Morning

Oct-6-2002
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General: Following the lifting of the siege from the ruins of thePalestinian presidential compound in Ramallah, last week was the first insome time without a major Israeli military assault, incursion, etc. in thePalestinian territories. At the same time, however, the curfew regime thatis imposed on Jenin, Tulkarem, Ramallah and especially on Nablus(approximately three and a half straight months of curfew there, liftedonce every week or ten days for several hours) remained in force, and inthe case of Nablus even tightened. A number of "curfew breakers", all ofthem civilians, including children and teenagers were shot dead, otherswere severly wounded. House demolition continued in full swing and so didthe confiscation of land and destruction of property for the sake of the"separation fence". The ongoing quiet in the Bethlehem area ever since the withdrawal of theIDF from zone A (the urban part of the region) seems to have greatly upsetchief of staff, Yaalon. Unable to tolerate the fact that one major town iscurrently outside the curfew ring and preparing the ground for itsprospective "inclusion", he declared over the last weeekend that "Bethlehemis again becoming an asylum for terrorists"...Our Shift: We arrived at al-Khader's western roadblocks at 7.15. The fact thatPalestine has moved to winter time last Friday, however, provided anopportunity to observe the scene there at a relatively early hour, yet"unattended" by us.It is difficult to tell whether it was because of the hour, or due to theabsence of the army from the junction, vineyards, etc., or both - but thenumber of people who passed through the roadblocks this morning was by farthe largest we have seen there in ages. Hundreds - almost all men - streamedfrom the yellow plated buses and minibuses that arrived, one afteranother, at the junction, towards the improvised taxi station behind thesecond roadblock. Some were relatively better dressed, others much less so,their walk hasty, their faces grim, each absorbed in his own struggle forsurvival. Where are they heading to? according to the taxi drivers this isa typical Sunday morning exodus (that often starts already on Saturdaymorning or afternoon)of laborers and employees who work in the Ramallahregion, as well as in Abu-Dis and other locales east of Jerusalem (allwithin Palestine, not Israel). Many of them will not return home until theweekend (Thursday evening). Unable to afford the expenses of transportationand tired of daily harassment at the checkpoints many have arranged to staywith acquaintences and friends or rented an apartment together with others.Are there any laborers who work in Israel among them? the drivers say thatthese arrive at the scene at much earlier hours (between 4 and 5 AM) whenit is still dark, in an attempt to 'sneak' via Wad a-Nar, but that not manycomplete the journey.At 6.30 AM Hussein Najajra, the Al-Khader secondary boy's schoolheadmaster, is already on the watch at the gate, this time safeguarding thearrival of early-comers, those among his students who forgot to move theclock backwards.Accompanied by an athletic looking, blue eyed ninth grader we toured the(still nearly empty) school compound, which as mentioned, includes fourschools. The very poor infrastructure, lack of basic facilities and neglectare apparent everywhere. Najajra would tell us later that the schoolbuildings have not been repaired in decades. To make things much worse, aconcrete built, cylindrical shaped army post, overlooking the entire area,was erected (some time at the beginning of the Intifada) at a distance ofno more than 20 meters from the western wall of the girls' secondaryschool. Bullet holes on the wall, near a window on the top floor, theresult of gun or machine gun fire, are testimony of just how dangerous thisvicinity is. Back with Najajra, he tells us that during the first year ofthe Intifada, the Al-Khader schools were forced to shut down for over threemonths and the students were temporarly 'hosted' in the government schoolsat Irtas village. For a long time now he sees himself as a watchguard thatkeeps the boys away from the army rather than as an administrator of theschool's affairs. From there we drove to checkpoint 300. Already from a distance we could seea group of between fifteen and twenty detaineesinfo-icon seated against the lowfence, on the east side of the road that leads to Gilo junction, justoutside the checkpoint. It has been a long time since we last saw 'action'in this 'arena', and the detained men looked especially miserable, as ifthe months of curfew and siege have left a visible stamp on their facesand looks. Just below them, where the 'service' road (that never servedanybody except the army) meets with what once used to be the entranceto the valley (now under road construction), a group of five or six womendetainees, of mixed ages ranging between 17 and 40, were being heldseparately by several border policemen including a most vulgarborder-police woman. They sat on the dirty and dusty ground trying to covertheir faces from the sun. Our arrival at the scene (to the dismay of the woman soldier in particular)probably hastened the check and the women were sent to collect their IDs atthe machsom soonafter. They were caught on their way to work (cleaninghomes) about one hour before we arrived, after successfully sneakingthrough Tantur and almost making it to the Gilo road. One of them, anextremely thin and fragile looking woman in her late thirties or earlyforties from Beit Jala, is a mother of seven and a widow who raises herchildren by herself. She takes her eldest daughter along to help her withthe cleaning of an apartment in Gilo. Another is a mother of eight from'Aida refugee camp, whose husband - once a construction worker in Israel -lost his leg in a work injury many months ago. A third one is also a motherof eight living in the outskirts of 'Aida camp - she didn't completetelling her story. As they climbed through the dust towards the checkpoint,the sounds of happy tunes suddenly emerged from the women's small handbags,as if in synchronization. It was the employers from Gilo who were ringingto their talkman or bigtalk cellulars (for a long time now functioning onlyas receivers of calls) to find out where were they and what went wrong.