Hebron, Sansana, South Hebron Hills, Mon 24.3.08, Morning
This report was written by Susan, a guest of MachsomWatch.
Today I rode with Ziva BP and Ye’ela L. of Machsomwatch on their trip to observe the territories (West Bank) and entered a land of apartheid. Machsomwatch is an organization of women who observe border crossing points between Israel and the territories, and checkpoints within the territories and report back to Israelis and anyone else who will listen. My limited experience with segregation in the United States was nothing compared with this. What follows is my observations, explanations I was given by Ziva and Ye’ela, and direct conversations with some Hebron residents.
We crossed the border near Be’er Sheva at Sansana/Meitar. As we approached from Israel at about 07:00 we saw numerous cars and vans on the Israeli side waiting, with a handful of Palestinians. I was told that the drivers were waiting to pick up the Palestinian laborers who were trickling through the crossing. We crossed to the Palestinian side and learned that the crossing point had opened late and that many of the day laborers had left because the processing was so slow that they did not think they would make it through in time to get a day’s work. As soon as we got there and Ye’ela made our presence known, the Palestinians began being processed through the border crossing much more quickly. When we first arrived everyone was simply standing around waiting and it appeared that almost no one was getting through.
After hearing the complaint about the late opening, we returned to the Israeli side of the crossing where Ye’ela and Ziva went inside to speak to the processors while I waited outside. What I observed was a stream of men coming out with their possessions in their hands. In some cases the men were pulling up their trousers and putting belts back on. My assumption is that they had been partially strip searched.
When Ye’ela and Ziva returned, they reported that the first official they spoke to was not only very rude to them, but, when a Palestinian started going in the wrong direction, rather than showing him where to go, the official simply shoved him. Ye’ela said she finally spoke with a senior official who first denied that the facility opened late, then made other excuses for the processing delays.
The Palestinians are not permitted to remain in Israel overnight, so they must go through these inspections everyday in order to work. They are paid daily for the amount of time they work. If they are held up at the crossing, they lose time and therefore income. In order to get through the procedure at a reasonable time, I was informed that they have to be at the border crossing at 0430 or 0500 in order to get through by 0630 to get in a reasonable day’s work. By the time we arrived, most of the laborers should have been processed, instead of just starting.
The Palestinian’s day must start much earlier to get to the border by 0430. We traveled along the main highway to Hebron. This is a lovely road on which Palestinians are not permitted to travel. The roads on which they are permitted to travel are blocked with boulders where they cross the highway so that a Palestinian can drive up to the highway but can’t enter it. We saw such blockages everywhere we traveled along this highway.
Some places Palestinian main crossroads intersected the highway. All of these had checkpoints and Palestinians could not drive across the highway. Rather, they had to leave their cars or taxis on one side, go through the checkpoint and search, walk across the highway, and then get a taxi or other transportation on the other side. And these checkpoints were not at the highway intersection, but were set back about ¼ mile on each side, leaving the Palestinians a walk of at least a half mile with whatever they needed to bring to their destination. It appeared that at the border crossing some Palestinian cars were permitted to park on the Palestinian side. The only other way for the laborers to get there, as far as I know, was to walk or ride animals.
We drove through Qiryat Arba, a Jewish Settlement, to enter Hebron. As we entered Hebron there was an Army post.
Shohada street - The street we were on was deserted for the most part. Businesses were shuttered, many windows were broken and people were clearly no longer living in the homes above the businesses. Graffiti covered the doors and shutters except where it had been painted over. Further along the street was a Palestinian cemetery that was blocked with cement blocks and razor wire so that people could not visit the gravesites. A portion of the area had been taken over by Jewish settlers totally about 200. I was told that the area had been cleared of Palestinians to protect these settlers. Those Palestinians who remained covered their doors, stairways and windows with wire to protect themselves from stoning by these settlers. In order to walk along this street (driving by Palestinians is forbidden) they must pass through a checkpoint. A Palestinian boys school and a girls school still exist in this area so everyday these children and their teachers are subjected to the checkpoint that can include various levels of searches and humiliation.
Tarpat Checkpoint - Outside the checkpoint we had the opportunity to speak with three English speaking Moslem residents of the Palestinian section. One couple related an incident that had occurred the previous evening. They were walking down the street when they were accosted by young Jewish men. Words were exchanged and one of the Jewish men spat on the woman and assaulted. There were both police officers and members of the Army who witnessed the incident and did nothing. When the woman’s husband said he wanted to file a complaint, he said he was told he would have to go to the police station in Qiryat Arba on the following day to file the complaint and name the people involved and only then could the police take action. This required the man and woman to identify their assailants from pictures after the fact, when the attackers were present and could have been apprehended and identified immediately at the scene.
I understand that the Jewish people occupying this section of Hebron claim a right of ownership and occupancy based on the massacre of Jewish families living in this same area by Palestinians in 1929 before the Palestinians took over the neighborhood. As with so much in the struggle between the Palestinians and the Jews over much disputed territory, each side has a justifiable claim. But the law of might makes right only diminishes the mighty – and sooner or later the positions get reversed. Trying to wall off one people from another and treating the two disparately has never worked. The American southerners needed the black slaves and now the Latinos to run their economy. They cannot ask people to come into their country, work their fields, clean their homes, raise their children and care for their elderly and expect them to return each night to substandard living conditions and inhumane treatment. Sooner or later they will rebel. South Africa has similarly learned the destructiveness of Apartheid to its country and Israel will suffer the same fate if the Israelis cannot accept the Palestinians as fellow human beings with dreams and desires who have the right to be treated decently and with respect. Similarly, Palestinians must recognize that Israeli’s also have a right to live in this part of world in a Jewish country. As long as one group is subjugated by the other, there can be no meaningful talks, leaving each side to resort to greater and greater violence.