'Anabta, Ar-Ras, Jit, Jubara (Kafriat), Qalqiliya, Sun 30.3.08, Afternoon
Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem on the first of a three-day visit to the region, Condoleeza Rice today said: "We will be verifying what it is they (Israel) are doing and this is all aimed at trying to improve the movement and access of the Palestinian people in the West Bank." According to the consensus on the West Bank on today’s shift, the soldiers and the Palestinians for once agreed: they’ve heard these words before, most recently during Rice’s last visit to the area, so, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’
Border Police hold up vehicles in front of us at the checkpoint. The request to have the gate unlocked to go up to Ar-Ras is met with: “The commander is not here, has gone somewhere, nothing to be done until he comes back.” As we wait, Abu Ghatem and his wife approach the gate, the former surprised that the soldiers don’t come immediately: he lets out a loud “catcall.” The soldiers look on from afar, and it’s another five minutes before a soldier arrives with the precious key.
Almost an hour later, on our return, the commander comes over to let us out of the prison that is Jubara, and insists, not only on opening the trunk of the car, but on looking into a cardboard box, which I tell him contains envelopes. Not enough, he has to look: indeed, not just any old envelopes, but MachsomWatch envelopes. “One can never be sure… security,” he mutters, to which we respond that we are Israelis and he has no right to persist in this fashion. At this time, 14:15, the blue police are checking trucks and wave to us (the policeman remembers us, we remember him – from the checkpoint here and from being given a ticket by him at Jit Jct)!
13:35 Gate 753
There’s a new sense of permanence at the gate. Three, instead of two soldiers and a metal shed (a non Porta toilet?) is being readied, while the right hand gate on the Jubara side of the security road has been removed.
A tractor, car and a truck, waiting to enter Jubara, stand in line on the other side of the security road, two men sitting on the side, also waiting, as students return from their studies. Each and every person is checked laboriously against a list, many names are called in. People go on waiting.
13:40 -- a tractor, cumbersome as it’s pulling a hay wagon kind of pickup filled with ten people – looks like a family outing on a picnic that is not to be – is made to turn on the security barrier road and wait. It’s still waiting when we get back from Ar-Ras, and the soldiers insist it can’t enter Jubara. “They are not inhabitants of Jubara, have no permit, we’re calling to see if they can get a ‘special’ permit.” We ask if the people have relatives in the village. The soldier shrugs, doesn’t know, obviously doesn’t care.
No line from Tulkarm. The potholes on the other side of the road make even large trucks, coming from the south, tip and sway. (We should talk to the DCO office about the state of the roadway here).
14:10 -- no traffic in either direction. The soldier in the crow’s-nest lookout hums to himself.
A soldier asks if he can help us, little to do, little traffic, asks for a MachsomWatch card and then takes the opportunity to bend our ears as to how and why he’s protecting Israel at this checkpoint! Cars with yellow Israeli license plates go towards Anabta freely, but while the soldier goes on and on, a line builds up, and they wait until the soldier deigns to remember to beckon them forward. Little checking in the other direction.
14:45 -- a waiting car is told by the commander to move away from the checkpoint. We note that the taxis are not parked at the usual spot, but at the junction itself.
Jit Junction: no checkpoint
Shvut Ami Outpost: at least two settlers seen by the house. It’s certainly not empty, certainly still on the map.
Five vehicles from the city in line, and two or three into Qalqiliya, hardly any checking, occasionally a cursory questioning of passengers, “Where are you from?”
17:25 Gate 1393 Habla North
About 15 men, one donkey cart, four bicycles wait to cross the separation barrier road to go home. Four soldiers, including a second lieutenant who stands by the gate with another soldier, while in the tower above, two soldiers, one a woman. The commander, in laborious fashion, reads out to her, not only the ID number, but also the number on the permit of each and every would-be crossing Palestinian. The woman soldier calls in both numbers on her phone, so that each person takes from three to five minutes. The process is needlessly slow. Either people have permits to cross at this gate or they don’t. They’ve crossed to work in their own fields in the morning; they now need to get home. There’s half an hour left to process everybody before the gate closes, and more and more people keep arriving. The pace, however, does not pick up. The commander continually calls out to people to not stand there, to not lean on the gate, an uncalled for imposition of authority where none needed.
The smell of orange blossom is heady, the birds chirp, and all should be well in this bucolic but sad setting where people wait and wait. Most Palestinians here are fluent Hebrew speakers, and they complain that both this morning and now it’s unnecessarily slow.
Since these are regulars, we recognize each other. One man, who was seen on Wednesday last week, 26.03.08, at about the same time of day, when one of us (not on MW duty) took a friend to one of the nurseries, when we witnessed the beating of a boy by soldiers. Or, rather, we saw two soldiers drag a youth by the scruff of his neck, take him behind the yellow containers (garbage containers?) by the buildings on the other side of the gate and heard the boy screaming and saw the rifle butts lifted above the soldiers’ heads. (Reported to Tami and Hanna). Some of the Palestinians waiting to cross at the gate were shocked, others said, "he's no good anyway." "Do you know him?" I asked. "No, but..." was the response. Later, both Omar, at the nursery, and another of the "regulars" we know, said there are a group of gypsy boys who "cause trouble." It was clear the locals don't want involvement in witnessing the wickedness of this Occupation. Today, one of the elderly men present told us that, the same day, the shelter, the same as the one we see close to this gate, on the other side of Gate 1393 was torn apart, destroyed “by people without work.” Or, could there be another interpretation that the Palestinians are too fearful to give?
Meanwhile, the soldiers continue, oh, so slowly; the line of waiting bicycles grows, people putting themselves in some kind of orderly line, since, today, it does count where and how long one waits. At the same time, a pick up truck, bearing Israeli plates, goes on ahead, everyone clearing a path for him: no checking. A truckload of lemon and other leafy young saplings crosses from Habla and ten minutes later returns, minus its load, and is also allowed to pass quickly. A cartful of leafy food for animals is pounced on by a herd of sheep and goats that nibble happily as the owner looks on askance, and the commander seems distinctly uncomfortable in the midst of this scurrying pack of animals rushing homewards.
17:57 -- all the humans and animals seem to have passed across the gate, save for two young boys who’ve been there since we arrived. One is in charge of a donkey cart with a sleepy dog in its midst, the other sports a bicycle. It’s clear the commander has bypassed them on purpose for the past almost half hour. “Where is your permit?” the soldier asks --no, demands! The boys try to explain, one has a halting command of Hebrew. They live across the way in Habla: the commander insists they can’t return home as they don’t have permits, another soldier tells them to cross at another gate “up the way,” and the commander continues to insist, while more or less interrogating them in a most officious manner, that he knows when they crossed, refusing to believe them, refusing to let them go home (away from Israel). We point out the illogic of this, and he insists, over and over, “it’s the law, it’s the law.” When we ask whether he doesn’t have a heart to make an exception, he again insists, “It’s the law.”
18:15-18:20 -- the gate is still open, since there are a few late stragglers, some with a lot of tools (painters), and they’re helped by one of the two waiting boys. The process of gate closure has started with many of the Palestinians saying something to the soldiers about the boys, to no avail. We call the Humanitarian Center, the boys give their IDs, one of them also has his mother’s, and just as the soldiers come to padlock the gate, the commander receives a phone call, stretches his hand out for the boys’ IDs, and yet another disgraceful scene of man’s inhumanity to man is concluded.