Afternoon

Dec-2-2003
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Afternoon shift: 15:00 to 18:45 (3 PM to 6:45 PM).MachsomWatchers: R.H., A.K., N.O., D.G. (reporting),supplemented by a group of Ecumenicals from Scotland who have two teams at work here, one in the villages of the Occupied Territories and the other "supporting the work of Israeli peace groups".This was a watch shift that demonstrated for the umpteenth time the sheer harassment and humiliating, time-wasting, futility of the checkpoints.In all but one case in which the team intervened (a young lad who said he was 15 but had no birth certificate to prove it and seemingly no one in his village who could be contacted to bring the document), permission to pass was eventually granted, but the Palestinians concerned were forced to stand around in the damp cold for two hours and longer before they could move on. And the soldiers made no bones about it: the wait was part of the "learning experience" necessary to teach the Palestinians not to break "rules," and not to consider Qalandiya a "soft touch" checkpoint (per the officer, Amit).Again and again we heard that "they" always have "stories". One soldier, Yuval, argued that if he knows his driving license is about to expire, he takes the trouble to renew it a fortnight ahead of time, which should be a model of behavior for Palestinians whose permits ("tasrichim") are about to expire!!!When we reached the Qalandiya checkpoint, traffic going through was very sparse until about 16:15, when there was suddenly a long queue – but that, too, moved quite quickly. The "rule for the day” was that men and women over age 50 were allowed to pass unhindered. A new arrangement of plastic barriers at the exit of the checkpoint gives the soldiers tighter control and makes it much more difficult for those sent back northwards to slip through.At the northern edge of the checkpoint stood a group of six or seven "refused" men. All had permits that had expired the day before. All claimed to have been to the district HQ at Beit-El (which was closed yesterday) to renew the "tasrichim" [permits].One man, frequently wiping away his tears, wanted desperately to get to see a dead relative whose funeral was due to take place later that day.Another man -- conspicuous in a white rain-jacket -- had earned the ire of the soldiers, and especially of Amit, because, as they reported, he had repeatedly tried to slip past them. "He can stay here!" Amit declared.Another man was permitted through after Amit had examined a "loksch" which seemed to officially confirm that he had indeed been to renew his permit, that it was being processed, and that the office had been closed. The rest of them, after N. had given Amit numerous reasons why he should at least "think about" letting them through, did go through after well over an hour, but, true to his word, Amit took two hours to let the white jacket through! Meanwhile a 28-year-old father of five from Nablus was refused permission to pass, after having been to Ramallah in a vain attempt to see a psychiatrist whose clinic (unbeknown to him) was closed for the day. He had no papers other than the doctor's business card and a scrap of paper on which his own ID number was scribbled. The IDF Moked [Humanitarian Alert Center] was of no help here (nor were the Physicians for Human Rights).All that remained -- as in every other case dealt with by this MachsomWatch team on Tuesday -- was for us to use steady relentless "psychological pressure.” Gradually it emerged, in conversation between the man and Aya, that his oldest son had been shot to death by the IDF a year ago (since which time the man has been having psychological problems), his wife had died of brain cancer three months previously, and he now lives with his mother who looks after the remaining children, all under the age of nine. This case, too, took an unconscionable amount of time, but the man did eventually go through. A very worked-up and angry man, an accountant from A-Ram, flourished a permit which would have been valid had the "rules" not changed to invalidate all those issued prior to 7 October. He claimed to have had his documents accepted at the checkpoint over the past four days during which he had traveled to Ramallah to sit examinations. Backwards and forwards went the argument between him and Yuval, with Roni pointing out the total incongruity of Yuval's comparing his situation with that of the Palestinian "who was just too careless to bother to renew his permit!” And again, quite suddenly, the permit was taken away, crossed through, scribbled on by Yuval that it was acceptable just for this one day. And the accountant was on his way home. Suddenly there is a woman asking for attention. Her Palestinian Authority ID lists her age as 43. She wants to get to Jericho for the funeral of an uncle. However, the "rules" say she must be 50 to pass unhindered. More argument, more "psychological pressure” ("Think of your own mother! How would she like to plead like this?") Fifteen minutes of anguish; the woman goes through. A well-dressed man is refused permission to travel south to join his wife on a visit to her relatives. Yuval offers a "solution": let the wife come to the checkpoint and confirm that she is indeed the man's wife, and that her family do indeed live where he says they do. The wife is eventually tracked down by phone somewhere in Jerusalem and makes the journey to the southern checkpoint; the process takes about three-quarters of a very cold hour. An impromptu "investigation" takes place, with Yuval quizzing the woman over details he has already gathered from the man. The details of their stories match; they are indeed husband and wife. The couple is reunited. Meanwhile, another oddly sinister story unfolded. The previous day, a Palestinian was caught driving a vehicle with yellow (Israeli) license plates. In addition to the usual fine and confiscation for 30 days, the soldier involved had had the car driven out to the patrol road. There it had served for the past 24 hours as a rock-throwing target for the local youngsters, who after barraging it with stones, were gradually vandalizing it in other ways.As the Palestinians and soldiers argued about what was to happen to the car, the Palestinians caught sight of the soldier who had apprehended them the day before: it was he, they claimed, who endlessly caused them trouble. For the soldier’s part, he now learned that the owner was a man named O. This information suddenly altered everything, and soldier gave a solemn promise that he personally would immediately relocate the car (or what was left of it) to "safety".On our way home: some 100 meters or so before the Neve Ya'akov junction, a group of Border Police had stopped three young men. Their IDs were returned very quickly after we arrived. But then the patrol began stopping cars seemingly at random, having them pull over to the shoulder of the road and checking their passengers. In the ten minutes that we waited there –- to the obvious annoyance of the BPs –- three or four vehicles and their passengers were held up and checked. Two young men were forced to stand at the roadside and remove their jackets and raise their shirts and trouser legs, to prove that they were unarmed -- a humiliation for them, and for us, the watchers, too. (NB: Please note that Netta has replaced Na'ama as Roni Numa's assistant. Netta reports that Na'ama has now left the IDF.)