Bethlehem

Jun-1-2003
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The ruling nation woke up today to the
news that: "thegeneral closureinfo-icon on 'Judea and Samaria' has been
lifted". The grand trust-building manoeuvre supposedly took
place over-night, while the nation was asleep. If this wasn't such
an outrageous lie, I would have suggested that we replace April
Fool's day with June Fool's day. What should worry us all is the
willingness of the Israeli public and media to swallow the
declaration for fact, regardless of what takes place on the ground,
and first and foremost the fact that no redeployment of the
occupying forces whatsoever is accompanying the supposed
"lifting", that is, not one checkpoint is removed, not
one roadblock dismantled, not one unit pulled out from the midst of
the Palestinian territory.

At any rate, our team's Sunday morningsare concerned with the
realities of siege rather than with the rhetoric of closure, and
since no one has notified us of its prospective termination, we
arrived at Etzion checkpoint - the one erected to undermine
Palestinian movement between to adjacent Palestinian districts -at
7.30, to find all things in order: checkpoint, soldiers,
Palestinians denied entrance to Bethlehem, bitter bus drivers, etc.
One novel change was the presence of a German TV crew (Palestinian
camerainfo-icon man and interpreter), who came to do a feature story about
the promised "lifting", and who received IDF permission
to that end. As long as they remained there treatment of
Palestinians by soldiers was generally good and
relaxed.

In terms of regulations, gestures at Etzion were confined to the
reduction of the age above which Palestinians from the Hebron
district can cross to Bethlehem from 45 to 35. That is, passage of
all men below 35 years of age is conditioned upon permits to work
in Israeli settlements. As one young man remarked: It's time that
we all send our fathers and grandfathers to work for us and our
children. Despite the fact that many of the young men were not
allowed to re-board the buses and sent back home, the atmosphere
was less tense than usual, mainly because some of the soldiers in
charge ( relatively recent arrivals at Etzion) were willing to
reconsider "pleas from the crowd". This measure enabled
the more stubborn and experienced among the refused to negotiate
their entrance. The success of the latter motivated the less
eloquent and persuasive to stick to the ground and try their chance
at a later round. At least it was worth to give a fight at Etzion
today.

However, when we arrived at al-Khadr roadblocks at app. 9 AM, we
were surprised to re-encounter many of the men who departed from
Etzion an hour or an hour and a half earlier. Apparently, the
border policemen who staffed the junction - three jeeps, policemen
and officers – were commissioned to counterbalance the effect of
the grand gestures at Etzion. Where are the alleviation? Six of our
by- now- detained acquaintances cried out when they saw us. Their
IDs were confiscated as soon as they set their feet at the
junction, and worse, they were placed under the mercies of a bully
officer who kept lining them up. One of the detaineesinfo-icon now pulled a
package full of medicines out of his bag; he was on his way to see
a doctor and can no longer stand the combination of the harassment
and the sun: My heart is turning more and more black, he said in
Hebrew. The officer contacted blue police in order to get rid of
us, but we were faster: calling Nissim, the border-police officer
from the Bethlehem unit, proved to be the right step. More
reinforcement was sent to the junction, including an officer named
Ayman. Ayman's appearance did miracles: in no time the detainees
were released, and the bully officer was now petting the heads of
al-Khadr junction children - the eight to ten year old tea and
coffee vendors who commute between the improvised cab station and
the western roadblock, unable to sell more than a cup in every 20
minute or so. Approaching us with a broad smile Ayman said: don't
even dare think that my arrival here had anything to do with the
men's release; what you have just seen is the regular, legal
procedure.