Tulkarem and Qalqiliya, Sun 21.10.07, Afternoon
"Who's in charge here?" is not the start, or the end, of a feeble
joke but a vivid description of the occupation. It's not only the
continuous humiliation and the endless harassment, but the offhand
manner – gun of course at the ready -- in which the occupier goes
about his business, often creating mayhem but making sure that
accountability is pinned on no one.
Few vehicles going in or out of the checkpoint. Going up the road to
the village, two small, grubby children play with empty cans found on
the side of the road. The game is to place them in a line across the
road (they have learned well what a checkpoint consists of), then to
kick them all over the place, and start all over again. Not a bad way
of describing 40 years of occupation! We notice the distressingly
miserable faces: not a smile can be gotten out of the boy or the
little girl, whose bright, sad blue eyes are heartrending.
It's lunchtime, the soldiers are relaxed and eating, but at their
posts. There's no checking of the few vehicles that pass to or from
Tulkarm or to or from Jubarra. We decline the invitation to join them
with a cup of coffee!
Lunchtime here too, and to be noted, now in evidence at all
checkpoints we visit, the large red and white sign, in three
languages, indicating that behind it is "Palestine": (indeed, since
the "A" of Area A has been blocked out, in Arabic, English and Hebrew)
This very same sign causes us "trouble" in Anabta. Here a blue
(Israeli) police truck is parked by the military lookout tower, and
two policemen are harassing (no other word for it) particularly
Israeli vehicles (Palestinian Israelis). We stand, as is our wont,
near the central checkpoint, near the lookout tower. The soldiers are
indifferent to our presence, in fact, more or less oblivious to
everything about them. They spend their time, eating, drinking or
chitchatting, often not bothering to man all three checkposts. No
need, the Israeli police is doing all the work, including telling us
that we're "annoying the soldiers." Neither they, nor we, have
exchanged a word! "Go back 50 meters," we're ordered by Abu Aslan
(name tags are mandatory for Israel Police). We wonder if the police
are now in charge of the checkpoint as an open truck, filled with
clean, woolly white sheep and pristine white lambs drives past?
While telling us off, a Palestinian car is waved aside by this same
policeman, and it's clear they don't want us to see what they're up
13:30 -- the same policeman now tells us that he never said "50
meters," but "behind the red sign" (the one in three languages
posted, vertically on a huge concrete boulder by the entrance to the
checkpoint). As the line to Tulkarm grows, from zero to twelve, the
police continue to make us the agenda: "I know who you are, and the
law says…. I don't care about your lawyers and what they say. I will
arrest you." We decline the offer as the first policeman is joined by
his mate, who's been in the police van, probably checking vehicle
licenses against the computer, but we can't see what goes on behind
the lookout tower as we're (almost) 50 meters from it!
When there are no vehicles coming into Tulkarm, the policeman
switches sides (of the road) and interferes with the freedom of
movement of vehicles exiting Tulkarm. The soldiers continue to take
time out, as if having ceded all authority to the police. They drink,
chitchat and wave the waiting vehicles on in their own sweet time.
Sometimes when the soldiers beckon vehicles to advance to the center
of the checkpoint, the police flags them down. It's a mad, mad world,
no, correction, a mad, mad occupation.
13:45 -- the line on both sides grows and grows, up to 16 from
Tulkarm. Cars, usually Palestinian Israeli, but Palestinian too, are
stopped and searched, beneath the hood, in the trunk, but it's
completely random, sometimes on their way to Tulkarm, and sometimes
those leaving Tulkarm, while the yellow taxis just whiz by. On the
other hand, when the police search is over, the policeman gives his
fellow citizens a whacking great thump of camaraderie on the
shoulder…. not granted to Palestinians.
We leave, as it seems there will be no end to the kind of
occupation "games" at this checkpoint today. We're not expecting
genuine "war games" (see Beit Iba report).