Beit Iba, Thu 25.10.07, Afternoon
"Trying to break through the checkpoint. Interfering with the soldiers in the line of duty" "Causing chaos at the checkpoint". What is behind these ambiguous statements?
The army keeps insisting to MachsomWatch that they do not use the detained area for punishing bad behavior. However, the report below is an example of such cases (they are marked with dark lettering).
It is after 15:00 at Beit Iba on Thursday. Thursday, at least for this month, is the day the students return from the university (instead of the usual Wednesday). There is a long line of young women and men anxious to get back home pushing against the turnstiles. Babies, mothers and older men are also squeezed in because the side line for "humanitarian" cases is only open sporadically. The soldiers are checking very fast, there are 2 booths open; 2 soldiers, and sometimes 3, checking bags. Still the shed is almost full and there is a lot of pushing and squeezing in right behind the turnstile where everyone wants to be the next in line as the button is pushed to open the turnstile. Some people manage to squeeze through the turnstile even when the button is not pushed. Some people manage to go on the side line after all if they happen to go at just the right moment or wait patiently enough for the soldier's attention.
Between 14:40 and 14:49 180 people coming from Nablus pass through the CP. Between 16:24 and 16:41 about 300 people pass through. This means there is a rate of about 17 people a minute leaving Nablus. Besides all these people leaving Nablus, there are those who are entering; soldiers; vehicles in both directions waiting on line that include donkey wagons, ambulances, trucks, buses and private cars; the occasional jeep zooming up to the checkpoint in a cloud of dust; noise from the quarry as well as dust and pollution. All of these elements play a part in creating a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere.
At 15:25 A young man has finally come through the turnstile after waiting on line . He is now on the line that is just before the checking booth. A soldier comes up to him and pushes him for some reason . The man pushes back. Immediately 2 other soldiers join the first one and surround the young man. Together they push him toward the detainee area. He struggles against the bodies pressing against him. They pull his back pack away and throw it on the table for checking bags. A lieutenant who seems to be the commander of the checkpoint (he doesn't talk to us so we don't know) holds the man on the side of his neck with one hand and has his other on the man's arm. In a very quiet and authoritative way he seats the man firmly on the bench. The lieutenant is now bending over the man with his face very close. One hand is still on the man's neck, one is still on the other arm and now his left leg is on the bench closing the man in from the side. The man sits quietly. When the soldier leaves, the young man suddenly sees his bag on the checking table with all the contents spilled out. He jumps up to see what's happening to it. The lieutenant rushes back and again pushes the man back to his seat but the man wants to get his bag. The lieutenant finally understands what he wants and gets the bag for him.
At 15:36 Smadar and I go up to speak to the detainee and he gets up to show us his ID card. The lieutenant rushes back and physically forces him to sit down again pressing his face against the man's face threatening him. We try to explain that he got up to talk to us. The lieutenant is angry at us and then realizes that he hasn't taken the man's ID. He takes the ID and goes to the side to phone it in. Now precisely when all this is happening there is a changing of the guard. Those coming in have not seen any of this. All they know is that the man has caused trouble ("He has tried to break through the checkpoint and has interfered in the soldier's line of duty." "He has caused chaos at the checkpoint".)
About 20 minutes later when even more people are lined up behind the turnstile, one of the military police woman who is in the checking booth shouts to a soldier to move the women behind the turnstile back. He goes to the women's turnstile and tells the first woman in line to move back. There is the pressure of a crowd of women behind her and she can't move. She doesn't move back. "I will punish you if you don't move back," says the soldier. He doesn't allow the women through and releases only the men's line. A few minutes later we see that woman has been brought to the detainment area.
These 2 detainees mentioned below were then kept until 19:00 at night (approximately 3 1/2 hours for disciplinary reasons). They were occasionally asked if they need water. When it started getting dark we begged the soldiers to at least let the woman go so she wouldn't have to walk home in the dark. We made many phone calls to Amit at the Army hotline and he was not able to help us. At 17:07 the young man detainee is again grabbed by the back of the neck and told to sit down. The soldier tells me, "He'll be here a long time. He doesn't listen."
At 18:30 I get the number of the Matak from Mickey and am able to speak with someone named Matan. He tells me the detainees will be here for another hour and a half . He says this even though he reports that the Sheback (Internal Security Service) is not interested in them. Meaning, they ARE NOT a security problem.
When I ask why are they being punished, he tells me "They have tried to break into (lefrotz) the checkpoint and they have interfered in the soldiers work. " Then he says, it is a police matter and they are waiting for the police to arrive. I again tell him what we actually saw and that by punishing for bad behavior makes a laughing matter of the army and security issues. He says it is not just a behavior problem. He believes what the soldiers have described more then he does me. The unfortunate thing is that both of the cases have now become one and the original soldiers have gone off duty and everything is now "hearsay". The soldiers who are presently on duty at the checkpoint are sure that the 2 detainees are guilty of some hideous crime. Perhaps Matan did do something because they are released a half hour later instead of an hour and a half.
Other events at Beit Iba on Thursday 25/10/07:
The vehicle traffic was unusually light in both directions during our shift from 14:00 to 19:00. The heaviest traffic was going to Nablus at 15: 51 and at 19:00 when 9 vehicles were on line. The traffic coming from Nablus was light throughout the shift and each vehicle took about a minute to check. But there were cases of taking 5 minutes or even more. For example, at 15:42 a bus from Nablus stops at the checking booth. While it is being checked the soldiers who are checking the traffic to Nablus see that the bus is equipped with a thin hose and nozzle that has pressurized air. They stop checking the incoming traffic to clean their weapons with the air hose. They seem to be having a good time. After about 5 minutes they go back to checking the incoming traffic. The bus continues to be checked until 15:50 (8 minutes).
At this break in their checking of the incoming vehicles, a donkey driven wagon that is carrying a man, an adult sheep and 2 baby sheep waits to be checked. The situation of the wagons is unclear. They say they aren't sure where to wait. There are 3 possible lanes. Sometimes the soldiers want them on one lane and then other times on one of the other lanes. In any case, this driver of the wagon has evidently made a mistake because the soldier refuses to check him for another 20 minutes. When I ask the soldier why, the soldier says the driver has tried to go around the checkpoint.
The pedestrian traffic was heavy until about 17:00. During the period before 17:00 there were some breaks when there were less people.(See details below.) The side line was opened from time to time. People would sometimes wait there in expectation of a line opening. Sometimes they were lucky, other times they were forced to go and wait on the regular line. When we called the Matak later in the evening we were told that a Matak representative had been at the checkpoint from 7 in the morning but we never saw him. In fact during the period when we were trying to help the detainees(see above) we called the Army Hotline to ask for a Matak representative to come and we were told that they were busy with the olive picking.
There were 2 detainees when we arrived. One was a man who was 59 and had a hearing aid. He had tried to go through the side line and since there was no soldier there, he just passed through without being checked. He was kept until 14:56 and he had been there for about a half hour before we got there (another example of punishment for bad behavior). The other man was kept because there was a large sum of money in his bag and they were suspicious. He was released at 15:15.
One taxi driver gave us money and asked that we go to the post office in Israel to pay traffic tickets he had received. This is one of those Catch 22s that are a problem for Palestinians. Traffic tickets must be paid in Israel only many people who get these tickets don't have a permit to go into Israel. They must then ask someone who has a permit to pay for them but sometimes the person who has the permit goes off with the money and doesn't pay the ticket. Sometimes a person who has a permit takes a commission for paying the fine. Asking MachsomWatch seems to be a more reliable solution.
A man who hasn't been able to get a permit to work in Israel for the past 2 years asked for our help and we give him Sylvia's number.
A man who wants help with olive picking is given Hagar L.'s number and she gives him Eric's number of the Rabbis for Human Rights.
A man from East Jerusalem thought he could pass through to Nablus. He was told by the soldier that he could not. We checked with the citizens headquarters in Jerusalem and were told that East Jerusalem citizens were allowed to visit Nablus during the holidays but for the last 2 weeks only those who have the most exceptional humanitarian reasons are allowed in to Nablus.
A detail of the pedestrian and vehicle traffic situation:
14:12 – 3 vehicles to Nablus, 6 from Nablus, approximately 100 pedestrians from Nablus. The last vehicle from Nablus took 5 minutes to get to the checking booth. A pedestrian on the end of the line for young men takes 22 minutes to pass through the checkpoint.
14:40 – 14:49 Last pedestrian on men's line from Nablus takes 9 minutes to pass through. One hundred and eighty people pass through at that time. We can not see the women on their line but only when they pass through. We are told by a man who is waiting for his wife after he passed through with the 2 children, that he has been waiting for a half hour. He is carrying a baby in his arms and the toddler holding his hand is crying for her mother.
14:51 – The number of pedestrians has dropped to 20. Three vehicles to Nablus and 1 from Nablus.
15:03 – About 50 pedestrians from Nablus
15:09 – About 50 pedestrians from Nablus . Two vehicles from Nablus and none to Nablus.Last man on line takes 8 minutes to pass through.
15:42 – About 60 pedestrians. Seven vehicles to Nablus .The last one takes 23 minutes to pass through. This is during the period when the soldiers took a break to clean their weapons with an air hose (see above ). One vehicle from Nablus.
15:51 – The pedestrian line is again long. Over 100 pedestrians. There are 9 vehicles waiting to enter Nablus.
16:08 – Over a hundred pedestrians. Three vehicles from Nablus and three to Nablus.
18:00 – Few pedestrians. Five vehicles to Nablus and five from Nablus.
19:00 – Few pedestrians. Five vehicles from Nablus and 9 to Nablus.