Ras Abu Sbitan (Olive Terminal), Fri 5.10.07, Morning
Fourth Friday of Ramadan
08:00 - The roads leading from Highway 1 to East Jerusalem are blocked more extensively than last Friday, from Nablus Gate to Border Police headquarters. A traffic jam from the American Colony Hotel in the direction of Nablus Gate can be observed from a distance.
08:10 - No check point at the entrance to Al Ezariya. On the way to the Palestinian side of the CP, opposite us, are the empty cabs and transits which brought people to the CP.
08:20-12:00 - (Palestinian side) - Already before the parking lot, access to the CP is blocked by two BP jeeps and a row of 5 border policemen blocking the space between the two jeeps. Some 60 persons, women and elderly men wishing to cross, are crowded in front of them. There is a constant flow of persons allowed to cross - they are the lucky ones who meet the "criteria" announced from time to time in a loud voice or by megaphone: men over 50, women over 45. Others are turned back because they are too young.
Persons with work permits or trade permits are particularly angry because they are not allowed to cross due to the extension of the Succot closure until the end of the sabbath - evidently not announced on Palestinian media.
More people keep arriving, some of those turned back still waiting in case the rules change. Until 09:45 there is a constant presence of some 60 persons in front of the road block. Most of the border policemen speak Arabic.
08:45 - the row of border policemen is disbanded, 2-3 of them stand at the opening checking documents. At some stage the soldiers are stressed by the numbers in the crowd, and they send the people back some 20-30 meters. Only a group of women continues to stand near the jeeps. From time to time the crossing is interrupted for a short while, probably to prevent long lines inside the CP. The DCO representative is now discovered, he too speaks Arabic, but he can't be of much assistance - let them go to Olmert - and advises those refused passage to go home. Some indeed give up and leave, others sit alongside the road.
09:25 - the soldiers again form a row between the jeeps, one of which starts the engine, probably for the A/C, and those surrounding it fear it will move in their direction, but the vehicle remains stationery.
09:30 - the stream of persons arriving increases and by 09:50 more than 100 persons stand in front of the road block. Now it's mostly men in their 40's hoping nonetheless to cross. A jeep brings grapes and other fruit for the soldiers. These are distributed, but the soldiers don't eat in view of the people fasting. One of the jeeps leaves, and now the soldiers must invigilate a wider opening lest someone without a permit sneak through.
A man of roughly 47 with a work permit who had tried unsuccessfully to cross earlier, tries again and crosses.
10:15 - a jeep arrives with another officer. A defeaning siren and calls on the megaphone to the women who have already crossed ("yallah yawara" "don't let those without permits cross") and now the border policemen checking documents also begin to shout "yallah haram" and push people back a few meters. The officer just arrived considers it his main duty to distance those too young to cross and to slow down passage of those who fulfill the age criteria ("one by one, only over 50 or those with a permit") - all this when the pressure is at its height and prayer-time is approaching. At this stage there are over 120 people facing the row of 5 border-policemen. 4-5 men, exhausted from the heat and the waiting, are sitting in the shade from a lorry, one of them already asleep.
Every few minutes the people are pushed further back, here and there one of the border policemen using his hands. No one resists, not a single cry of protest. Quietly and slowly they approach again, and are again rebuffed.
Part of the crossing is again blocked by another jeep. When people fail to approach one by one in an orderly fashion, the officer stops the crossing. "Closure, everyone 'irja lawara', stop, no one crosses until all are below." An elderly woman supported by a young one is stopped; she is allowed to cross, but not her companion, without whom she cannot walk. Eventually another woman who has just crossed and is willing to accompany the old lady is found. The young woman turns back.
Again and again the officer shouts: "Any one over 50 Let him cross" (as though they had won the lottery). "You're 50? No? then down! You're 49? come back next year. Those not 50 - move it! How old are you? Yallah, come here [pointing to a spot at his feet]." And so on and so forth. Suddenly a man with a child, riding a camel turns up; he doesn't look 50 but makes his way through the crowd, presents his green ID confidently, the camel doesn't need a permit, and they cross.
10:45 - a gun shot is heard, not clear from where, and there's a smell of something burnt. "Who is this hero?" one of the officers asks.
A woman with two small children is unwilling to give up, continues arguing, but the soldier is not willing to give up either. A man wearing ritual garments must empty the contents of his bag on the floor. No one else arrives with a bag. A woman with a veil has to remove her gloves, not her veil. Not clear how this contributes to identification, but she was sent back. The officer wishes to get rid of those without permits and announces the familiar threat: "so far we have been courteous..." He also dismisses those who were resting in the shade of the lorry, waving his hand in a gesture of "get lost" and once in a while placing a hand on a shoulder. The hill next to the road-block is now empty, and those on the road are also sent back. Some give up and go home. Drivers call out "Ezariya, Abu-Dis", but the crowd calls back "Al Aqsa."
11:15 - a few minutes before the beginning of prayers, people begin to leave. By 11:20 some 80 remain, at 11:25 some 60, mostly young women. At 11:30 they are sent back with calls of "Ramadan karim, haram." A little girl, no taller than the soldier's knees, stares at his gun fearfully. One of the soldiers attempts to persuade the women to leave, some give up with disappointed looks, about 25 remain. At 11:40 some elederly women are still allowed to cross, and at 11:45 closure is declared, no one will cross. What this means is that in the morning hours "leniency" was practised and elderly people were allowed to cross despite closure, but now the regular closure conditions are in effect.
Those not considered security risks until 11:40 have now de facto become such. The last few who managed to pass the soldiers' block but failed to reach the CP by 11:45 are turned back. The soldiers retreat into the CP. The women remain, slowly approaching the CP. but the soldiers no longer care: let 25 women stand in front of the locked turnstiles for as long as they wish!
Al-Ezaria - the streets are empty. Many cars are parked near the mosque, worshippers who were unable to enter stand in long lines on the pavement.