Beit Iba, Jit, Qalqiliya, Sun 14.10.07, Afternoon
Today’s shift served as a disturbing reminder of the ubiquity of man's inhumanity to man, and what Arendt called the “banality of evil.” Today was the last day of Eid el Fitr, the three day festival celebrating the end of Ramadan, a time for joyous celebrations with families, a time of festivities and merriment, visits to the homes of friends and relatives with new clothes for everybody and gifts for the children. And the occupying forces -- what knowledge or deference did they show for this, one of the two most important festivals in the Muslim calendar? When, if ever, had they been taught that everybody is of equal worth and deserves equal respect? When, if ever, had they encountered bigotry and prejudice in their own lives (forgetting, of course their own thousands of years old history)? Instead, the occupier seemed to savor the idea that families are divided, and that family members are denied entry to join in the celebrations. If only these revelations would make “countless thousands mourn” (Robert Burns).
The parking area is filled with Palestinian Israeli cars, families visiting families for the last day of Eid el Fitr, forced to leave their cars behind, cross the checkpoint on foot or, if lucky, in a passing taxi. The Border Police say that “only cars with permits can go through.” Cars with Israeli number plates (yellow) are checked against a list, or the numbers are phoned in, or the numbers are written down; there seems little rhyme or reason to who is told what, and we see many drivers trying to “negotiate” their way into the city. Many are told to turn around, to leave their vehicles in the parking lot. The cars are filled with families, old and young members dressed in holiday finery, cars often packed with presents. The mood is generally cheerful even though trunks are checked and blue (Israeli) IDs examined. The whole process is a laborious one. On the other hand, packed taxis sail by the checkpoint.
14:00 -- a driver with a U.S. passport, and his local family (the older woman looks like a Druze) is refused entry with his car, turns and goes to the parking lot, or gives up: we’re not certain what option he chooses. A Palestinian Israeli family, smiling cheerfully, leave for home, from the parking lot, saying they had a good time with relatives in the city, in spite of the inconvenience and trouble at the checkpoint. A last thought: just whose security is the occupier supposedly minding?
14:10-14:45 On the way from Qalqiliya to Beit Iba
Just before Fonduk village, a blue police jeep and a Hummer off the roadway and an army sharpshooter, gun pointing towards an olive grove, off to the northern side of the road. Part of the ban against picking olives, except on days ordained by the occupier (that we hear about later)?
Just before Kedumim, on the southern side of the road, large banners, in Hebrew, have been painted, and attached to trees. We don’t catch the words but a group of settler youth, including young women, stream down the hillside towards the roadway. Sure enough, on turning a bend in the road, we spy a “deserted” Palestinian house, now covered with bright blue plastic and next to it what looks like a tent on the side. Hill top youth takeover?
14:30 Jit Junction
The army has arrived and is about to create a checkpoint. The paraphernalia of temporary checkpoints is carried by one soldier from one place at the junction to another. Where can they cause the most trouble? Read on, one hour or so later….
14:45 Beit Iba
The new multi-lane checkpoint’s roadways and sidewalks have been defined (no work going on today); the quarry is now fenced in, the dust as ever, although today, the last day of Eid el Fitr, it’s not working, nor are the Huwwash Carpentry brothers. The checkpoint is not crowded with the usual passers by, but by families, all dressed up, the men often with white or pastel colored shirts, often with ties, the women in their best robes, the young women in colorful new attire (and headscarves), the children in gorgeous, over the top outfits, complete with cowboy style silver or gold riding boots! Sometimes, it happens that people are all dressed up and have nowhere to go: a car is turned back by the occupier at the checkpoint, and has to turn round, back to Nablus. No dispensation for anybody who’s a Palestinian just because it’s a holiday!
In the detention compound of old, one well dressed young man who signs to us that he’s been there for three hours. Two and a half hours is confirmed by the commander, E., who has no idea why he’s detained: “that was by the shift before mine… I was told just to watch over him.” We voice our assumption that he’s being checked. “Checked?” says E. in disbelief, “What for?” We persist, and make another assumption, also proven wrong by E., that the young man is being punished. “Of course not,” says E., but I will hold him until 3:00.” The banality of evil surely starts in a similar way….
One of the soldiers at the checkpoint shouts at passers by, pokes into their handbags, plastic bags full of presents, shouts at us too: “Surely we’re afraid of a ‘tractor,’ laden with explosives at the checkpoint?” And if we ask the soldier questions, he has a right to question us. It takes his commander to deescalate this loudmouthed solider, so he again proceeds to shout at the Palestinians coming through the turnstiles.
15:00 -- the commander is on the phone, we hear him asking if there’s “authorization to release” the detainee. He does so, and the young man makes his belated way towards the city.
15:30 -- on this last day of the three day festival, there are not so many people, going in or coming out of the city of Nablus, but we hear of two to three hour waits on the first two days of the Eid here. Even today, the line is very slow. A warm greeting to and from one of our local butchers from Jaffa, with his five beautifully dressed children, wife and an enormous present (looks like a surf board, for which there might not be much use in Nablus). Of course the soldier insists on taking a peep, tearing the colorful wrapping paper. A last glimpse at the good nature of the festive-minded and abominably treated passers by: two young boys with cartoon masks over their faces. “Halloween!” they call to us cheerfully, and they and their mother insist we take their photos.
Olive picking and Deir Sharaf
The “city hall” of Deir Sharaf was issued an order, by the occupier, two days ago that olive picking on the southern side of Route 60, below the settlement of Shavei Shomron could take place only on 16, 17 and 18 October. We wonder (not very deeply) where such an order emanated from, since it’s the settlement’s new “security” road that led to the uprooting of hundreds of Deir Sharaf’s olive trees, now fenced in and hard to access.
16:00 Jit Junction
There are 25 vehicles on the hill leading up to the junction on Route 55. Four soldiers man the checkpoint only at this part of the junction, so there is chaos, buses coming from the Qalqiliya direction, vehicles coming from the southern side of Nablus, all converging, and settler vehicles squeezing by. The situation is aided and abetted by one of the four soldiers being extremely aggressive and hostile. We see him hit a taxi driver who’s been told, not only to open the trunk of his car, but to expose its underbelly. As the soldier hits the taxi driver, he throws the carpet covering the spare tire back into the body of the car, meanwhile shouting at us, as we’re observing this scene, that we’re holding up traffic! The Palestinians are patient with each other, with us, but another taxi driver laments, “is this any way to spend a festival?” Indeed…