Beit Iba, Jit, Thu 20.11.08, Afternoon
Today at about 4:20PM (10 minutes after we left) the checkpoint was closed down and there was what is called a "Hafsakat Chaim" (A Break from Life). This took place, according to a report on the radio, because a young man was found carrying a knife. We were not there. However, several women from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme were there and I spoke directly with 2 of them in the evening and each of them gave me the same report.
The young man was taken to the detention area by gun point with his hands in the air. Later he was taken to the area south of the vehicle lanes where there is a flat field. He was told to take off his shirt and trousers and was left in his underwear. This was in view of everyone. His jacket was blown up by a robot. He was then taken away by the police, not an army vehicle. During this time the checking of pedestrians and vehicles was stopped and they were directed by gun point to leave the checking area altogether. The "break from life" took about 50 minutes. A huge crowd of pedestrians and vehicles were backed up as a result.
The checkpoint had been crowded the whole time we were there with the numbers increasing even as were leaving so we can only imagine the tremendous back up that resulted after this incident. Incidentally, the DCO representative who usually can ease such difficult situations left at 2:30PM when there was a momentary lull in the traffic of pedestrians on the side line (the "humanitarian line" as referred to by the army).
We arrived at 1:45PM and the taxi area was filled with taxis, more then we had ever seen. They had filled the parking lots and were spilled out on both sides of the street. Today is the day that many people make the pilgrimage to Mecca and this is done by bus. Therefore there was a shortage of buses for use at the checkpoints and taxis had to take their place. At the end of our shift at 4:10PM there were no more taxis left and tens of people were waiting on line for taxis to return from previous runs so they could catch a ride home. One more line to wait on in the long journey from Nablus to
one's final destination.
Despite that fact that while we were there things were being managed without screaming and with a steady movement of vehicle and pedestrian traffic, the situation itself is one which creates tension, humiliation, endless waiting, pushing, attempts at trying to beat the system, and difficult inhumane incidents.
At about 3:30PM a young boy of about 6 or 7 years old with a school bag on his back was traveling from Nablus through the CP on a donkey drawn cart. The man who leads the donkey cart often takes women, children, and handicapped people as well as luggage. A few minutes before a woman with children went through without being checked. However, the soldier stopped the cart this time and would not let the child through because a child under 16 can pass the CP only while being accompanied by a parent. The father was waiting on the other side not in sight of the CP. There was some argument back and forth between the cart driver, the soldier and Hagar and then the soldier ordered that the driver of the cart leave his cart and go get the father from the other side. However, the child started shaking from fear and did not want the driver to leave him. More arguing ensued and finally the father arrived in his jeep. The soldier did not want the father to simply take his child and leave. He wanted him to pass through the regular line to be checked. This meant he was to first enter the Nablus side and then go and wait on the line from Nablus to return.
While the soldier and the father argued the child started to cry. The two were still not allowed to be near each other. The donkey cart driver was told to turn his cart around and go back to Nablus with the child in it. He took the cart and child about 50 meters away toward Nablus, left the cart with the child in it, and returned to try to reason with the soldier. The boy jumped off the cart and started to run 50 meters toward his father. The soldier stopped him. And the boy was sent back to stand a distance away. A woman soldier from the vehicle checkpoint saw what was happening, came up to the boy, took his hand and brought him to his father. The male soldier refused to let this go but finally agreed to a compromise. He took the boy with his father to the pedestrian checking booth where he was walked through and they were finally allowed to leave. I recalled that about an hour earlier an older man stopped me after he had waited about 20 minutes on the "humanitarian" line and said "You see how much humiliation we suffer."
The pedestrian traffic of young men remained pretty consistently at about 60 people divided into 2 lines throughout the shift. The wait was around 15 minutes with about 135 men checked within a half hour period (2:30PM--3:00PM). The passage through the checking booth required the checking of IDs and packages, the removal of belts, cell phones, and sometimes shoes.
Rather then allowing the young men to put on their belts and shoes and straighten their shirts as they left the turnstile, they were made to move about 20 meters away to redress. Those who had had to remove their shoes did a shuffle with the shoes half on half off across that distance.
The times it took the last person in the young men's line to get through the checkpoint were as follows:
2:08PM—2:25PM, 2:12PM –2:27PM ,2:20PM—2:33PM, 2:35PM—2:46PM, 3:09PM—3:24PM.
The side line of women, families, older men, and men with special permits was very long most of the time. There were from 60 to 100 people on line at any one time. The least number was at about 2:30PM when the DCO representative left. The longest line of about 100 was at about 3:45PM.Some times the check was very thorough including IDs and bags of both men and women and sometimes only the men were checked or woman with bags. Their wait was about 15 minutes as well. (1:41PM –2:03PM, 3:12PM – 2:20PM)
The pedestrians going into Nablus were checked most of the time. This has not been the case for awhile.
The traffic to Nablus was sparse at the beginning of the shift. When there was a line the vehicles moved quickly. At 2:12PM there were 5 vehicles on line and the wait for the last on line was 5 minutes. At 3:05PM there were 9 on line and the last one on line passed through at 3:11PM.
However, the traffic from Nablus moved very slowly. Trucks and cars were passed on very quickly but buses and minibuses took from 6 to 20 minutes each to be checked. The checking of the buses and minibuses was done on the line itself rather then making some kind of arrangement where they could be checked on the side so that other vehicles could move ahead. (Buses are on the same line as cars and trucks.)
When the buses got to the checking booth IDs were taken and checked against a list of wanted men. The men on the bus were then asked to leave the bus and they were lined up near the side line or on one of the islands between the lanes of vehicle traffic leaving Nablus. The men's bags were checked, shirts were lifted, they were told to do a pirouette, and sometimes questions were asked. There was one bus where the men were not asked to leave the bus. In the past I've seen any number of systems. Sometimes the young men must pass through the regular line, and they usually do this while the bus is waiting on the traffic line. They often finish their check before the bus makes it to the front of the line. There is another system where the IDs are handed out but the passengers remain on the bus. It is not consistent.
The wait on the regular vehicle line increased all the time. In the beginning of our shift it was 20 or 30 minutes and then went progressively up as the time passed. The last vehicle on line at 3:05PM did not pass through the checkpoint until 4:00PM.
The check that I did of the time it took the last vehicle on line to get to the front was
as follows: 1:46PM—2:14PM, 2:10PM—2:28PM,2:32PM—3:09PM, 2:38PM--3:28PM, 2:53PM—3:40PM, 3:05PM—4:00PM.
There is a special humanitarian line of vehicles but it is for those with special permits or for ambulances. It moved rather quickly.
On the way to Beit Iba we passed through Jit (1:30PM) and it was not manned.
The entrance to the village of Azzun was not blocked.