Ras Abu Sbitan (Olive Terminal)
First Friday of Ramadan
On our way to the checkpoint, we took a wrong turning and entered Issawiya. Stones on the road and a dumpster still smoking testify to the rioting here yesterday. It's quiet now, and almost no one in sight. We asked directions from an older man passing by, who told us where to go, and to get out quickly. We gave him a ride for part of the way and parted with wishes for better times. On the way out, heading towards the road to Maaleh Adumim we had to stop when a stone got stuck under our car. A Palestinian stopped and offered help, and the stone was removed. He too advised to get out quickly because the place is not safe these days. Netanya had a bag of toys she was planning to give friends in Hebron -- we gave it to the man for his children and parted with greetings of Ramadan Karim. We finally reached the checkpoint at around 10 a.m.
On the approach to the checkpoint a police car is parked and two policemen stand next to it. Everything around looks perfectly peaceful, but the policemen say only public transportation is allowed to approach. We parked, and then discovered that pedestrians too are prohibited. The policemen were courteous; they had never heard of machsom-watch, but did not try to prevent us from using public transportation, invited us to stand in the shade, and even offered to stop the bus for us. We boarded a minibus that came by; the driver refused payment.
We arrived at an empty checkpoint. Very few crossing, a lot fewer than the soldiers and policemen around. We crossed to the Palestinian side and there too we found more of our security forces. On the road leading from the checkpoint to the village there we police barriers creating several lanes: one for exit, three for entry -- for men, for women, and for humanitarian crossing (see photo). After crossing, one reaches a sign greeting passengers with Ramadan Karim (see photo).
There was almost no one crossing, but plenty of soldiers, policemen and border police, standing under the gazebo with a large fan. On our way we had heard on the radio that only men over 50 with blue IDs would be allowed to enter the Temple Mount for prayers. Now a pleasant female soldier tells us that also women over 40 and children under 14 can cross without a permit (excluding residents of Hebron). When we crossed to the Palestinian side, we saw a sign to that effect (see photo).
Very few crossed; now and then someone was turned back for reasons of age. A young woman wept loudly when she was not allowed to cross -- to no avail. By and large, the security forces had very little to do, along with the numerous Red Crescent personnel (see photo) who offered assistance with wheelchairs to elderly persons finding it difficult to negotiate the climb to the checkpoint.
At one point the female officer came up to us to offer water and a place in the shade. She was very courteous both towards us and towards the Palestinians. She checked the women, and in one case of a woman with a face covering, she took the woman aside so that her face would be unveiled only for the officer. We talked a little with this officer, as well as with A., a Druze border police officer from M'rar, who told us that they were prepared for a large influx of people but so far very few have come. The reports from other checkpoints are similar -- only 4,500 during the morning hours in the entire Jerusalem Envelope area. Last year by this time 30,000 had crossed. An army officer, A. , who serves here regularly, turns up, and reports that only 1,600 had crossed in Kalandia by 8 o'clock. Reinforcements as well as concrete road blocks had been provided in the expectation of many more crossing , as well as fear of rioting. A. tells that that there were riots in several places in the night, and that the commander of Jerusalem Envelope had been injured in the face by a stone. Fewer people on the first day of Ramadan is not unusual, but today's small numbers are unusual.
Eventually we joined the soldiers and police in the shade and near the fan. Subsequently we moved back and forth from one side to the other. We spoke with a local press photographer. One border policeman eyed us suspiciously and asked us to move up the hill because we were blocking the passage out. We saw no point in arguing. When the courteous female soldier returned, we chatted with her and then went back to stand in the shade. We left around noon. For the entire time of our stay traffic was sparse.
In front of the checkpoint there is an ascent in another direction. There too a police checkpoint had been set up, with a couple of border policemen under a sunshade checking the occasional person crossing (see photo). Two donkeys tied nearby occasionally break the silence with their braying. At the crossing, IDs were not checked again. This time we walked back to the car.
.Later in the day we heard that there were riots on the Temple Mount and elsewhere