'Anin, Reihan, Shaked, Thu 5.2.09, Afternoon
We drove S., a woman, and her son A., who is a cancer patient, from Rambam Hospital in Haifa to the Reihan checkpoint. Nevertheless, we stopped at A’anin first so that we would get there before it closes at 3:30.
Several tractors, an elderly man with a donkey, and about 40 people are still standing next to the tractors or sitting on the road waiting to get through. People move through the gate slowly.
We spent most of the time at A’anin checkpoint talking to people who complained bitterly that they cannot renew work permits and plead with us to help. One man shows us his permit that is about to expire on February 20th. Another says that he has a permit, but that his wife and son have not been given permits. He has to work his olive groves, he explains. How can he do all the work alone? We promise to call the Liaison & Coordination Administration, but explain that we have no power to change things. The farmers also complain about the Israeli Arab shepherd from Ein Sahala who continually grazes his flocks in their olive groves in the seamline zone – deliberately taking advantage of the fact that the Palestinians cannot go out each day and prevent the damage caused to the trees by grazing animals.
We arrive at the gate at Reihan and announce that we have a mother and her son with us in the car. S has an outdated permit with her, and the new one is with the child’s father who is waiting in the parking lot on the Palestinian side. Phone calls are made, bureaucracy grinds slowly, papers are examined, and after 10 minutes we are finally allowed to drive through. A, holding his colored balloons, climbs into his uncle’s car with his mother, and they thank us and drive off.
The lower parking lot is filled with cars and drivers waiting to take people home. People who come out say it has taken 40 minutes, sometimes and hour, to get through the terminal. Probably at the end of a long work day even a short wait at the checkpoint seems endless, but things are not running smoothly. A, the driver, informs us that the next checkpoint at Mevo Dotan-Emarikha is only opened at 6:00 AM, meaning that people cannot get through to Reihan, which is already open at 5:00.
Meanwhile, Reihan checkpoint is boasting more and more signs. A new one at the exit tells people to have their magnetic card ready to open the gate, which squeaks and clangs shut incessantly as people hurry out. One driver is going as far as Hebron, taking people back for the weekend. He explains that it will take him two hours to drive there, and they must pass through four more checkpoints. The passengers split the cost of NIS 450 between them.
16:25: All movement in the terminal stops, the gate is closed to traffic, and the loudspeaker repeats: “Irja lawara!” (Get back!). We are told that a man arrived at the checkpoint with an automatic screwdriver or rivet gun, (not quite clear which, but it is some sort of automatic tool that according to checkpoint logic is a potential weapon)… Since the man was deaf and could not speak, he was meticulously searched. The checkpoint opens again at 16:35.
We drive back up to the gate and find it closed. We are ordered to get out of the car and the entire vehicle - including the trunk and hood - are opened and checked. Only then are we allowed to drive through. We are treated “almost like Palestinians.” The only thing missing was a search using the dogs.
At the far end of the sleeve yet another new sign has been posted: this one informs people that on Tuesday, February 10th, (Election Day in Israel) the checkpoint will be open only from 7:00 AM.
People continue arriving in groups of 15 or so. A second window opens each time a large group enters. A half a dozen people are detained and are waiting on the bench in the entryway for as long as a half hour. We are not allowed to talk to them. People claim that when we show up, they open a second window and things move faster. We are not sure whether our presence is connected to the faster passage, but we are appreciated.
Despite the late hour there are still cars going through in both directions, and they move through quickly after being checked. The moon rises over the hills. I contemplate the idea of the man whom we met in the sleeve at Reihan who once again complained that he had not been able to renew his work permit.
“What will be?” he asks.
“Things will be OK,” we answer, “when there are no checkpoints.”
“Let’s tear down this checkpoint together, eh?” he suggests. Great idea. .