Hamra (Beqaot), Halet Makhul
Training to respond to demonstrations: Soldiers dressed as Arabs at the Hamra checkpoint.
A shepherd on the earthen berm that blocks movement west in the Jordan Valley.
Abu Sakar, his daughter, and his mother-in-law in Khalat Makhoul, the pile of rubble behind them.
Rina running and singing.
11:00 Tapuah junction
Female soldiers and a police car at the checkpoint. The police stop only Palestinian cars. A truck detained for inspection. The lords of the land are not subject to inspection and drive freely whether or not they’ve committed a violation.
11:20 Ma’aleh Efrayim
No soldiers on the road; they must all be holed up in the pillbox.
In the fields of the Mechora settlement, at the exact location a sign last fall announced they’re not working the fields this year because of shmita, combines decorated with Israeli flags are reaping the wheat!!! The sign lies on the ground.
11:45 Beqa’ot checkpoint (Hamra)
“Itbach alYahud”…”Manyakim”…”Jobnikim,” the first group shouts and tosses yellow tennis balls. They’re all rolling with laughter. Everything’s proceeding ineptly and slowly. The IDF would love it were Palestinians to confront them like this. A female soldier dressed as an Arab stands off to the side and mumbles despairingly, “What am I doing here? Why am I harassing the Arabs living and working here? Did anyone ask for their permission?” When someone gives her a tennis ball she immediately hands it back to him. She doesn’t like what’s going on at all. Nor do we!! And we also aren’t happy to see the long line of cars stuck in the hot afternoon at the checkpoint and not allowed to continue. We telephoned the DCL: “What do you want from me? Am I at the checkpoint?” We also telephoned the humanitarian office. Hakim, the DCL officer who gave us his phone number, in case we needed it, doesn’t answer, as usual. While the army is practicing responding to a hostile demonstration, Israeli cars pass freely on the road, and Palestinians coming from the Jordan Valley heading east go through the checkpoint after a brief delay.
Finally they’re all allowed through at once, without inspection, and two minutes later there are no cars at the checkpoint.
During the exercise I went to the laborers’ shelter in the field of squash. The Palestinians said the soldiers didn’t talk to them at all, didn’t ask permission, didn’t explain, simply came and took over the field. They’re behaving well, aren’t harassing them very much, they said shyly, and asked us to request the soldiers to stay off a particular plot which contained young seedlings. I transmitted the request to the commander of the exercise and he said they’d be careful. And if we hadn’t been there? How would the Palestinians have asked? Most of the exercise was conducted in a field which had just been harvested, the soldiers and officers tried to be “humane,” and they were also attentive to us and even sent a female soldiers to escort me through the exercise area to where the laborers were sheltering (to my displeasure). But, when a huge military unit takes over the lands you own and suddenly begins firing (ammunition and primarily stun grenades) with no warning and without permission, and dozens of soldiers dressed as Arabs run around cursing and throwing tennis balls on your land, and at the same time the checkpoint is closed – not only is it hard to understand such craziness, there’s nothing humane about it either.
Rima Bisharat, a 22-year-old woman in her eighth month of pregnancy, her 1 ½ -year-old daughter Malak and her 76-year-old mother-in-law, sit under a tree (the only one remaining after soldiers uprooted the others as soon as they were planted), the rubble of their demolished homes behind them – piles of crushed tin sheeting and torn cloth. Anger and frustration on their faces. It’s not easy to have your home repeatedly destroyed. A home is the most important thing we have – everything comes together there and it’s the basis on which we build a life, no matter how meager. About a year ago the village was demolished, they sued the army in the Supreme Court in a case which hasn’t yet been heard, the residents rebuilt their homes with the court’s permission – but the army demolished them again. I’m trying to imagine being in their place, and it’s so terrible that I’m unable to conceive it. Abu Sakar, Rima’s father, arrives with activists from Jordan Valley Solidarity. They continue onward after a polite ten-minute visit, and Abu Sakar remains in Makhoul with us.
Rima tells us: At 7 AM lots of soldiers and bulldozers came, with no warning, without giving us time to remove our belongings, they demolished everything right away. Four tin shacks and 30 sheepfolds. Meanwhile the residents erected tents which were donated by Salam Fayyad and the Tubas municipality, but they still don’t have shelter for most of the sheep. The little lambs die in the bitter night cold. The demolition was illegal even according to the occupation’s regulations, because Husin Besharat, the old man, has a court order forbidding demolition of his home (which he obtained the day before the September Supreme Court decision in response to the 2014 demolitions). So what? Will someone compensate them? Return things as they were? And not only that – the tents they erected are illegal, because the court order doesn’t apply to them!! And in fact, the day after the original demolition a military unit arrived at 9 PM, slashed the tents with knives and the residents were again left out in the cold night – included the aged and the little children.
We continue to hear volleys of shots in the background, making clear to all who’s in charge here.
On our way back to Tel Aviv we see the practice demonstration had ended some time ago. All the expanded army presence was gone and the checkpoint was completely empty – a rare sight. We stopped to see why, and then cars arrived and went through without delay.
The Ma’aleh Efrayim checkpoint isn’t manned (the soldiers were in the pillbox). There are female soldiers at the Tapuach checkpoint and Border Police soldiers at the nearby hitchhiking stations – protecting the settlers, but not stopping traffic.