Bethlehem

Nov-2-2003
|

H. O., A. G.

We passed the entry to El Khader, opposite Hussan: it was
completely

empty. For four weeks there have been military sentries on both
sides

and these groups of soldiers have made passage for West Bankers

impossible, so no one is passing through here.

We progressed to the roadblock south, on the road marking the
second

entry to El Khader (N. Efrat). There were two empty buses and some

taxis from Etzion. They had been allowed to take passengers from El

Khader to Halhul but were not allowed to do the reverse: i.e. ten

buses had been issued with permits for the Halhul/El Khader route
but

were told they must travel empty from Halhul to El Khader. Since
the

750,000 West Bank Palestinians living in this entire area,
including

Hebron, mostly seek work in the Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho
areas,

this was the height of cruelty: these (only) ten buses were

authorized to carry workers or people going to Jerusalem to pray

during Ramadan (no doubt the issue of those permits was clarioned
as

a major Israeli concession) but they were stopped from doing so by

DCO/IDF on most of the direction of the route that all passengers

needed to travel - north. Since the opposite direction is an empty

return trip, the drivers were considerably embittered about the
waste

of diesel and the loss of income. They had been allowed to take

passengers as far as Etzion, when they were told all passengers
must

get out of the buses and the buses travel empty to El Khader. Many

people had returned to Halhul without transport.

At Halhul we saw four drivers whose keys had been taken by the IDF

that morning. They told us of one man who had been taken away 15

minutes before we arrived, handcuffed and blindfolded, in an IDF
jeep

to their nearby army base. We were shown the jeep on a nearby

hillside; that jeep (703817) arrived where we were, 15 minutes
later,

without the driver, Ibrahim. The (religious - ?settler) officer

refused to share his name with us. He said he had decided to punish

the driver because he had found him many times on the road (trying
to

work) and he had not yet learned that he was not allowed to drive
on

that (apartheid, "by-pass") road. The officer said that
Ibrahim would

be released in one hour. Unfortunately, we were not able to test

the "integrity" of this promise.

Yussuf expressed his anxiety and anger to us: he is a severely

handicapped driver (he cannot walk easily, his legs are both
encased

in prosthetic supports), whose car-keys had been confiscated by the

IDF. He lives on a main road, therefore has no access in his taxi
to

the village back-roads, which effectively means that he is not able

to work. For this cruel twist of fate, he is unfairly challenged by

the Israeli authorities, who see his act of desperation (all the

other drivers take enormous pity on him, calling him a real
"misken")

as an inability to "get the message". He has a large
family to

support, all of whom live in one room.

At Roadblock Tzeir, there is a new development. On both sides of
the

main road the earth mounds have been moved and two metal barrier

gatesinfo-icon have been installed with USAID (United States Development
Aid)

notices on them: there are now four Palestinian workers dressed in

fluorescent jackets and construction helmets manning those barrier

gates. Video cameras and a hilltop watchtower monitor their work.

They are only allowed to let through permit-holding drivers with

trucks of building materials for Israeli construction of nearby

roads: settler by-pass control mechanisms, roads whose intention is

to isolate more Palestinian communities, eat up more Palestinian

land, such as at nearby Za'atara by-pass, (serving Nokdim and Tekoa
-

two settlements due for evacuation under the Road Map!) and link
into

Highway 6, which Sharon has built as the new backbone for the

country, to bring the settler community into the mainstream and

Judaize the Galilee and Negev (with the added benefit of avoiding
the

Lebanon War's traffic gridlocks - remember the Coastal Highway
bumper

to bonnet with trailers and tanks in 1982, said at the time to be

Sharon's greatest problem in that war?).

At Beit Anun, the soldiers have quit the village and there is no

longer a permanent watchtower there, although there are passing
jeeps.

We were at this point telephoned by Titi, a driver known to

Machsomwatch. His bus on the Allenby/Halhul route had fallen foul
of

the Border Police at Wadi Nar. He had not been allowed through

yesterday, despite his permit, so his waiting passengers (returning

from the Haj in Mecca, via Jordan) had had to sleep the night
before

at the Allenby Bridge. He was now trying to go through again and we

both phoned as many high ranking officers and low ranking
assistants

as we had phone numbers. We also liaised with Ilana D., once she
was

on "duty" at Wadi Nar.

The delays caused by the merry-go-round of phoning (don't you love
it

when they don't answer a second or third call? One tends to take it

personally; I suppose they are terribly busy!) meant we could not
try

to visit the besieged school, although the ten soldiers in that
area

were something of an oppressive, pessimistic presence. We will try
to

visit them next week.