'Anabta, Ar-Ras, Jubara (Kafriat), Qalqiliya, Sun 6.7.08, Afternoon
One has to wonder whether the oft quoted Biblical citation, "They
shall have no mercy" has become a dictate of the army of occupation in
the OPT. That, and the fact that Ira Gershwin's "Summertime and the
livin' is easy," has turned into the opposite, since day to day living
is ever more difficult for the people living in the OPT.
13:00-13:55 Jubara and A-Ras
No problems getting into the village. At Abu Maher's shop we ask about
the fires that recently burned thousands of olive trees. He shows us
where they are, or were, and we try to drive over the dirt pathway,
which is strewn with rocks. We don't get far, but can see the hill
south and west of us where nothing but blackened earth and leafless
trees remain. These trees were set alight two weeks ago, but a third
swathe, nearer to the separation barrier, was on fire three weeks ago.
The fact that these fires happened on a Saturday shows a parallel to
the arson in the south, around Hebron: settlers on a rampage.
Two soldiers and a military policeman. (Note: the increase in manpower
here, as compared to Gate 1393 – Habla -- where, today there were only
three soldiers, meaning that checking was inordinately slow, since one
lone soldier had to "guard" the open gate on his side while people and
cars and carts had to wait and wait – see below)
The reservists on duty man both positions at the junction part of the
time. All IDs are taken from drivers and called up to the soldier in
the lookout tower to check on his computer. A line of five cars and
taxis from Tulkarm. If the taxi is made up of women, no checking.
The line of vehicles stretches to the junction, 35 or more, and the
sun beats down mercilessly on all. The same situation coming from
Tulkarm, where we can see at least 25 vehicles. As we walk towards the
checkpoint, a Hummer arrives with a change of shift. For once, this
takes place swiftly, but otherwise, there is mercy neither from the
heat, nor from the soldiers – reservists.
Every ID is checked, first by one soldier, who then hands the IDs to
by his mate. So two pairs of soldiers' eyes look at everything, but
check nothing against a list of numbers. People traveling in cars with
yellow license plates (Israeli) have their blue IDs (Israeli) checked
in similar fashion. Since this shift of soldiers has just arrived,
they cannot but be aware of the line of waiting vehicles – up to the
junction with route 55. Since it is so unusual for IDs to be checked
coming into Tulkarm, none of the drivers have their IDs handy and have
to fish around for the necessary documents in their cars. Trucks are
opened for complete inspection, and the wait goes on in the intense heat.
14:30 -- there is no mercy either in the other direction where the
line from Tulkarm is equally long, the process equally cruel. A few
cars are now asked to pull over while one soldier enters the lookout
tower to check IDs against a computer. The other soldier continues to
check cars alone (unlike the situation later at Gate 1393 where one
soldier can do nothing but stand when on his own). An ambulance which
has managed to get to the head of the line gets the same treatment:
here, everybody is a suspect; everybody is accorded this merciless
treatment. A Palestinian man who comes, walking, from the Tulkarm
direction complains to us about small children in cars, suffering, as
people wait for well over an hour to get to the checking soldiers.
"This atmosphere is not right," he intones.
14:40 -- the commander leaves his checking position of those coming
from Tulkarm to tell us that we're bothering the soldiers, "standing
on their heads, " implying that we're the cause of this outrageous
mess. We tell him that things were this bad when we got here half an
hour earlier. Some cars and taxis now try to get to the head of the
line, and, of course, are punished by the soldiers, pulled to the
side, even with small children inside. They wait some more.
14:50 -- painted on a taxi, "Daffy Duck," surely summing up the
selfish, neurotic and spotlight-hungry Daffy of cartoon fame, typified
today by the horrors we've witnessed for the past hour. At the
junction, the line of vehicles waiting to get to Anabta extends
towards Nablus by another 15-20 vehicles.
Quite a few pedestrians, coming back from work, not checked at all.
About ten vehicles waiting to get to Qalqiliya, at least fifteen in
the other direction. Cars with Israeli license plates (yellow) are
checked against a list, the checking is slow, but most vehicles are
just peered into, IDs often not checked at all.
Within the next ten minutes, the line from Qalqiliya more or less
disappears, into Qalqiliya it remains the same.
17:10 Gate 1393 – Habla
A large group of maybe 25-30 men, all ages, no vehicles other than
heavily loaded horse or donkey carts, wait. The soldiers have only
just arrived (ten minutes late). Three of them, reservists, obviously
new to this task. The fourth, we're told, is the driver, and she's in
the Hummer. Two soldiers take up their positions at the open gate and
one, we shall term the "lecturer," proceeds to lecture the waiting
Palestinians about getting into line, when they, who are used to the
habits of the occupiers, already know who's been waiting, often for
hours, until the occupier deigns to open the gate so they can get back
home. "I won't let you pass until you stand back" is the refrain heard
frequently during our time there.
Each ID is taken by the "lecturer," its number read out to the second
soldier who stands, clipboard in hand, and writes down every single
number. The Palestinians, fluent Hebrew speakers here on the Seam
Line, tell the soldiers that, besides their permits for this specific
gate and their IDs, this process is unnecessary. We chime in and say
the same. No use. This tedious, merciless process, in boiling sun,
continues midst the lecturer's continuous ranting (nervousness is
obvious in these reservists). The lecturer describes to individual
Palestinians what he sees on their permits: "This one is good only
for another month," to another, "this is good only for another day,
etc." Of course, the process is slowed down, and many express their
impatience with the goings on. After another mini lecture, this time
delivered to an individual, wheeling his bicycle, the lecturing
soldier proceeds to shake the man's hand. When a fluent speaker
proceeds to say how long he's been waiting, and that it's his nature
to complain, the soldier tells his mate to write down his name, as
well as his ID. It is all sick, quite sick.
17:25 -- a jeep arrives: with reinforcements? No such luck! A couple
of soldiers, holding their guns tightly, arrives with a captain who is
greeted by the two soldiers who stop their checking and go over to the
jeep. The Palestinians wait some more. When the captain wanders over
to the open gate, we complain about the process we're witnessing. He
retorts, "We lack the manpower." We ask about the need to list each
ID number on the clipboard which we've not seen before: his response,
"It's a good idea." One of the horses, waiting with its owner and
cart, neighs, as if on cue.
There are now seven soldiers at Gate 1393: one in the Hummer no doubt
enjoying the air-conditioning, one minding the open gate at the far
side of the separation barrier, but doing nothing, in full sight of
the many Palestinians, trucks and carts, etc. waiting to pass, the two
doing their thing where we observe and a captain, guarded by two
nervous looking soldiers, clutching their guns. Most of the time, they
return to their waiting jeep, but occasionally, the captain pulls
aside the "lecturer, "briefs" him, reads something to him, although
the situation remains as before. We call the Humanitarian Center about
what's going on at Gate 1393.
17:40 -- finally, the two waiting heavily laden horse carts are
beckoned by the "lecturer," who goes around each one, poking and
peering and demanding to know "What's here?" "What's there?" and,
incongruously, the last one moves warily over the separation barrier,
a large water melon and a carton of tomatoes balanced precariously on
17:45 -- as we prepare to leave, we hear the loud haranguing voice of
"the lecturer" addressing the Palestinians on the far side of the
barrier, and we know that the entire process will be repeated in the
same merciless way.