'Azzun 'Atma, Thu 26.6.08, Afternoon
16:00 – Right after Kafr Qasim, on road 5, groups of Palestinians, returning from their work in Israel, walk in the blazing sun, 33 degrees centigrade. We stop and take three of them. One of them looks as if he is going to faint and his friends tell us that he has a heart condition and he feels bad. They want to get to Azzun Atme and since this is our destination, we bring them there as far as we can, that is to say up to the entrance. They tell us they have had a week of hard work and spent the nights sleeping under the sky, (yesterday they didn't sleep at all because there was a snake there). They say they have been walking from Sgula junction. It's 10 kilometers, according to our measuring.
We park our car beyond the road, at the house opposite the entrance. As soon as we pass by the earth rampart, a few people come towards us and say that soldiers beat a man from Sarra this morning and stole IS 200.00 from him, "but now" they add "there are women soldiers there and the checkpoint is OK."
When we get to the checkpoint, 3 cars that have come from the direction of the village pass within 3 minutes. One of the mini-buses that transported workers is stuffed with 21 people. A man sits behind the wheel while the driver is sitting on his lap. Since there is no room for both of them, the door is half open and the driver is hanging over the wheel with one hand and holding the door with the other. A magician!!
Some 100 meters before the checkpoint, 12 passengers get off and he gets to the checkpoint with the legal number of passengers. At the checkpoint there are 3 women soldiers and one man soldier. Their commander is lieutenant Y. she is polite, gentle and hard working. She keeps urging her friends to go on checking and not to sit idly. ("Can't you see that people are waiting in the sun?"). At no point is there a line at the checkpoint and people pass quickly.
The three people we gave lift to arrive at the same time as we do (in another car). Since they are not residents of Azzun Atme, they are sent to the detainees' shed. I tell the commander about the one who feels bad. She immediately releases all the three.
During the whole shift "illegals" [in Israel without residence permit] who return home are detained for 10 20 minutes after which they pass to the West Bank and, therefore, at no given time there are there many detainees. The commander warns the Palestinians, "Don't dare to come here again to pass through this checkpoint!" The Palestinians laugh. Where else can they pass? No roadblock, no fence and no gun can stop a man who tries to provide for his family. Next Thursday they'll be here again after working for us, going the distance of many kilometers in the blazing sun on foot, knowing full well that they are going to be punished and detained and hoping not to be harassed too harshly or detained in the sun for hours nor to have to sign in exchange for permission to pass, or to be beaten …
A young man whose hand is bandaged was wounded while working laying tiles in Israel and his hands are still bleeding. On Saturday night he entered Israel through Ne'alin, where he was caught and his document was taken from him. Now he hasn't got any document. Fifteen minutes later he' too' is allowed to pass.
Women, men and children coming from the direction of the West Bank are sent to be checked and X-rayed in a special room.
We move to the West Bank side of the checkpoint where Beit Amin is. Actually, both sides belong to the West Bank but the western side was confiscated from the Palestinians by Israel and was declared a "seam-zone". How clear and gentle the expression sounds and how much injustice, cruelty, plunder and evil it conceals.
On the Palestinian side drivers are waiting to transport people. On the waiting shed there is an inscription in Hebrew: "When darkness falls and the arrow strikes, every Arab mother will cry!" Underneath the inscription – the Star of David.
The drivers say that beating is a routine at the checkpoint (almost every day). We ask the people when exactly the soldiers beat somebody but they cannot tell because it happens almost daily.
Regarding the incident that occurred this morning – a man from Sarra passed the checkpoint and claimed that a soldier had stolen IS 200.00 from him. He approached other soldiers and voiced his complaint. They got irritated and shouted at him, "Are you saying we are thieves?" They dragged him behind the watch tower and beat him. He was heard screaming. Then the soldiers went to bring disposable handcuffs and he took advantage of it and escaped to the West Bank. Almost every person we met today told the same story. Some of them repeated what they have heard from others while few were at the checkpoint when it happened. The regular people at the checkpoint were eye-witnesses. The drivers say they only take people up to the village center for fear of the Border policemen. They all point out that today (in the afternoon) the women soldiers are good.
18:40 – We travel to the roadblock on the other side of the village in order to get to our car. On the way we see all the closed shops (except for one green grocery) in the village center, where there was once, in front of the fence, a teeming market which was closed because no Palestinian from the West Bank can get there to buy. "From the cucumber hothouses people cannot make a living, either," says the driver, "so, what choice do we have? We work in Israel".
When we get out of the vehicle, many people gather around us. Everyone wants to tell us his story, and the stories are ugly. Two men tell us how, on their wedding day, they went with their future bride to a beauty salon and on the way back they were beaten in front of their bride! (One incident took place a year ago and the other two years ago.)
This morning's story of the beating and the stealing of IS 200.00 is repeated again and again (it's about 11:00). The beating soldier has a very short haircut, almost shaved bald, and a small beard, according to eye-witnesses. They also say that the Border Police jeep enters the village chasing children who sell coffee at the roadblock or at the checkpoint and the soldiers beat the children (aged 11 – 12). Yesterday they caught 3 kids aged 12 who work in the green grocery and beat them. The people swore they had been no provocation whatsoever, no stone throwing, just playing around. Everyone asks us to come every day, mainly on Thursday afternoon, Sunday morning and Saturday evening. They all point out that when we come things are much better; otherwise they can wait at the checkpoint 3 – 4 hours, that is if they are lucky.