Below is the February 2004 summary of MachsomWatch observations at checkpoints in the Nablus area, in Abu Dis, Qalandiya, Bethlehem, Tulkarm and Tarqumiya. Detailed reports can be found on MachsomWatch’s website: www.machsomwatch.org and links are provided in the summary to those reports.
First we whould like to note the following two cases: On February 19 (PM) our observers witnessed the beating of a Palestinian physician at Beit Iba. The complaint of MachsomWatch and Physicians for Human Rights led to a prison sentence for 35 and 21 days for the soldier and his commander, respectively. On February 23 PM at the checkpoint near the settlement Shavei Shomron (west of Nablus) our volunteers witnessed active participation of two civilian settlers in the inspection of Palestinians who passed through this checkpoint; this observation exemplifies the impact of settlers on the checkpoint policy.
Id-el-Adha (The Sacrifice Holiday – a major Muslim holiday)
At the beginning of this month, the Muslim world celebrated Id–el-Adha for four days. Palestinians expected some easing of restrictions on the checkpoint passage, to enable the traditional family visits. MachsomWatch did not observe any such good-will gestures by the authorities during the holidays. On the eve of the holiday, when many people tried to pass the checkpoints for shopping, bank arrangements, etc., passage was even more difficult than usual (see Nablus area, January 31 AM ). During the holidays, people were frequently detained for long hours and family visits were heavily restricted (see Abu Dis February 1 AM , NablusFebruary 1 AM, Qalandiya February 1 AM, Nablus February 2 PM, Qalqiliya February 3 AM, Qalandiya February 3 PM). During this period Bethlehem (with 30,000 inhabitants) was placed under closure, as a collective punishment for a suicide bombing (see Bethlehem February 3 AM ). Nablus (132,000 people) was also closed for some “good” reason during the first day of the holiday (see Nablus February 1 AM ).
Passage at Qalandiya checkpoint:
The reality versus the statement of the commander of the West Bank
MachsomWatch representatives met the commander of the West Bank division, Gad Eizenkot, on February 16, 2004. The commander claimed that passage at Qalandiya checkpoint is free and that the Palestinian population is subjected to random checking only. In reality the situation is absolutely different. Innumerable restrictions are imposed, which prevent many people from passage. People living in A-Ram who need to go for services or work to Ramallah (or vice versa) are forced to take a long roundabout way through the Surda passage, and to waste one and a half hours and NIS 25. On February 5 PM, small children were allowed to pass only with original birth certificates, while photocopies were confiscated.
On February 9 PM only people with either Israeli IDs or with permits were allowed to pass.
On February 17 PM, concessions for Ramallah area citizens were recorded: men above 40 and women above 35 were allowed to pass freely, as compared to people from other areas of the West Bank, who are subject to 50 and 45 year upper age limits, respectively. On February 21 AM, (the Higra New Year holiday), a 16-year old girl and a 27-year old mother of a small boy were prevented from family visits to A-Ram, again in complete discrepancy with Commander Eizencot’s statement. The denial of passage to a mother with a 12-day old baby (February 2 PM), to a pregnant woman released from Ramallah hospital for two days (February 12 PM) and to a 50-year old epileptic man ( February 17 early- PM ) are also in clear disagreement with Commander Eizenkot’s perception of who is allowed to pass the Qalandiya checkpoint.
Soldiers at Qalandiya checkpoint feel highly knowledgeable in many areas, and feel competent to test professionals, in order to check whether their documents are original or forged. A physical education teacher is asked to identify a muscle of an arm, a physiotherapist is questioned on Latin names of bones; physicians undergo extensive professional questioning as well (see February 12 PM, February 21 AM and February 23 PM). It is worth adding that on February 24 PM and February 28 AM the population was surprised by a relatively free passage. The locals were not notified about these changes. Some people unnecessarily bypassed the checkpoint and were punished for it by prolonged detention.
Detention of people all over the West Bank
One method to make the movement of the Palestinians as difficult as possible, is to detain people for hours. A person’s ID is taken by soldiers and that person cannot leave the checkpoint area until the ID is returned. People are detained as a punishment for bypassing checkpoints, or for Shabak ID check, if a soldier decides that a person looks suspicious. That is, the ID number is submitted to the General Security Services (GSS=Shabak), and the ID holder has to wait for a security clearance. Even people who have proper permits are detained for Shabak checks which can last for hours (see Bethlehem February 8 AM and NablusFebruary 14 AM )
At Beit Iba we encountered men in the 16-35 year age range, who were detained simply for trying to pass (and not to bypass) the checkpoint. “They should have known beforehand that they would not be allowed to pass” - the detention was a punishment for bothering the soldiers (see Nablus February 21 AM). MachsomWatch observers have witnessed detained people waiting for hours all over the West Bank (see: Abu Dis February 1 AM, Bethlehem February 10 AM, Tulkarm February 4 AM, 11 AM and 21 AM). Twenty people waited for 6-8 hours at the Beit Iba checkpoint (Nablus February 11 PM) and five men were detained for 5-6 hours at the Jubara checkpoint (Tulkarm February 22 PM ). Palestinian policemen or students, who dare to pass on the “wrong” days, and also teachers, waste their time being detained at Beit Furik, Huwwara and Beit Iba (see Nablus February 9 PM and 12 AM). On February 18 PM (Nablus area), 30 detained people, including small children, were kept from 7 a.m till 6 p.m at the Sarra checkpoint, as a punishment for bypassing. The village Sara is completely sealed and only people with permits, which are extremely difficult to get, are allowed through the checkpoint.
Soldiers’ initiatives of harassment
It has been noted for a long time that the way in which the situation is handled at the checkpoints depends crucially on the attitude of soldiers, or their commander, to the human rights of the Palestinian population. Palestinians describe it succinctly: “Every soldier is a king”. This “freedom of expression” towards Palestinians assumes various different forms of harassment. Here are two examples. On February 7 AM at the El Khadr roadblock (see Bethlehem area) border police soldiers chased out vendors selling coffee and food. When asked for an explanation of this behavior, a soldier told MachsomWatchers: “Palestinians do not deserve human rights, they are worse than animals, they are beasts“. On February 19 PM (see Abu Dis area) four border policemen decided to prevent movement of cars and pedestrians on the main road at Sawahre, and created disorder and tension there for three hours.
The legal passage to Israel: workers with permits and families of prisoners
Our volunteers observed the passage of Palestinian workers holding permits to work in Israel, at both Tarqumiya and Tulkarm checkpoints. The passage at Tarqumiya was smooth (see: South Hebron February 10 AM, 23 and 29). Passage through Tulkarm checkpoint was much more difficult. Workers hold permits to enter Israel from 5 am until 5 pm, however soldiers start checking only at 7 am and many workers are able to enter only after 8AM or even later, losing precious working hours (see Tulkarm February 16 AM, 18 AM, 23 AM and 24 AM).
At Tarqumiya, on February 17 AM, MachsomWatchers observed passage of six buses with families on their way to visit relatives jailed in different prisons in Israel. It took two hours to unpack and repack all the families’ parcels. The passage for families with small babies was particularly tiresome. No facilities such as restrooms, not even stands to unpack parcels, exist at this or any other checkpoint.