"Fabric of life" - "It's all flowing"
The Israeli authorities use these two expressions when describing the "enlightened occupation" which of course is not enlightened, lacks any semblance of fabric of life, and certainly is not all flowing.
Today began with something ostensibly affirmative. Prisoners' families on their way to visit detainees at Ofer Prison, which is near the checkpoint, were checked and allowed to continue quickly, without hitches. The crossing-point officer got people flowing through the DCO's checks at the same time as the families went through. People generally have to wait for hours, until the last bus for families has arrived and its passengers have been checked. Today everything flowed quietly, and even some smiles were visible.
Two security guards and a blue-uniformed policeman were standing in front of the checking tracks. One of the guards was holding a rifle with the barrel pointing back towards the crowd. "Please, hold your weapon at a different angle, there are civilians and children who are scared, there's no need point your weapon at them". Next I tried to appeal to his conscience... "Even if you're sure the weapon is locked, a bullet can be expelled... accidents happen". Then we tried logic: "Right now your gun is pointed straight at the stomach of the policeman behind you". "Don't interfere, it's nothing to do with you, I know my weapon and I'll hold it as I please" - answered the guard angrily. To prove who was the boss, he went on walking back and forth, with the gun's barrel pointed at everyone he passed.
We entered the shaded waiting area of the DCO. The soldier at the entrance was getting people to pass through efficiently, and didn't shout. Everyone knows the rules by now. We heard that people who had arrived first, an hour and a half ago, were still waiting. Nothing was moving. "The magnetic-card computer is down", the commander told us, "We're trying to fix it by phone, they'll come and repair it." An hour later we were informed that the technician was 'on the way'. People in the line had arrived at the checkpoint gate at 05:00, to register for the queue and lose as little work-time as possible. Now everyone's standing and waiting for the technician who's on the way.
Then a young man arrived, with a small backpack, and carrying his two-year-old daughter with one arm, and with the other holding his mobile phone on which he spoke on constantly. He seemed extremely stressed. His wife had been hospitalised the previous day in al Mukassed hospital in East Jerusalem, she was weak from loss of blood and about to give birth to their baby in a caesarean section scheduled for two hours time. He had a magnetic card and a valid permit, and had worked for years in the same workplace, in the town of Modi'in. But because of all the stress and confusion the previous day, he said, he had forgotten his permit in his wife's handbag, together with the medical papers. He had to get to the hospital urgently, to donate blood and to be at his wife's side.
The DCO commander hurried to check the computer, but got a negative answer - the computer showed that the man had no valid entry permit to Israel! He insisted that his permit is valid until 22 November. "You don't have a permit", said the commander, "the computer says you don't". The man's cousin attests that they both have permits and have worked in the same place for years. But the commander maintains that only one entity can decide who has or hasn't got a permit - the computer. "You haven't got a permit" the commander repeated placidly, patiently, as if talking to a small child who's finding it hard to understand. We located one of our friends, who contacted her sources, then got back to us with the same answer - "The man has no permit to enter Israel, the IDF computer said so, and whatever it says is accurate". But we were confident that the man wasn't lying; sometimes one can tell things like that, even without consulting the IDF computer.
The two-year-old girl had a cold, and earache too. She was cared-for, sweet, and lively as can be. Her clothes weren't the most suitable, her hair wasn't very well combed, her nose was running, and she was constantly on the move like all two-year-olds. She didn't cry or whine, just ran around in all directions. She tried to squeeze through the turnstiles, climbed on the benches, jumped on a packet of snacks that her father took out of his backpack to get a moment's peace, wiped the benches and floor with her white sweater, and disappeared into the toilets... With commendable patience, her father ran after her, took her by the hand, hoisted her onto his shoulders, wiped her nose, dispensed food and drink - all the while opening and closing his backpack, and talking with the commanders trying to organize things by phone.
His employer wanted to fax his permit to the DCO, but its fax number is unlisted. The fax would have to be sent to the Beit-El DCO, in the hope that someone would fax it on to here. Meanwhile, his wife was trying to fax the permit from the hospital - just two hours before a caesarean-section, and suffering from serious blood loss, she nevertheless ran to the hospital office, because the Qalandiya-checkpoint- commander said that the hospital can also send permits "Tell your wife she should arrange it with the doctors, no problem, they know our fax number". The man phoned a taxi-driver friend with a blue (Israeli) ID card, asked him to quickly drive to the hospital, take the permit from his wife, and then bring it to the checkpoint.
By now it was 11 a.m. For more than two hours the man had been running around, extricating his toddler daughter from various problems, pleading with the commanders, constantly phoning, and somehow still optimistic. "The taxi's on the way, the permit will be here any minute". Around 12:30 we heard that the taxi plus the permit had reached the checkpoint. With his daughter in his arms, the man ran outside, and we followed him. We came out towards the parking lot and stood behind a wire fence separating the "people checkpoint" and the "vehicles checkpoint". The taxi driver walked towards us, holding the permit. The security guard noticed, stopped him, and didn't let him come towards the fence towards us. And that's how we stood - we on one side of the fence and the driver with the permit on the other side, 10 meters away from us. The security guards called the DCO officer, whose rank supposedly enables him to identify a valid permit. The officer took a look and said "This permit isn't valid" ... We asked them to move closer so we could talk, but they ignored us. Then we went to the other side of the fence through the vehicle track towards the place where the security guard, the officer, and the driver were standing. On our way, we passed a sign warning us that there was no entrance for pedestrians but we kept on walking. Everyone burst out shouting "Get back quickly! Immediately!" ...They were furious - "Do you know you're in a prohibited place, and I'm entitled to shoot you in such a situation?"
At that moment, the crossing-point officer arrived, glanced at the permit and said it was valid, but he would have to find out why the computer had rejected it. He took the permit, returned to the DCO, telling the man he would have to run back to the DCO to get his permit there.
We ran back through the turnstile in the outer waiting area. Dozens of people were waiting. The lights over the turnstiles were blinking red - no entry. The turnstiles are supposed to be locked while the queue of people waits for the woman soldier sitting in the bunker to open them. The woman soldier - as is the custom of the women soldiers who sit there - was chatting on the phone. In despair, we stood in front of the reinforced glass, waved our hands to attract her attention. No, she wouldn't open the gate. By intercom, we told her that the officer was waiting for the man in the DCO - urgently. Two minutes later she turned on the switch for a few seconds and the man went through the turnstile, his daughter in his arms. Then the turnstiles were locked again and we remained outside. (Qalandiya, 5.11)
Kafka in Sansana?
We heard a soldier reprimanding a labourer and threatening that the next time he came to the checkpoint, he wouldn't be allowed through. The labourer explained to us that there's a problem with his fingerprints at the DCO - they have expired! The computer says that he is "biometrically blacklisted" and the DCO cannot understand why he continues to try to cross the checkpoint. The checkpoint commander refuses to phone the DCO to discover why the labourer has a biometric problem. The DCO representative at the checkpoint doesn't help either. And why isn't it possible to renew fingerprints at the DCO if indeed they have "expired"? (Hebron and Hebron Hills, 8.11)
These were a few glimpses of the everyday lives of Palestinians under the occupation.