Huwwara, Za'tara (Tapuah), Thu 3.7.08, Afternoon
A bus being held up with the passengers standing around the bus. As we parked the passengers were given back their IDs and the bus drove off. There were about 8 vehicles on the line heading eastbound and about 8 vehicles on line heading southbound.
4:00PM Huwwara CP
The parking lot was packed with taxis, mini buses, a number of informal fruit or vegetable stands, and tens of people either heading for Nablus or leaving Nablus or waiting for friends and family who were still on line. It seemed like a focal point of social interaction that could happen at any main bus or train station. Just a few steps from the buzz of normal human activity one enters the dark reality of the checkpoint.
A man is detained with his hands bound. Smadar asked for his name and ID number. Before calling the Army hotline we checked with the CPcommander Second Lieutenant D. He told us the following story:
About 2 hours ago an older man fell while waiting on the "humanitarian" line and injured himself. The soldiers rushed to help him, called an ambulance and did what they could for him. Meanwhile they closed the CP and the number of people waiting on line grew larger. It is Thursday when the university students in Nablus return home and it is the day before the Moslem Sabbath. This is a time when there are a lot of people at the checkpoint. There was general chaos and the soldiers forced the people to stand back. When they reopened the CP, one young man (the detainee) came toward one of the MPs with his arms in a gesture (D. demonstrated by holding his arms opened wide) that was taken for aggressive and violent. He was being held with hands bound in the cell while they called in his ID to find out information about him and to decide what should be done. D. told us that he was checking on him all the time to make sure he had water and that the detainee had been there for 2 hours.
Throughout the shift we went back to ask D. if there had been any decision made. He told us that the decision keeps changing as to whether to have the police do the investigation or the secret service.
At this time there were 2 lines of young men with about 30 men on each line. About 2 young men were checked per minute on each of the 2 lines. There were about 50 on the side line for older people and women. Pedestrians with larger bags on all lines were told to go over to the X-Ray machine to have their bags checked. The checking of the side line was as fast as 20 per minute or as slow as 1 person per minute or less.
There were usually 4 or 5 cars on line to Nablus but sometimes there were none at all. The soldier checking this line worked fast. It was his first day and didn't know who we were. At one point he asked Smadar if we were from the "left". She said, "Yes," and that perhaps when he finished with the checkpoints, he too would be a leftist. He said he already was.
We could not see the end of the line from Nablus. There was never a break in the line. The checking of vehicles from this side took from 2 to 7 minutes. Vehicles were told to stop about 50 meters from the CP. The passengers were told to get out and wait while the driver brought the vehicle closer to the CP. If there were big bags they were checked through the X-Ray machine.
4:35PM About 20 young men on line and still about 50 on the humanitarian side.
Four volunteers from ISM (International Solidarity Movement) came to tell us that there was a detainee in the cell with his hands bound. We told them we were trying to keep taps on what was happening with him. Smadar had already made a few phone calls to the Army Hot Line and we kept asking David about the detainee's status. These volunteers had just come back from Ni'lin where there have been demonstrations against the security fence. Palestinians, Israelis, and international demonstrators have been working together. The army has been using rubber bullets and tear gas on a regular basis against the demonstrators. Today a rubber bullet hit one of the ISM volunteers on his shoulder. He said he saw another rubber bullet hit a 12 year old Palestinian in the forehead.
4:42PM A woman about to give birth in a taxi is let through to the head of the line in the direction of Nablus. Zakariya (the Palestinian who works for Doctors for Human Rights and Rabbis for Human Rights) was there bringing the situation to the attention of the soldiers. He says to us that the soldiers are really good in situations like this.
5:22PM The police come to the CP. in reference to the detainee. We tell D. that the detainee is complaining about the tightness of the band holding his hands together. D. goes to give him water and to check the band. D. talks to the police.
5:33PM - 5:58PM The police have still not approached the detainee and continue to talk to soldiers.
We notice that a car has parked near the police and 3 Palestinians get out of the car in order to talk to the police. After speaking to the police they approach us. They are the father, brother and friend of a man who was detained at Huwwara several hours ago, we are told by the family that the young man (about 21) comes from Hebron and is a taxi driver who has a permit to enter Nablus. He left home at 7AM and he has not been in touch with them since. The father got a call from the DCO in Huwwara about 2 hours ago that his son is under investigation. When he came through the CP to Nablus, his vehicle was checked and a knife was found. The vehicle was taken to the parking lot just south of the CP and the father was asked to come pick it up.
We gave them the number of the DCO and the Defense for the Protection of Citizens. When the DCO eventually answered, they informed them that the detainee was turned over to the police.
(Till this day, Sunday July 6th, they have not heard from the detainee). When they tried calling the DCO again they were told he was in Huwwara but they would not tell them if he were with the police or the secret service. Neomi L. is trying to check things out. We advised the family to call the Defense organization again .
5:58PM I go up to the police jeep and ask the policeman in charge if they have come to check on the detainee with the bound hands. He says yes. When I ask why it is that they haven't gone to see him yet he explains that first he must check out the soldier's version of what happened and only then can he speak with the detainee and hear his version. He wants to know what I know. I tell him that I wasn't here and only know what the commanding officer told me. He asks me what I was told. I explain as written above and he stops me when I use the word "gesture". "Gesture" he asks me in a loud tone? "You mean aggressive act." I tell him that the commanding officer told me that he was not sure if it was an intentionally violent act. However, two minutes later we see that the detainee is being brought to the policeman with his hands unbound.
6:00PM - 6:25PM
The policeman talks to the detainee for about 25 minutes and releases him. The commanding officer tells me they have let him go but have given him a date to come in for an investigation. He has been held for 4 and a half hours at the checkpoint. Four of those hours his hands were bound.
A taxi driver leaving Nablus with a passenger and his taxi filled with household goods that are not in bags or packages, yells at us that the soldiers are not letting him through because they claim he is carrying merchandise. He is furious and so is the passenger. The passenger has just moved to a new place and has gone shopping in Nablus for new things. We try to get D. to go see if he can help the situation but they have already done the U turn and headed back.
6:33PM We leave the CP and head toward the village of Huwwara on our way home. The sweets shop on the main road is having a huge celebration. There is live music, the place is crowded, and everyone is being given free kanafah. The owner recognizes us as we go by and motions for us to stop and come in. These little dots of normalcy in the Palestinian landscape seem to show the need in all of us to seek out opportunities to capture the small joys of everyday life and to hold on to them, tightly.