Afternoon

Dec-4-2003
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Qalandiya and A-Ram Checkpoints, FRI PM, 15:00-19:00, 4 Dec 2003. Watchers: T.B., L.N.Thursday was very cold and rainy. The ground around the checkpoints is muddy, and people waited in the cold. The soldiers kept saying in squeaky voices, mimicking the Palestinians, “Explain it to him!” and “Explain it to him, the dog ate my permit…!” “The paper got lost!” “It’s raining!” and so on. This was the painful background for the incidents that developed while we were there.At A-Ram there was little traffic. A woman and two men were being detained. When we went to speak to them, the Border Police sergeant, Shlomi Ben-Haroush, yelled at us that we are not allowed to speak to them or go near them. There were a lot of soldiers and Border Police. The atmosphere was tense. We were sent aside, and an IDF officer, Lt. Col. Shviki, came to speak to us. He hinted that these people were not being detained for no reason, “If you know what I mean.” The three detaineesinfo-icon were put into a command car with blacked-out windows until it was decided what to do with them –“To prevent trouble here.”Two additional men were detained, one in the uniform of the Dept. of Public Works of Jerusalem municipality. Some more soldiers arrived and there was a lot of whispered talk about “catching a big fish,” with apparent satisfaction. The two men were released after 10 minutes, and after 30 minutes the command car went off to Camp Ofer with the three detainees. Ben-Haroush told us it was a woman terrorist on her way from Hebron to Jerusalem to blow herself up, with two accomplices. They were being taken to the Secret Service for interrogation.At the Qalandiya checkpoint the traffic flowed freely at the southern end, despite the puddles. There was a big stone in a puddle to help people walk across. At the northern end, traffic was light. We found Ophir and Boris there. (We know Boris from previous watch shifts – he is unpleasant.) The pedestrian passage has been changed so as to separate people going north and south, giving the soldiers better control. There were several people who were refused passage; some were later allowed through. A family group, men and women, returning from a wedding, were refused passage except for two who had permits. After thirty minutes, Border Police officer Farres arrived, “interrogated” them, and let them through.A boy aged 14.5 with no ID was held up for half an hour. Eventually the soldiers were convinced that he is retarded, and they let him through.A man with medical identification in English was eventually allowed through, but warned that he would not be in future.For two hours, a smiling boy of 17 hung around the checkpoint. He told the soldiers that he was 14 but didn’t expect them to believe him. The soldiers know him and say he “always makes trouble.” At one point, the boy jokingly held out his arms to a soldier, who took out his handcuffs and handcuffed him – everyone seemed to be enjoying this. The boy waited for a moment when no one was looking and continued on to the southern checkpoint.Two men with Jordanian passports told us their passports had been taken from them. One said he waited for an hour and a half until it occurred to him to go to the northern side and ask for it. No one knew where the passports were – until at 18:30 we heard a soldier saying, “Who’s looking for a Jordanian passport? There’s one in the jeep.” The soldier in the jeep knew nothing about it; probably if we hadn’t happened to hear about it, the man would have waited much longer. At about 17:00, a van with 12 passengers was caught trying to pass through the security lane at the southern checkpoint on its way to Hebron. The driver said he didn’t realize it was a security lane. All the passengers were detained at 16:15 and their IDs taken. Eventually they walked over to the army camp to look for their IDs, and from there they were taken to the Qalandiya North checkpoint. The group of 13 – include a 70-year-old man who has had cardiac bypass surgery, and an elderly woman –stood and waited. The driver explained that only he was guilty, and the soldiers agreed that the passengers shouldn’t have to suffer for his mistake, but that no one knew where the IDs were. Farres said that when the jeep that took the IDs came back from its rounds – “soon” – they would get their IDs back. Then he disappeared, not to return as long as we were there.It was already dark. Only the van’s passengers and a few more people who were refused passage were standing around, waiting for some officer to arrive and perhaps decide to solve their problems. There was a man with merchandise who said that a soldier had allowed him to leave his ID and go to Ramallah for half an hour, but when he came back the soldier was gone, the other soldiers said they had given it back to him and not let him through – and still no ID. There were also three men from Nablus who were unfamiliar with the rules at the checkpoint. They had to split up after one was refused passage and sent to Surda. (Note: Farres said that the Surda checkpoint is open to vehicle traffic; we should check that out.)An old man and his son of 40, dressed in holiday clothes, waited for an hour and a half. Then the father was allowed through, the son wasn’t. We could not convince the soldiers. Then Ihab, a Border Police officer, arrived; he also refused, and father and son went to Surda. Ihab looked into the other cases but didn’t change the soldiers’ decisions. We thought he was unable to handle the complicated situation.We pressured Ihab to find out where the IDs of the van’s passengers were. He didn’t object to our pressure, but was slow and ineffective. At the DCO they said they would check and that we should phone again in 30 minutes. By now, the passengers had been waiting in the cold for 2 hours.It turned out that the passengers had noted the number of the jeep that took their IDs, but the soldiers said that the walkie-talkies were inoperable because of the rain. Only Ihab was able to contact the jeep, but here again he was slow and ineffective.Finally at 18:30, the jeep arrived with the IDs. Then the Border Police decided they had to check the IDs, which took another 30 minutes in the dark. We convinced Ihab to take care of the old man and woman first, and they were released.When Ihab handed out the first IDs he told the passengers to applaud, and 2 of them did. We told him angrily to stop it, but he continued handing them out, saying “Congratulations” to each. The driver’s ID was kept for last and the passengers waited to see it he would be released, but eventually they gave up and left. Ihab said he had to check with the Border Police whether to give the driver a ticket; the BP told us it was Ihab who had to decide.Finally he was released with a short sermon, “I hope you learned your lesson,” to which the driver replied humbly that he had. We left the checkpoint with the driver, who promised us too that he would never do that again. .