Awarta, Huwwara, Thu 11.9.08, Afternoon
We got a call from Dafna(another MachsomWatch woman) while we were at Beit Iba at 3:36PM that a number of people who had been detained at Awarta at 9AM were still being detained. However, when we arrived at 4:30PM, they had already been released. Dafna had been calling the Matak and perhaps her calls had been effective.
The cause of the detainment was that a taxi driver with a number of passengers had cut through the field between the Huwwara CP and the Awarta CP in order to avoid the checkpoint. The soldiers saw the taxi and started to chase it. The driver let the passengers off and managed to drive off with out being caught.
The passengers who were now on foot did get caught and were taken to the Awarta CP and had their IDs taken away. The usual punishment for avoiding a CP, in our experience, is 3 hours.
In this situation it was 7. There were 10 detainees at first. Two were a mother and daughter and they were released earlier. The eight remaining men were kept from the morning.
There were 2 other detainees at Awarta who had been there for 2 hours. The soldiers did not want us to talk to them but we managed to get their phone number and talked to them by phone. They had driven on the main road between Huwwara and Awarta that passes by the army base which is forbidden to Palestinians. This road continues on to the settlements of Yitamar and Alon Morah as well as Arab villages.
The detained man who spoke to us on the phone was very angry and told us that he didn't know why we even bothered to try to help them since we were useless. We did try to talk to the soldiers and they told us that they had been told by their "higher ups" that the men were to be kept for 3 hours. The soldiers asked us why we only cared about the Palestinians and not them. They asked if we knew that yesterday a Palestinian had thrown acid in a soldier's face at the Hawarre CP. We did not know this. The soldiers said that of course we didn't know this because we didn't care. It was not in the newspapers but other soldiers at Hawarre told us it had been posted on YNet. We were of course very sorry to hear about the incident. We continued on to Hawarre. At Hawarre we were told that it had been a woman on the side line who had thrown the acid at the soldier.
Huwwara 4:54PM - 7:30PM
The CP was packed even at this relatively late hour. The Palestinian clock is on day light savings time which is an hour earlier. The fast of Ramadan is over for the day at 7PM our time and people are still rushing home. They have 2 hours left for the fast. The parking lot near the CP is filled with taxis that are parked and waiting for passengers, or speeding off to take passengers home, or speeding in to drop passengers off. Because the line of vehicles waiting to enter Nablus was long and was blocking the entrance/exit to the parking lot there was a huge snarl of cars, buses and taxis beeping at each other vying for a small pocket of space.
In addition to all the taxis in the parking lot there were merchants selling fruits and vegetables, Palestinians waiting for rides, taxi drivers waiting for their fares, a constant movement of men, women and children.
Right after we parked our car a Palestinian who was in his 50s and dressed in a suit and tie drove his car right behind us. I told him he was blocking our exit. He said he would be here for just a minute. He needed to run back to the CP because there was a misunderstanding with the soldiers.
We ended up spending most of our time at Huwwara keeping a careful watch on the inter action between this man and the soldiers(see below).
There were at least 100 young men on line leaving Nablus and the shack was full. It took a young man at the end of one of the lines a half hour to pass through (5:00PM - 5:30). Hundreds of older men and woman and children of all ages were moving through the side, "humanitarian" line. There were 2 women from the World Council of Churches observing the CP. They are staying in a small Arab town called Chanun near Yitamar. They told us that at 3:30PM it took the people waiting on the humanitarian line one hour to pass through but a number of military police came to the CP and things started to speed up.
There was a long line of around 16 vehicles entering Nablus and around 10 vehicles in view leaving Nablus(the line may have been longer but we couldn't see beyond that point and we are not allowed to enter that section of the CP). On the line leaving Nablus there were a lot of minibuses filled with passengers. At 5:43 it took a bus that was near the back of the line 45 minutes to pass through the CP.
The vehicle line to Nablus went rather quickly-16 cars in13 minutes at 5:30. What was most distressing on this line was the number of cars that were turned away. People were under the impression that during Ramadan some of the restrictions of cars entering Nablus had been eliminated. This was true for Israeli Arabs. They were allowed to enter Nablus with their cars. However, it was not true for Palestinian Arabs. A lot of vehicles with medical signs on their windshield were turned away because even if they were doctors or medical personnel, they did not have a permit for the car to enter.
One particular disturbing incident was a family that wanted to enter Nablus. A beautifully dressed woman in her 40s was driving and her well-dressed husband was sitting next to her. Their 2 daughters were in the back in holiday dresses. They had a permit which allows them to enter area A through Jerusalem but not one specifically for Nablus. They had thought that during the holiday there would be some leniency since it is obvious that if they have a permit to enter at one place they are not a security risk. In order to get to Nablus the other way it would take them an additional 2 hours. The young soldier who is given specific criteria on which to base his decisions is not trained to think globally and to make exceptions based on logic. They were not allowed to enter. Unfortunately a DCO representative who might have been more flexible, was not stationed at the vehicle booth at that time. The family backed out of the entrance area frustrated and angry.
The main story that we followed at the CP was as follows. The man who had blocked our car with his when we first arrived(see above) had entered Nablus in the morning with his rented car. When he wanted to leave Nablus, which was before we got there, they would not let him pass through. He had 2 children with him who were over 16 because they had IDs. He was not willing to give up and turn around to Nablus because he lived outside of Nablus and wanted to return home. The soldiers agreed to let him park his car in the parking lot where he wanted his children to wait for him. The soldiers kept on to the IDs of all three of them and would return them only if the man returned to Nablus. Through out the next 2 hours this man went over and over again to the soldiers trying to convince them to let him go through. He was very upset and started to yell and curse at the soldiers.
At one point we saw the commanding officer go over and get plastic handcuffs to tie the man's hands. We then moved closer with a cell phone camera and the 2 women of the World Council of Churches moved in with us. The Palestinian refused to have his hands tied and the commanding officer ran back to us telling us to stay behind the blue line. He then called the police.
When the police arrived at 5:15PM they thought that the problem was that we were not standing far enough away from the CP so they started to yell at us. However, the commanding officer came over and told him about the incident with the Palestinian. It was difficult to hear the conversation but the jest of it seemed to be that the police were giving their blessing that they could prevent the man from passing. We had been in touch with the DCO and the Humanitarian Hot line and we had been told that the man was about to be released and would be allowed to pass through with his car. This was not the case, however.
We then spotted the DCO representative at the checkpoint who we had not seen up until then. Smadar tried to talk to him about convincing the commanding officer to let the Palestinian pass through with his car. The Matak representative was furious because when he had gone to see what was going on with the man he had also yelled at him. It seemed to have become a battle of egos. The commanding officer spoke to us and he claimed it had nothing to do with the Palestinians lack of respect but that he simply did not have a permit for his car and that he was not allowed to let him through. We had been told by the DCO that the officer could make the decision to let the man pass but the officer was denying that he had that power. What was the most shocking is that this officer told us that if we hadn't been there he would have"wiped up the floor with him". He said he could have handcuffed him because the man had touched his weapon but then he saw us taking pictures.
At 7:30PM when it was getting dark and the CP was basically empty we decided to leave and to continue to keep in touch with the Palestinian by phone.
He called us at 8:30PM to report that 2 higher officers came to the CP and convinced the commanding officer to let him pass through with his car.