'Azzun 'Atma, Thu 15.5.08, Afternoon
(A follow-up to the report from Hawwara and Beit Furik)
Translation: Galia S.
17:30 – A man is sitting with his back to the checkpoint. We stop. He looks bad. The man tells us that he was arrested in Petah-Tikva at 10:00 in the morning and since then he had nothing to eat or drink. He suffers from stomach ulcer and really feels bad. We bring him some water. We also offer him some delicious vine leaves we happened to have but he refuses to take them. Yehudit talks to one of the soldiers, trying to persuade him to let the man go, but he says he is waiting for the reconnaissance jeep and only then he may release him. When the jeep arrives it all becomes clear. He gives the soldiers in the jeep the man's ID card in order to take it to the fence gate which is between Azzun Atme and the West Bank (block 7). The exhausted "illegal" [in Israel without a residence permit] is then told to go there and look for his document. Since we are on our way there, we give him a lift in our car. Before we leave, four more illegals – a father and his 3 sons – arrive. They are residents of Azzun Atme and one of them, the father, has an entry permit to Israel. Actually, they were caught beyond the earth and rocks obstruction that blocks the way out of the village by car, not in Israel. According to the soldiers, "everything that is beyond the obstruction is Israel and that is why you are illegals". This is absolutely not true. It might be on the "Israeli" side of the fence, but it is certainly on occupied territory and not Israel. Even so, they, too, are sent to Azzun Atme Gate and until we leave (19:30), there is no sign of them!!
We leave our car at the parking lot near the house to the right of the entrance to Azzun Atme from the road that leads to Elkana and Sha'arei Tikva. We tell the children who are standing there that we go to the gate and ask them to tell their parents that we will be back soon. When we get back, we see a message from their father, sending warm greetings, written on the dust accumulated on the rear window.
The fence gate between Azzun Atme and the West Bank
18:15 – The village of Azzun Atme has been left on the Israeli side of the fence and its residents are forced to pass through this gate which serves as a checkpoint for all practical purposes. The West Bank residents may enter Azzun Atme with a permit only. This is the reason why the market of the village is dying (for lack of customers). Azzun Atme and the neighboring village, Beit Amin, which is on the other side of the fence, share the same schools, health clinic and other public buildings. However, a gate and armed soldiers separate between the two villages although the people on both sides are of the same family.
Twenty seven cars are waiting in a long line to pass from Azzun Atme to the West Bank and, in addition, some 30 pedestrians. The inspection is slow and the waiting time is long, an hour, an hour and a half. In the morning the line is in the opposite direction. Why is it necessary to check people who come back to the West Bank so thoroughly? – Only the State of Israel has the answer.
The former battalion with its violent commander left 2 days ago and a new unit is here.
A woman soldier, a staff sergeant, is trying to keep us away, beyond the concrete cubes, at a distance of some 30 meters from there, where the Palestinians have to wait until they are called to come, one at a time. Then comes the commander of the reconnaissance jeep with some more ID cards. We insist on keeping our place and the soldiers relent as long as we stay out of their way.
The staff sergeant says to a Palestinian driving a donkey drawn cart, "Why do you beat your donkey?" adding quietly so that we don't hear, "if you beat your donkey, I'll beat you".
Now and then there are detainees who are waiting in middle of the checkpoint for 10-20 minutes. We don't quite see why but we assure they are illegals who were sent there to get their documents.
Those who pass from the West Bank to Azzun Atme have to go through the X-ray room. A woman with seven kids, the youngest in her arms, refuses to let her children be X-rayed and the soldiers won't let her pass. Twenty minutes later, she gives in and enters the room with the kids clutching at her dress.
One of the drivers, a resident of Azzun Atme, tells me that a few days ago a father arrived with his child. The father refused to let his child be X-rayed. The checkpoint commander said, "Is this a child? At his age I fucked girls!" The man was shocked by the way the soldier had talked in front of his wife and expressed indignation. The result was that the soldier gave him a hit in the stomach with his gun.
On leaving, someone offers us a lift and refuses to take money. Moreover, when we get to the blockade at the exit to Israel, he sends someone to buy us something to drink. On the way, we tell him we are Israelis etc,, etc., but when somebody asks him whether we are Israelis or Arabs, he says, "of course they are Arabs", meaning "they are our Kith and Kin".
We haven't witnessed any violence but many people told us about it. Yet, since the place is on the far side and not easily seen, nobody gets there except for Palestinians and soldiers. The soldiers can do whatever they feel like and there is nobody there to stop them. Our presence there, even if it's not every day, is, therefore, extremely important. It is important that the soldiers be wary of MachsomWatch women who may any time show up there. The reports from there are very significant papers documenting how the separation Fence disrupts people's life. The situation there is different from that of Jubara although the legal status of the two villages is similar.
It is very easy to get there. The village almost touches the Green Line and it is located on the Israeli side of Shomron Gate checkpoint. It is important to be there in the early morning hours as well as in the evening; (after that, there is no need to drive in the dark through occupied territories because very soon you are in Israel again).
It is 5 minutes drive from Kafr Qasim interchange.
I think it's essential that our teams make an effort to go there once in a while. I can explain to anyone who wishes how to get there. You can easily stop there for an hour on the way back from Huwwara.
Not less important – the residents are so grateful to us for coming that the warmth in which we are welcomed is really worth it.
And the last remark – This is probably the place where they send the illegals so that we won't see them.