Agricultural crossings – Falamya north (914), Falamya south (935), Habla (1393)
Promises were made only two months ago. Even we were told, in a meeting with a DCL representative, that they intend to open all the Falamya north and south checkpoints for four hours at a time each day, and each of those checkpoints will open for an additional half hour. Thus, one of the two would be open in the morning for four hours, and half- an- hour in the afternoon, and the other would be open for half- an- hour in the morning and four hours in the afternoon. This arrangement was in response to the need and the demand by farmers to cross frequently with the large quantities of za’atar and seasonal fruit (guava, avocado and citrus) grown in the fertile soil of the valleys beyond the fence in the seam zone. It was also as compensation for closing the old Falamya gate which was eliminated when the fence was moved. The old gate had been open continuously for 12 hours a day since the fence was erected to meet the specific requirements of the farmers with lands in the seam zone.
Promises were not kept and two weeks ago the Palestinian farmers went on strike and boycotted the crossing for one day. All the Israeli DCL representatives and the Palestinian liaison officers came to see the farmers and again promised to lengthen the time the checkpoint was open, as the Palestinians requested.
Everyone considered, listened, and promised, but in reality – as they say here now – “the opposite occurred.”
· Not only were the promises broken, but the Falamya north checkpoint now opens only twice a day – in the morning and in the evening, and the farmers from Famalya and Kufr Jamal who wish to return from or to access their fields in the afternoon, whether because of work they’d planned to do near their homes, or other reasons, have no choice but to use the Falamya south checkpoint and walk or drive an additional eight kilometers from their home; as would children returning from school. People need to go for errands or simply would like to have some control over their daily schedule, and the checkpoint to the occupied territories (for a specified period, of course). Sometimes life is easier if the farmers were lucky to get a ride on a neighbor’s tractor who had been able to buy one for farming or, God forbid, in a car which has a permit to go through
But even this change didn’t happen so “simply”. A week before this announcement they added a complication – they informed the Palestinians, and Nina even managed to verify the information about the times on the Friday preceding our shift, that the Falamya north checkpoint will close permanently, and Falamya south will open instead thrice daily, for two hours each time. (We planned our shift accordingly for 12:30 in the afternoon.)
This, of course, was worse for the farmers from Falamya and Kufr Jamal. Then they eliminated the complication and the condition of the Palestinians “improved” – as they say here, it could have been worse. They were left with Falamya north opening twice a day and Falamya south three times. Until the rules change again. That’s how things work in the only democracy in the Middle East.
12:20 We asked our friend Z. whether these are in fact the new rules for Falamya north. His wife confirmed them, and told us that on Sunday the farmers were indignant and conducted a 15-minute sit-down strike because of the new, twice-a-day rule, but nothing helped. They realized they have no choice, that they’ll have to suck it up, until next time.
The DCL told us this agricultural checkpoint – Falamya north – will henceforth open only twice a day: in the morning from 05:45 to 06:25, and in the afternoon from 16:20 to 17:00. (The precision, down to the minute, is just wonderful! Like bus times on the digital displays in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem).
12:45 Falamya north. In fact, closed. The half-hour opportunity to cross in the afternoon is gone (until last week it was open from 12:45 to 13:15).
13:00 Falamya south. The afternoon shift was updated again to 13:00-14:00 (formerly 13:20-13:50), so now the checkpoint is open only once, for an hour, instead of for two half-hours at two locations, Falamya north and south. Farmers from Jayyus who use this checkpoint haven’t been harmed this time by the change, but farmers from Falamya and Kufr Jamal who went through Falamya north in the morning have been harmed and now must enter and leave in the afternoon through Falamya south. Formerly about 100 farmers returned in the afternoon through Falamya north. Today, because of the severe heat (38 degrees in the shade – we measured!), and perhaps also because of the change in the hours, we saw only 30 coming through and about five more going to their land in the seam zone.
Most had to return on foot; a minority had tractors loaded with many sacks of za’atar. They allow others to ride along beside the driver.
We saw an elderly man with a cane who walked with great difficulty but was lucky to have a permit for a car in which his wife rode, who also returned from work, with a sack of za’atar on the roof.
We see two tractors waiting beyond the checkpoint – a soldier, in this case pleasant and communicative (from a town in Israel’s periphery, aware of the troubles faced by the poor and the weak – nor did we appear particularly dangerous at our age) approached us and asked what we were doing there, and even allowed us to approach the checkpoint. We asked what the tractors were waiting for; he said that even though their permits are valid they don’t appear in the computer, apparently the data hadn’t yet been entered, and they’re checking.
It’s interesting they went through Falamya north in the morning with no problem – that’s what they told us after crossing – only the Lord of the checkpoint and the internet has the answer. After about ten minutes the farmers went through; their permits were checked and found valid.
Distances farmers using these checkpoints must walk to reach their lands:
From the village of Kufr Jamal – 3 km to Falamya north (morning and evening); 8 km from Falamya north to Falamya south. Total: 11 km.
From the village of Falamya – 1 km to Falamya north (morning and evening). Afternoon, 8 km more to Falamya north. Total: 9 km.
From the village of Jayyus – 8 km to the new checkpoint, compared to 1 km to the old checkpoint near Jayyus and 3.5 km to the gate which had been open 12 hours a day. These gates closed when the route of the fence was changed. While it returned 200 dunums of agricultural land to the village it still left 6000 dunums beyond the fence. As noted, this time the change in the checkpoint hours didn’t harm them.
13:30 Qalqilya DCL. We meet a man blacklisted by the police who gives us money for Chaya Ofeq to give to an attorney who’ll try to get the blacklisting cancelled. He receives an official receipt and a notice that he should be in touch with Chaya in the future.
14:00 Habla checkpoint. Crossing is simple today, no problems. That’s what A., the owner of the plant nursery, who’d gone through, tells us.
We observed for about fifteen minutes.
Four soldiers in the booth near the gate closest to the plant nurseries in the seam zone watch Palestinians crossing through the agricultural gate in both directions. There is a second booth some distance away, adjacent to the gate on the Palestinian side of the checkpoint, where Palestinians must present their permits for inspection.
Two tractors cross toward the seam zone, the standard inspection, with no unnecessary difficulties. The famers parked the tractor in front of the gate on the Palestinian side, presented their permits at the booth near the gate on the Palestinian side, were approved and went through the checkpoint’s two gates toward the plant nurseries in the seam zone.
A tractor coming from the seam zone crosses toward Habla without inspection.
14:15 The soldiers close the checkpoint gates and we start back to the only democracy in the Middle East.