Who shall rescue us from hunger?/ Who shall feed us plenty of bread?/ Who shall give us milk to drink?/ Whom should we thank, whom should we bless?/ Labor and work! H. N. Bialik
The economy of the West Bank resembles a ladder, but contrary to the usual image it seems that the rungs of Palestinian economy are built for descent only. The lower rungs are very crowded and with the passing years the crowding only increases. Every new edict imposed by the Israeli occupation, joining the myriad obstructions of freedom of movement in the Occupied Territories, directly impacts the sources of income, takes bread out of the mouth of many people and goes on to smash the economic backbone of the middle class, which is supposed to be the basis of the economy of a healthy society.
Peddling is a default option of the individual in Palestinian society in his struggle to survive and save his family from drowning in the deep water of idleness and vacuity. Vendors obstinately hold on to their stalls as a last resort following a long chain of lost livelihoods, knowing that the next stage, the lowest one, is begging and total dependence on God's mercy.
According to OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) data, the rate of unemployment in the West Bank approaches 26%, almost triple that of Israel.
Many of the checkpoint peddlers speak nostalgically of the days when they were the "hewers of wood and drawers of water" for the Israelis. They are the Hebrew speakers among the Palestinians, and relatively older than the others. "I used to work in a restaurant in Tel Aviv . . . I used to do repairs . . . I cleaned houses in Jerusalem . . . a gardner . . . a hospital orderly . . . "
From the reports:
The lot is a little more crowded than in the last few weeks, there is more pedestrian traffic going in and out. Petty commerce, cautious, mainly mobile, is taking place here and there. Life is stronger than any prohibition! (Huwwara 28.1.09)
A couple of vendors join the three and form a "market" in the vicinity of the checkpoint (fruits and vegetables, notions, soft drinks and sweets). When these signs are discovered by the occupying sovereign, the army is dispatched without delay to quench the phenomenon by hook or by crook: using physical strength, weapons or legal canniness. For example: In Qalandiya (on the Palestinian side), escorted by the soldiers and their guns, inspectors of the Jerusalem Municipality arrive and confiscate equipment belonging to the vendors, such as electronic scales or even their very stands, imposing fines upon the ‘felons', claiming: "You don't have a licence".
And how could they have one? When the sovereign constantly withdraws every right and leaves only debts? Large neighborhoods on this side of the checkpoint are municipal zones of Jerusalem. Their inhabitants have to pay taxes to the city of Jerusalem but are not entitled to its services.
The confiscation of the stands is often explained by so-called humanitarian grounds, a rather weird reasoning, as an expression of concern for the health of Palestinians due to unhygienic conditions and to ideological opposition to the employment of minors.
All these actions are accompanied by the same excuse: I'm only following orders.
From the reports:
We spoke with him [with the commander of the checkpoint] about the vendors, who are still maltreated. He said he was following orders. He tells them to evacuate the lot, and if they refuse he calls the police or the border police.
Only three remained: two for coffee and tea, one for bagels. Later they were joined by the candy-boy. (Huwwara)
The DCO representative and the sergeant launch an immensely important security operation: clearing out peddlers' stands from the parking-lot. All the coffee, bagel and candy sellers dismantle their stands and run away. Even the owner of the lot who sells coffee out of his van must close down his "business". The sergeant says he won't let people stay there on a permanent basis. "The place was paved for the defense system's needs. This lot is just a passage, any longer stay here is an invitation to terrorist acts, he says. (Huwwara 12.2.09)
The border police rule the section. This morning they smashed the small stand belonging to the juice-seller. He was beaten as well, we are told. (Huwwara 25.1.09)
Small children, most of them 7- 8 and older, are forced to join the family's upkeep. Sometimes they are the only providers of food for many mouths, their wares (chewing-gum, lollipops, notes of Koran verses during Ramadan) are paltry and the profits measly. Others clean passing-cars' windows at the checkpoint with dirty rags for a few shekels.
No such thing as Regular Attendance officers from the Ministry of Education whose job is to ensure that children attend school. Uniformed ones march in instead, to shoo away the little merchants. They kick them, beat them, push and pinch. Such children will never attend school, a fact that is bound to perpetuate their poverty and ignorance, but they become experts in running away and evading their pursuers' blows.
From the reports:
We spoke with Mohammad, the boy who sells sweets for 1 NIS. He claims to be 15, looks 12. His father had a vegetable stand in the lot, now he is jobless. Mohammad provides for the whole family. He makes about 30 NIS a day. (Huwwara 16.2.09)
On the economic ‘scale' described above, taxi-drivers are one rung above vendors. The lucky ones own their cars but most of them drive somebody else's taxi. They park as close to the exit of the checkpoint and swoop on the people who come out, yelling their destination. One of the regular jobs of the soldiers is to chase them away as far from their clients as possible. They are only following orders.
From the reports:
The usual power-games of the security soldiers with the taxi-drivers who come near the turnstiles to hunt for passengers to Nablus. When the soldier looks at them and comes nearer they run away for fear of being detained for "disturbing pedestrian traffic" and "endangering soldiers". When the soldier goes back into the facility, they return.
. . . A cat-and-mouse chase is going-on between the soldiers and the drivers who try to "capture" passengers near the checkpoint and do not shun even the threat of the army. "For two-three shekels I'm prepared to kill . . . " S. quoted one of the drivers. As we said, a desperate fight for livelihood. (Huwwara 6.4.09)
A detainee in the waiting-shed says he's been waiting in the parking-lot (coming from Nablus) for his mother who was on her way back from Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital in an ambulance, but being a taxi-driver, he was caught by the soldiers. He is being punished for half an hour now. He admits he is indeed a taxi-driver, but has not "sinned" by waiting for passengers in the line of people coming out of Nablus, he only waited for his mother. We couldn't find a DCO man, so we called the hotline and passed his story. At 15:03 he was released. Now taxi-drivers were caught one by one. At first they were sitting in shed, but were sent to the distant confinement-cell as a punishment because we'd talked with them. IDF representative said they would remain there for 2-3 hours.
The taxi-drivers' hunt recurs every once in a while. Three soldiers start to run towards the parking-lot (Nablus end) and don't give up until they catch their prey. (Huwwara 5.3.09)
Translated by Elinor Berger