'Anabta, Ar-Ras, Azzun, Jubara (Kafriat), Qalqiliya, Sun 11.11.07, Afternoon
Believe it or not, there really is an internet site called The Mother of All Excuses Place. We wonder if the Occupiers of the Palestinian Territories make use of this site, with enough changes to make its name less politically correct for this macho part of the world. At each and every checkpoint that we monitor and document, we hear excuses for just about everything. Today’s shift proved no exception.
12:45 -- at the entrance to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, on Route 55, a new barrier, its red and white paint glistening on it raised arm, a tight squeeze, to get through plastic barricades manned by one Border Police and one blue Israel Police man.
From the city, beyond the primitive checkpoint, eight vehicles, none entering. Two soldiers on duty, two eating in the makeshift tent on the side of the roadway. We’re immediately asked to “go and stand behind the concrete boulder” (the tall mass on which the red and white sign tells us – everywhere these days -- that “it’s illegal to enter Palestinian territory”). Having commented to the soldier that it’s so quiet at this hour, we are told, “We’ve had a hot warning… it’s for your safety that you have to go back.”
Palestinian cars and trucks pass the checkpoint without being checked. An Israeli truck is stopped as the soldier spits out sunflower seeds, a line develops to Qalqiliya, and the truck backs up. But Israeli pedestrians, who have left their cars in the parking lot, just pass through, without being stopped.
In the parking lot, a number of back-to-backs take place: red roof tiles from a pickup to a donkey cart and cardboard boxes of apples from one truck to another.
Closed in by giant childlike concrete blocks, preventing entry and exit. Taxis stop at the junction with the main apartheid road, letting off passengers.
13:30 -- at the hilltop settlement-to-be on the south side of the roadway from Kedumim (all but abandoned with police and army surrounding it only a week before), there’s now an air of bucolic, perhaps domestic, calm. A young settler man, a young settler woman, walking around outside the house, a white tender parked alongside and the signs proclaiming its existence once again, the right way up, alongside the roadway.
The rain has fallen fast and furiously, and this once pristine setting could be just that once again – with a bit of imagination. A flock of goats and sheep stare at the car as we park, a white egret perched atop one of the goats (or, is it a sheep?).
As we approach the checkpoint, we note that the glass (more likely plastic) winter encasing of the soldiers’ positions is in place (as in the cafés in Tel Aviv). From Tulkarm, a relatively short line of six vehicles, including a huge Zim semi-trailer as well as a couple of smaller ones.
To Tulkarm, a bus with pictures of Abbas and Arafat in the front window, then a line of 15 vehicles, suddenly, behind it. But things move quickly. Checking, if at all, is random until a minibus, full of young men, on their way back from the Arafat memorial service in Ramallah, is stopped. All their IDs are taken, one flaunts a hip flask from the window, others demonstrate good cheer and (literal) good spirits. As other vehicles pass freely in both directions, the youngsters complain, “All the checkpoints have been open until now. Why here?” Why indeed.
15:30 – there is at least a ten minute wait, the commander indicating that another soldier is checking (behind the concrete wall). Most of the 17 young men take the opportunity to get off the bus (to relieve themselves – behind yet another concrete wall), the commander is none too pleased that they’re getting out; but when the soldier at last appears with the IDs in hand, the driver cheerfully adds, “I told you they were all OK.”
14-20 vehicles in line to leave the Occupied Palestinian Territories, blue police stopping many vehicles entering.
A donkey cart is in front of us, a horse and cart behind us as we all try to cross the separation barrier. The checking of small trucks heading into the village is endless, one soldier doing it all, the other doing nothing, not even holding his gun. The checking soldier studies each permit slowly and painfully (evidently not at ease with the Holy Language), peers into every nook and cranny of every vehicle or cart, under seats, burrowing into trunks, under sacks. The line of pedestrians on either side of the barrier road grows, as does the line of waiting vehicles. First traffic jam on the separation barrier!
We finally reach A-Ras after ten or twelve minutes, complain to the commander here, at the same time as the usual “taxi” driver of the village -- bearing Abu Ghatem in the front seat of his old Subaru -- drives up and complains likewise of the behavior of the soldiers at Gate 753.
We’re advised by the commander, “Don’t you know it’s Arafat’s memorial service?” And, another wondrous phrase, “Don’t you know that that (Gate 753) is the entrance to Israel?”
Otherwise, no problems at A-Ras: traffic, what little there is of it, flows freely, but on the way back to Jubara, at Gate 753, the same behaviors we’ve already noted.