'Anabta, Ar-Ras, Jubara (Kafriat), Qalqiliya, Sun 14.12.08, Afternoon
12:05 Gate 1393 to/from Habla
The gates are still open, as they should be, not much traffic, but what there is stopped and dealt with. "I can't help you... I don't care." Those are the kind of sentences we overhear from the two soldiers on guard. A driver and his car are "permitted" to cross at another gate, not this one. Not now. Not ever. The soft wintry day's stillness in this oasis of agricultural calm is shattered by the ear splitting noise of a jeep announcing its needlessly fast arrival. The number of soldiers increases to five, and the gate is closed, or rather the several gates are closed, several minutes before the appointed hour of 12:15. The jeep goes back, with the same reckless revving up. Two soldiers walk, yes, actually walk along the dirt path in the direction of the main road, taking care to studiously avoid looking at the four of us.
A new sign, yellow, greets us at the entrance to the OPT: "It is prohibited to hand over vehicles for repair in the Palestinian Authority." Go figure.
12:35 -- the checkpoint is a mess, as we've heard already earlier this morning from a fellow MachsomWatcher, but there's a brand new Israeli flag, spotlessly clean, planted into a huge concrete boulder in the middle of the checkpoint. The line of vehicles coming from Qalqilya is endless. There are so many that, at one point, the resourceful soldiers close the entry to Qalqiliya and have vehicles exit through it. A kind of "up the down staircase" situation. And the mess created today is, indeed, a schoolboy type of mess. The soldiers here are reservists, reservists of the most uninformed and self-important kind as the lines of vehicles grow and grow before our eyes. One soldier bellows at us to stand where we can see nothing at all. Gradually, the numbers of soldiers increase to seven or eight. We are approached by soldiers of greater and greater rank. One, a captain, wants to talk, not read, about MachsomWatch: has no interest in looking at our web site but wants to spout a political line. The mess of traffic does not improve, and the berating of the MachsomWatch shift grows apace. At one point, we are told that not only do we prevent soldiers from working, but we are the cause of pedestrians walking through the checkpoint (on the sides, as permitted), and a major even goes so far as to tell us that the long lines are due to our presence -- in addition, our car is not "safe" in the place where it stands every week at this time, already for years, since "terrorists can be all over the place..." We call the Humanitarian Center to complain of the endless lines, 30 to Qalqilya and at least 40 - we can't see all that far into the distance -- coming out of the city. The army presence is also huge. All reservists, all inept, but here to help "give service" (a direct quote), meaning holding up cars to examine papers and re-examine them, poking into the cabs of vehicles. On the other hand, checking coming out of Qalqiliya seems to be perfunctory. When we leave, about 45 minutes later, the line from Qalqiliya has lessened slightly.
A strange sight greets us. Along both sides of the road, going towards Anabta, are parked cars with yellow license plates. It's hard to find a spot for us to park our car! Why? When we get to the checkpoint, the soldiers, once again reservists, tell us that, since this morning there's been an order, "No Israeli cars to enter Tulkarm." Nobody knows this, however, until they find themselves in front of a soldier who tells them, in no uncertain language, to turn round. This, at a checkpoint where cars with Israeli license plates are never, ever, checked -- unlike at Qalqiliya where they are always checked, or nearly always. So, what do the Palestinian Israeli drivers do? Desert their cars on the side of the roadway and make their way across the checkpoint, on foot, hoping to, and surely finding a taxi.
The huge amount of traffic coming from Tulkarm is stopped. One of the two soldiers at the far position wanders over to the nearer checking position: he needs a cigarette! The commander signals the oncoming car to stop, which means that the long line of vehicles behind has to stop also. The first soldier, cigarette in hand, dawdles back to his position where the commander is waiting for him. Checking proceeds apace. Or, rather, the patiently waiting vehicles are permitted to move once again. Pedestrians are checked individually and carefully.
To Tulkarm, very light traffic. The driver of a truck with a large load engages the soldiers in conversation, trying to be persuasive. "Only on foot" he's told, over and over again.
On both checking positions, there is evidence of a recent visit of the Women in Blue and White. Two small paper flags, in white, extolling "our soldiers" are hung there. We tell the soldiers this is forbidden. They shrug off our complaint, telling us we can't come so near.... "move back, move back."
There is a long line of cars (Israeli license plates, meaning Palestinian Israelis) waiting to get through back into Israel proper. We make our way, uncomfortably, through the empty settler lane. Once again, all our IDs are studied scrupulously. The commander indicates that we'll be let through the gate to go up to A-Ras. But two soldiers, again reservists, are clueless as to how to open the electronic arm that is now poised across the gate and parallel to it. There's no button visible, there's nothing that will unlock in the foot locker kind of closet below, and our suggestion that maybe the necessary button is in the center of the checkpoint goes unheeded. The number of soldiers engaged in this action increases to six, and eventually, one of the strong men lifts the offending arm himself, with all his strength, and we're let through the gate. This operation has cost ten minutes and more than quite a few army of occupation manpower minutes too.
"Who are you?" the reservists here greet us. "Are you authorized?" They've never heard of MachsomWatch and check what's already been checked below at Jubara. Palestinian pedestrians and vehicles are checked very slowly and thoroughly.
"What are you doing?" is the different greeting that meets us here. Not one soldier at a position or in the crow's nest. Two white chairs are used by two soldiers as they gather, seemingly comfortably, around their checkpoint to enjoy their brotherly reservist time together in the OPT. "We've been here two days, will be here for a month." Little traffic, but it's checked - usually.
We wait and wait at the gate to have it opened. An army ambulance, standing on the side, has noticed us earlier, and one of the soldiers now runs interference on our behalf. "The peace girls are here." The "peace girls" wait nearly 15 minutes before two soldiers amble over, demonstrating that they have learned to operate the electronic arm and let us back into the checkpoint proper.