Huwwara, Wed 22.10.08, Afternoon
Translator: Charles K.
At 13:45 we got out of N.'s taxi in the area that's in front of the Huwwara checkpoint. The voice of a young woman yelling "Yalla, yalla, everyone back, everyone back, can't you hear what I'm saying?! Yalla, yalla, back, back," greeted us. It turned out that the female MP, whose behavior we've already reported a number of times, hasn't let up. An elderly man going through the checkpoint tells us angrily about her humiliating behavior, how she screams at elderly people, her contempt. "She behaves as if we were in a zoo," he says. A., the DCO representative is there, provides the military's explanation for the screaming: "She's not yelling; that's the way she talks."
Only two pedestrian exit lanes from Nablus are manned. The very crowded conditions and the screams of the female MP create a violent, chaotic atmosphere. There are three DCO representatives at the checkpoint, but they don't seem to have any influence on what goes on. One of them explains, in answer to my question, that a new brigade arrived at the checkpoint four days ago - the Giv'ati brigade - "and it takes a while until they know what to do."
Two Palestinian men standing next to a taxi are off to the side of the vehicle lane. The DCO representative says that they and the taxi have been detained because they were caught trying to sneak past the checkpoint. It turns out that they were driving on the road from Beit Furik to Huwwara (the one the army calls "Madison"), and since "everyone knows that Palestinians aren't allowed on that road," they were brought to the checkpoint to be detained for three hours as punishment. The DCO representative argues fervently that there's no need at all to put a sign on that apartheid road saying that Palestinians are forbidden from driving on it, because, as he already said, "they know." About half an hour after we arrived the taxi was released and the two Palestinians continued on their way.
The reality that we witnessed until 15:00 was the usual ugly reality of Palestinian life at the checkpoints: we saw an elderly women who didn't feel well collapsing on the ground of the "humanitarian lane," getting up slowly a few minutes later and, supported by her daughter, walks toward the taxis.
We saw the young students lifting up their shirts in front of the female MP who was yelling; the men coming through the turnstile holding their belts in their hands; the women who came through the "humanitarian lane" relatively quickly and who were now waiting a long time on the other side of the checkpoint for the son or husband with whom they came.
One of the Palestinians, a resident of the Far'a refugee camp, near Tubas, tells me what happened there last night: from midnight till seven in the morning soldiers were moving around the refugee camp. Children threw stones at them, and the soldiers sometimes fired their guns and entered courtyards and homes trying to catch the stone throwers. No one was caught, no one slept that night.
He said that he was on his way to visit his brother who leaves near Salfit - a forty minute trip from his home that, because of the checkpoints and the roads forbidden to Palestinians takes him at least three hours.
A young father carrying his baby in his arms asks Racheli for help: It turns out that the boy is sick, was in the hospital, and even though the father and baby went through the "humanitarian lane," they've been standing and waiting a long time for the taxi driver who brought them whose stuck in the long "regular" line. Rachel goes over with him to the soldier at the "humanitarian lane," the father shows the documents the hospital gave him, and the soldier accedes to his request and moves the driver to the head of the line.
At 15:00 two shots were heard, soldiers began running in all directions and yelling in Hebrew at the Palestinians to move away. The checkpoint was closed down, and the military "life stops" procedure was implemented: rifles drawn, pushing and yelling, everyone is moved back, away from the checkpoint. In a few minutes six soldiers led a boy about 10-12 years old, handcuffed and blindfolded, away from the checkpoint, threw him on the ground, ordered him to remove shoes and clothes, and then put him in a closed jeep. According to the soldiers - the boy was carrying a bag they suspected held a bomb.
According to the Palestinians - that boy arrives at the checkpoint from time to time, on a regular basis, is "caught" carrying a bomb, a knife or something similar, and a few hours later, after the photographers took their pictures and the media reported that another terrorist was caught at Huwwara, he's released next to the army base at the junction, or at the Awarta checkpoint. Sometimes he's transferred to the Palestinian police and released in the Nablus casbah.
At 15:15 there were already about five army jeeps on the road at the entrance to the Huwwara checkpoint, a bomb disposal truck, a police robot, a number of APC's and about 40 soldiers of various ranks. The officers went from one place to another, while the ordinary soldiers yelled at the Palestinians to get back. The female MP takes an amazing initiative and while screaming draws an imaginary line in the air and yells (in Hebrew, of course): "No farther, you see? Behind this." When I, who was standing there, commented: "Enough! Stop shouting already, those screams are hurting my ears," she turned on me furiously, "If your ears hurt, stop coming - you've got some nerve!"
A few minutes later we heard a stun grenade explode in the line of people waiting to leave Nablus. In response to my question, a soldier said that the Palestinians on that line didn't move back as they should have, so a stun grenade was thrown at them, for their own good.
For an hour and a half, despite the fact that there were dozens of soldiers at the checkpoint, that the many press photographers with their tripods and giant lenses who had apparently been notified by the army and moved with complete freedom among the soldiers, that there were police sappers on site, and a robot, and vehicles with all kinds of equipment, the bag suspected of contained a bomb wasn't "taken care of," and many hundreds of Palestinians (at least a thousand - more, according to them) were crowded on both sides of the checkpoint, waiting on lines that grew longer and longer.
As we crowded together in the parking lot, two young men came over to me, introduced themselves as teachers at the university in Nablus and told us that the female MP (the screamer) just took away their ID cards because she said they didn't move quickly enough, and left. Together we looked for her, and when we drew near to where she was standing, and she saw us coming, she began loudly mocking us: "My ID, my ID, yes, cry about it, cry about it, crying won't help, my ID, cry about it," she jeered, moved away holding their ID's in her hand.
After the "incident" ended I went over to her with them and saw her giving the ID's to an officer in the MP's who was at the checkpoint. The men went over to him, spoke to him, and he returned their ID's to them. When they came over to say goodbye to me they told me that he listened to them and understood what they said to him.
For some reason, only an hour and a half after the army declared that "life stops" (an hour and a half during which we heard more shots and explosions of stun grenades - which, according to the Palestinians, were thrown at the crowd waiting on the other side), the robot finally took the bag and blew it up.
It sounded like a small explosion, there was no shockwave, no series of explosions, no black smoke rising to the sky - nothing dramatic at all. Just the sound of a small explosion, after which the soldiers moved toward the checkpoint, that the Palestinians took to mean that the incident was over - no one told them anything, of course - and they began running toward the entrance to Nablus. Others ran to the vehicle checkpoint, and the soldiers allowed them to enter from there as well.
An old woman, who could barely stand, asked Racheli to help her because she couldn't push her way through the crowd. Racheli asked one of the soldiers to allow the old woman and her daughter to go in through the humanitarian lane. He refused.
About twenty minutes later pedestrians also started coming through from Nablus. Many people went through the "humanitarian lane" without being inspected, and the taxis and vehicles that had been stuck for the past hour and a half began leaving with their passengers.
The vehicle lane into Nablus also opened, and it looked as if the soldiers were letting vehicles in almost without inspection in order to free up the long line that had been created.
We left the checkpoint at 17:30.
This time we didn't continue to observe at the Beit Furik checkpoint.
We returned to our own world, from which no one sees, no one hears, and no one wants to know what, and how, things were done in our name - all of our names - at Huwwara this afternoon.