Hamra (Beqaot), Tayasir
09:30 Tapuach/Za’tara junction. Two Border Police soldiers detain vehicles coming from the north (Nablus) and inspect them carefully. They came over to us to explain that vehicles are often inspected at the junction, based on intelligence reports (apparently by order of the Shabak).
09:45 Ma’aleh Efrayim checkpoint. It wasn’t manned, nor when we returned.
10:15 Hamra checkpoint. There were no Palestinian vehicles at the checkpoint when we arrived, and we saw no soldiers. Two military vehicles were parked inside the checkpoint.
Two vehicles arrived from the east and we still saw no soldiers. Of course the Palestinian vehicles didn’t dare proceed to the checkpoint without someone – a soldier - waving them forward. After seven long minutes two soldiers appeared and began letting the cars through. The drivers who had waited said that the checkpoint has been “ok” recently. God only knows what that means.
Construction is underway at the junction before the checkpoint, to the east – a stone wall and other things. Apparently to prevent flooding by water and mud.
10:00 Farus Beit Dajan. Schoolchildren on their way home, apparently another teachers’ strike. And in fact, when we later stopped at one of the Bedouin encampments they said there won’t be school tomorrow because the teachers are striking. That happens frequently. The teachers receive their (very poor) salary from the Palestinian Authority, even though the Jordan Valley is Area C where Israel is responsible for all aspects of the inhabitants’ lives, and when the Authority has no money the teachers don’t receive even their miserable pay. So they strike for half a day or a day, at the most. They don’t dare strike longer – with unemployment so high whoever has a job is lucky.
10:30 Opposite the Ro’i settlement
We stop to give a clothing parcel to a shepherd grazing his flock, like we usually do. The shepherd approached the road at the same time as a military vehicle which had come from the settlement stopped beside us. I opened the trunk, took out the parcel and by the time I’d closed the trunk lid the vehicle had disappeared with the shepherd. The flock remained unguarded. The entire incident took only a minute or two. No one was around. We left the sheep nibbling green grass and decided to return soon. We returned half an hour later, found the flock with a young shepherd. He said he’d been nearby and saw the older shepherd kidnapped; it’s his uncle. He said he’d also been arrested, yesterday, and they took him to the Tayasir checkpoint and held him five hours. A few days ago someone else from his family was arrested and held at the checkpoint. He’s sure his uncle is there.
We drove to the Tayasir checkpoint. We found the older shepherd sitting on the steps leading up to the pedestrian checkpoint. We asked the soldiers what he’s doing there. They said he was grazing his sheep in a prohibited area so he was arrested. He’ll remain there for three hours. That’s the standard detention procedure (known to us). An officer arrived, went over to the shepherd, spoke a few words with him in Arabic, politely, and explained that he must wait and that he’ll speak to his commanding officer. He told us the shepherd was where he wasn’t allowed to be.
-How can he know it’s prohibited?
They know! That’s the usual answer every soldier and officer knows to give immediately. We tried to understand how “they” know. And he had no answer but he’s convinced “they know.”
-And why and where are they not allowed to be? we asked.
At first he said the shepherd was near the settlement’s fence, “and they’re also capable of stealing,” he explained. We said we saw where he was when he’d been arrested, 300 meters from the fence (Among the Jordan Valley laws: A Palestinian is prohibited from coming closer than 300 meters to a settlement). Then he had a different explanation: he was grazing in a “firing range,” speaking out of concern for the Palestinian because “sometimes unexploded ammunition is left in the area and they could get hurt.”
At this point it’s worth noting that the entire northern Jordan Valley is defined as a “firing range,” including, I think, the settlements. All the pole with signs indicating “Firing range entry forbidden” were erected on the tracks leading to the Bedouin encampments. So all the Bedouin in the northern Jordan Valley are breaking the law and liable at any moment to expulsion from their homes and grazing lands.
When I mentioned that to the officer he said there are specific areas used for training, to which entry is forbidden. And, as he said, “they know.”
I want to state that the officer was super-polite and friendly, also to his soldiers, to the shepherd and to us. He apparently truly believes what he says. He’s sure he’s taking care of the Bedouin. That’s what the army taught him. And another urban legend: Do you know they’re not really Bedouin? Each of them has a house in Tamun or in another Jordan Valley town.
For years we’ve been visiting the Bedouin in the area and know them and their families, and where they come from. A very small number of families have houses in Tamun, but according to a “law” of the Palestinian Authority they aren’t allowed to live in them so long as they make a living by raising cattle and sheep. For most of the Bedouin, the tent in the Jordan Valley is their only home. Some have lived here since the British Mandate, and some heard from their grandfathers about Ottoman times.
That’s how they convince soldiers that what they do when they follow orders – is justified. So that officer feels he’s right when he expels a Bedouin and demolishes his tent. But the arguments they’re “fed” by the military command are, at least in part, lies. And the command knows it. “They know.”
We asked the officer why they detain the shepherds for three hours. The checkpoint isn’t a jail, and only a policeman is authorized to arrest. He said that it’s “to confirm his identity.” This time it was the nice officer who lied, of course. We asked him to release the shepherd and we’ll take him back to his flock. We’d figured an hour and a half had gone by since he’d been arrested. He wasn’t released. We understood he must wait out his three hours.
We returned to the car and, as usual, took our lunch break. That is, we stayed to eat. The officer apparently interpreted our waiting differently and after about 15 minutes showed up with the shepherd. We spoke a bit and then continued on our way with the freed shepherd.
Catching shepherds and detaining them at checkpoints in the Jordan Valley is a common practice. Usually the settlement security coordinator (a civilian employed by the settlement who is in charge of security in the settlement) calls the army to make illegal arrests with the excuse that the shepherds came too close to the settlement’s fence. In this way the checkpoint becomes an illegal punishment facility, and without leaving any trace: nothing is written down, the police aren’t called because there’s no basis for an arrest.
And regarding the urban legend that the officer told us at the checkpoint. Later in our shift we spoke to the head of a Bedouin family, 70 years old, and when he heard where we live he recalled there’d been a time when he grazed his flock not far from our homes, near Rosh Ha’ayin, and marketed his products to Tnuva. Later he moved to the Hebron Hills, and since 1967 has lived in the Jordan Valley.
15:20 Hamra checkpoint (on the way back). Ten cars waited from the east. The first ones in line said they’re been waiting half an hour. But then they started crossing quickly (because of us??) and the ten cars went through in six minutes, and meanwhile new cars rapidly joined them. It’s the hour when most people are returning from their work in the settlements.
16:15 Za’tara/Tapuach junction. Nothing going on.