Birth at Huwwara Checkpoint
On the night of September 5th-6th a woman gave birth to a dead newborn at the Huwwara Checkpoint (southern gateway of the city of Nablus). She arrived at the spot at midnight on her way to the hospital inside Nablus, and was detained by a soldier. The birth took place at the checkpoint about an hour later. We (MW) publicized this incident in various media channels, and only after we did, was it brought to the attention of the army authorities.
And we ask:
- How could a woman shrieking with pain while in labor be kept waiting for a whole hour until allowed passage?
- How could the soldier at the checkpoint not possibly have the authority to allow a woman in labor to proceed immediately to the hospital?
- How could there possibly not be a commander on duty to whom the soldier is to refer to for immediate instructions?
- Is there a set of instructions for humanitarian emergencies on hand?
- Is the chain of command on the ground so faulty, or are the soldiers totally disconnected from their commanders?
- Are we possibly the only conduit for reporting from the ground?
And why in the world should free movement be thwarted between the village of Qusra and the Nablus hospital???
ONLY INSIDERS COULD GRASP THIS
The road has been leveled and a guard-shack stands in its midst. On the hill to the east, that army combination has been erected - a watch-shoot tower, bulldozers, and omnipresent dust. Upon our arrival all vehicles were at a standstill. Within minutes, things started moving. Some were rapidly inspected, others took off, glad to have the checkpoint behind them. From the hill side a soldier approaches us, armed and arrogant, and tells us to stand "here" (precisely where we were standing anyway) and not to enter the "checkpoint" area, which at the moment is simply an open road. We asked what all that massive construction was about, and he answered that checking will be easier that way, as well as control. The soldier's words: "Homa umigdal" (towers and fences, referring to the early Zionist settlement period in Palestine at the beginning of the twentieth century and on).
(Wadi Nar, 24.8)
The checkpoint is already gone, only a ragged sunshade and a small shack remain. Three or four soldiers hang about the shack and direct traffic in both directions. Workers arriving from their workplace in Maale Adumim or Keidar are not allowed to cross walking (as they have been so far), and they must board a taxi, pay fare and thus cross the checkpoint - a distance of about 200 yards - from where they board another taxi to reach their destinations.
(Wadi Nar, 24.8)
The soldiers looked very tense, as we arrived: the waiting lines were perfectly straight, and the soldiers were constantly drilling people to move back and further back and further back, which made us wonder what had taken place here before we came. This went on throughout our shift.
Six cars waiting to be let into Nablus. Near the inspection shack, the DCO representative explains to one of the drivers that he cannot get in without a special permit. The soldiers sounded as though all they wished was to 're-educate' Palestinians throughout our shift. "Order him back, he bypassed all the others!" the sergeant instructs another soldier. The car in question was a brand, new shining Mercedes, and the soldier shied a bit at his task. But the sergeant had no qualms. He ordered the driver to turn around. We wondered, would he eventually punish him by making him stand facing the wall or perhaps writing 100 times on the blackboard, "I shall never again bypass anyone in the waiting line"?
In various meetings we have held with different echelons about conduct in the checkpoints, we've heard a lot about instruction of what to do and what not to do, about rules and regulations handed down to soldiers about how they conduct themselves in the checkpoints. But there is a huge gap between what we hear at those meetings and what we actually find on the ground. We have heard from commanders that punishment of Palestinians at the checkpoints is not allowed. What do we see in every single shift? Soldiers who are at liberty to punish - 3 hours' detention, turning people back to the end of the line, confiscating IDs - and all for what reason? "Because he was cheeky!" "Because he has to learn his lesson!" and such. What is going on here? What is the message being passed on to the soldiers? Or, alternately, is the point that any soldier "is his own king"?
We were approached by two taxi drivers summoned to a military traffic-court at Ofer army camp. They arrived on the due date, waited, at the end of the day they were told that there was 'no file'. This means that the prosecution has not yet sent the court any charges.
A taxi driver from Beit Ummar has been waiting for a traffic-trial date since 2005. His license has been revoked and his livelihood is on hold. He is prevented from driving, his sole source of income (since 2005!)
Having monitored military courts for two years now, we learn that the rights of defendants are not upheld, they are denied proper meeting with lawyers, translation during the proceedings is lacking, and only seldom are witnesses are examined and evidence produced. Observation has also taught us that as long as the occupier is the one who sets and enforces the rules over the occupied population, and at the same time is also the judge and the punishing authority - such a judiciary system has not even the trappings of justice.
In the spirit of these days, after the pogrom at Assira al Kibliya, it is interesting to note the reply of the Hebron Brigade Commander to our MW friends who met him by coincidence near the 'Pharmacy' Checkpoint in Hebron and asked him about colonist-settler violence: "The soldiers were instructed to respond immediately to any rioting by settlers and not wait for the police. Soldiers very often do not act upon these orders because there is an unavoidable intimacy between the colonists and the soldiers. A lone soldier, or a pair, have difficulty responding."