Huwwara, Tue 3.3.09, Afternoon
Translator: Charles K.
A truck loaded with mattresses is detained at the vehicle checkpoint. The driver tells us that he goes through the Awarta checkpoint every day. A few days ago he saw a vehicle with Palestinian plates turn right after the checkpoint toward Huwwara, on the apartheid road forbidden to Palestinians. He asked the soldiers whether he, too, could use that road, and they said he could. Every day since he's asked, and received permission to use that segment of the road. It's a three-minute trip that saves a 20 minute drive on the detour through Awarta that's in poor condition. Today the soldiers stopped and detained him at the Huwwara checkpoint because he drove on the forbidden road.
The checkpoint commander told him he's being detained for three hours. The driver tells us that if he hadn't gotten permission from the soldiers at Awarta to use the road, he never would have done so, and risk losing three hours to save a few minutes driving time.
D., the checkpoint commander, doesn't believe him, and is certain that even if he's telling the truth, and the soldiers at Awarta allowed him to use the road, he still broke the law and must be punished. He doesn't care that there isn't any such law, that the law is illegal and there's no sign announcing the prohibition. None of that matters. What's even worse in his view is our intervention. "The fact that he sees a Jew arguing with a Jew," he tells us, "that's already a problem, because he'll tell all his friends that they don't have to obey the soldiers because someone will show up and take his side." As if it's the natural superiority of Jews to Arabs that makes them obey the soldiers and not the guns pointed at them.
The checkpoint commander also tells us, later, that he spoke to the soldiers at Awarta and they deny allowing the man to use the forbidden road. He says that he believes the soldiers and not the Palestinian driver, since the soldiers are his brothers "and we share the same blood." The driver was eventually released after being detained for two hours.
The line of women, children and older men moves quickly. Younger men (under 45), on the other hand, wait more than an hour. Occasionally one of them tries his luck on the faster line, and the female MP in the inspection booth imperiously sends him back to the line for younger men. One of them is clearly ill, and has difficulty standing on line. The MP doesn't care; "let him lean on the railing if he's having trouble" says the merciful soldier.
There are two detainees in the pen at the pedestrian checkpoint, but we're unable to go over and talk to them. A third detainee joins them a few minutes later. A fourth is added after the ID with which he tried to go through turns out to be counterfeit. It turns out that two of the detainees are taxi drivers who came too close to the exit lane in order to find passengers. They crossed some imaginary line, that exists only in the soldiers' heads, one that defines how far the taxi drivers have to be from the checkpoint. These drivers will be detained for three hours, and no court will help them. The third detainee is a van driver who called the soldier who inspected him and his vehicle a "nigger." The checkpoint commander was quite pleased to tell us about this, which proves that "these people that you're defending" are fundamentally "stinking racists." He seems not to differentiate between racism as an individual aberration, and the racist system of rule which he serves with such delight.
The soldiers mostly occupied themselves with insuring we didn't step beyond the boundary of our assigned area. The female MP in the inspection booth of the fast lane is particularly bothered by our presence. "Get them out of here," she orders the soldiers; "If they don't get out of here, I swear I'll do it myself," she threatens. But she doesn't do it herself. When we didn't obey their demand to remain on the access path, they called the police. When the squad car arrived we had a pleasant chat with the soldiers. One of them said that we're doing an important job. They drove off after a few minutes. They took the man with the counterfeit ID along with them.
Calling the police turned out to be useful, because in the meantime a resident of East Jerusalem who had entered Nablus with his vehicle that morning had been detained attempting to leave. The checkpoint commander didn't allow him to leave with the vehicle, telling him that it had to stay in the city and that he has to come back and take it out only during the day, and that Israeli vehicles are allowed to leave only on Saturday. He, of course, wasn't willing to agree to this absurd solution, insisting that he wouldn't leave his car, since if he could remove it on Saturday, why not on Tuesday? And if those are the rules, why aren't they posted on a sign? When the police arrived he was turned over to them, and after an "educational conversation" he was allowed to return home with his vehicle.