the Jordan Valley continues under a terrible, brutal occupation, seemingly unconnected to the harsh events occurring elsewhere on the West Bank.
10:30 Za’tara checkpoint/Tapuach junction is not manned but on its south side, at the junction, two Border Police soldiers, a male and a female, stop cars arriving, first from one direction, then from the other, inspecting documents. Occasionally a traffic jam forms but the inspection itself doesn’t take long. Because they’re tired they move aside after each inspection, drink water, chat, and the travelers benefit.
The hitchhiking stations are bustling, teenage boys and girls and adults. We have the feeling they’re doing it purposely – to declare: We’re in charge here, we’re not afraid!
10:45 Ma’aleh Efrayim checkpoint isn’t manned.
11:05 Hamra checkpoint – rigorous inspections. Trunks are opened of cars travelling in both directions, leading to long lines on this hot day, even though traffic is pretty light at this hour.
We stopped at Khalet Makhul. B. told us the army frequently appears in the village but doesn’t damage anything. Two days ago the cheese merchant arrived to buy their product. It grew late; he slept at A.H.’s home – he’s 76. An army jeep arrived when darkness fell, demanded to know who the stranger was. The soldiers said they’re forbidden to have overnight guests, there was an argument; the soldiers eventually backed down.
After the cars passed we heard from a distance, from the east, a dull roar that sounded like loud noises muted by distance. About forty young men walked toward the checkpoint, wearing hoodies, shouting or singing. The hands of some were raised to shoulder height, holding objects – “slingshots,” I said to Yudit. All the soldiers rushed forward, cocked their weapons and assumed firing positions. We also thought the youths’ demonstration was coming toward the checkpoint. We went over to the soldiers to calm them down before someone decides to open fire. You could cut the tension in the air with a knife. When we came closer to the checkpoint the youths quieted and about 30 meters before they reached the soldiers they turned to the pedestrian path that bypasses the checkpoint without being aware of the fact their lives had been in danger a few minutes earlier.
The checkpoint commander, a lieutenant, called them over. “Who speaks Hebrew?” he asked. One looks at a second and a third and a fourth…and shrugs. “Where did you come from?” “Beit Furik,” they reply, accustomed to the question, answering without understanding. But it was the wrong answer!! They’d arrived from the opposite direction, but thought they were being asked where were they going. The officer gets annoyed, and then the right answer comes: “From Beqa’ot.” “Why were you shouting?” he asks angrily and again they don’t understand.
We decide to intervene – “What do you care?”, we say, “A large group of people walks along the road, talking loudly, maybe even singing to pass the time. What’s the problem?” They’re obviously wearing dirty work clothes; the hoods are to protect them from the burning sun. The incident concludes with the youths continuing their exhausting walk home and we’re left feeling how explosive is the daily interaction between frightened young men armed head to foot and youths who, though unarmed, are likely to misbehave like people their age. How easily could a finger pull the trigger and cut off the life of a youth whose only crime was talking or singing loudly…
Al Ajaj. On May 21, 2014, five bulldozers destroyed 55 structures (some of the sheep pens) in the village of Al Ajaj, north of Masu’a, located alongside Masu’a’s greenhouses. Piles of broken stones, metal, cloth. Entire lives were destroyed there. I visit a family who’d found shelter under a tree beneath a sheet of cloth raised 70 cm. off the ground. Their life – cooking, laundry, conversation – is conducted kneeling or crawling. Their few bundles are gathered in this small shaded corner, an infant lying on another sheet on the ground where three young women are sitting who flee when they see the camera. It took an hour for the bulldozers to destroy everything; they left no stone unturned. In their enthusiasm they didn’t always wait until all the flocks were removed and demolished a sheepfold with the sheep still inside; the sheep paid with their lives. The residents received no humanitarian assistance other than a meager package of goods that arrived this week (three weeks after the destruction) from the Palestinian Emergency Agricultural Committee, which contains a toothbrush and toothpaste, three bars of soap, Kleenex and…Sod dishwashing liquid made in Israel! How cynical.
Opposite the stretch of rubble from the demolition, a short walk away, are the greenhouses of Masu’a settlement. Their proximity is why Al Hajaj was demolished. The settlement itself is located about 50 meters from Al Hajaj, on the other side of the road, but the settlers already crossed the road nine years ago and after a prior wave of demolitions which “cleared” the land they erected a row of greenhouses on the other side of the road. Now they want to continue expanding. Their agent, the Civil Administration, does its job faithfully and “clears” another piece of land the length of the settlement, destroying dozens of lives.
The residents of Al Hajaj came from the South Hebron hills 45 years ago. Masu’a was established two years later. There had previously been very fertile agricultural area here, with abundant water from a well in a stone building. The well and the building were destroyed by the occupying army during the second intifada.
The Al Ajjur refugee camp was located slightly west of here until 1967. Its inhabitants had come from Al Ajjur village, in the northern Negev (where kibbutz Agur was established). In 1967 the camp’s 12,000 inhabitants were expelled to Jordan. Later the Gadi army base was established at the location abandoned by the poor refugees.
Another round, and then another, of destruction, expulsion, brutality – whose victim is a “terrorist”?