'Azzun 'Atma, Huwwara, Za'tara (Tapuah), Sun 29.3.09, Afternoon
Translation: Tal H.
14:50 Za'tara Tapuach Junction Checkpoint
20 cars awaiting inspection, arriving from Nablus. No detainees in sight, nor sniffer-dog.
15:00 Huwwara Checkpoint
High up on a watchtower at the outskirts of the checkpoint stands a soldier on observation duty.
Another red-beret, as red as the poppies and anemonies now in full bloom all arouned, stands amidst the two concrete ledges opposite the entrance to the car park. He selects the cars arriving from the south: Israeli license plates pull over to the side, trucks sent to Awarta trucks and wares crossing into Nablus.
The soldiers are all helmet-less today. The paratroopers sport their scarlet berets, the MPmen and women in blue 'baseball' caps. Adam, the DCO representative has his own khaki colored baseball cap.
Two checking posts in action, we counted 18 cars waiting at least. The inspection itself lasts between 2 and 4 minutes, we timed about 25-30 minutes waiting time in line.
The dirt track just recently prepared still full of potholes and puddles, harvest of the latest rain bout. The passengers disembark at some distance from the checking post, the driver approaches, turns off the engine, presents IDs, opens the car doors, answers questions, produces smiles if called for. The passengers are waved back into the car, not before exposing their belly (lifting jacket, sweater and undershirt all), performing a pirouette (pivoting around themselves), lifting one pant leg after the other. That's it, on to the next checkpoint (Tapuach). Wind, mud, rain or sun (soon upon us), with helmet, without helmet - everything in the name of 'security' (of course).
An empty bus is forced back to Nablus. The soldier who is supposed to hand him his ID at the entry lane to Nablus refuses to speak with the driver and his body language is overtly aversive and dismissing. That same soldier, with the very same dismissing hand gesture, this time accompanied with a growl, will chase a 30-year old Palestinian who arrives with Majdi, the handcart porter at the checkpoint, to transport some wares to the other side of the checkpoint. This soldier gets rid of the two with "Go on, split I said!". Who knows why and wherefore.
An Israeli vehicle driven by a Palestinian citizen of Israel is not allowed to exit the checkpoint and is sent back into Nablus.
At 15:30 the sniffer-dog and trainer arrive.
16:00 they begin their shift.
First - an old beige Opel, with three middle-aged male passengers. The sniffer-dog trainer wakes the dog up, that in turn stretches, sniffs, wags its tail. Preparations over, it leaps into the car, onto the back seat, over to the trunk, driver's seat, down, up , around, leap and lick. The passengers of the car being inspected (dog-less) in the next lane over watch the procedure, probably counting their blessings for being spared this grossness. The 'inspection' is over after 15 minutes, the dog gets a snug and a petting. The three passengers get back into the now filthy vehicle.
Second car to be inspected: a new-looking blue car. The driver, a 50-year old Palestinian in a tailored suit and a younger man stand about two meters from their car, while the dog does its business. Hands over their eyes to keep the sun out, their gaze turning alternately away, not to see. This 'inspection' is over in 8 minutes.
Third car - a small white jalopy. This driver too is middle-aged. The dog sniffs outside the car, inside, under, over, encouraged by its trainer's calls. For 10 minutes it sniffs and searches. For what? Perhaps for some sense of shame that has entirely disappeared.
All checking posts active, to our surprise procedures are back to the old style - no-tech, no remote control! The soldiers and MPs stand next to the metal detector, conducting manual checks on belongings and IDs. Our assumption that some power cut has hit the automated system inside the state-of-the-art bunker seems correct, as after about 15 minutes the new, hi-tech procedures behind the thick glass panes, loudspeakers and ID return-slot that requires bowing are all back in force.
Average waiting time in line for the men - about a quarter of an hour, some hundred men waiting altogether.
Asking whatever happened to helmets and soldier security, we heard this was a fresh ruling of the brigade commander's, to make life a bit easier for the soldiers. To our amazement, after years of seeing soldiers always 'helmeted', we learned that this checkpoint is not threatened 'from above', therefore - no risk.
Two detainees were seen at the detention cubicle door.
At the turnstile for those entering Nablus, an exhausted man carrying heavy packages struggle to get a children's bicycle through this creaking device that makes sure that even at the un-inspected entrance into their district city, the Palestinians will move one by one, slowly, clumsily, and always, but always 'on hold'.
17:20 - we left. About 20 cars waiting to be checked exiting Nablus, waiting 35-40 minutes.
17:40 - on the narrow road uphill between Marda village and Ariel colony, off on the side of the road stand nine Palestinian service cabs (yellow vans) with passengers inside, between two army jeeps, a number of soldiers holding piles of IDs, all commanded by a lieutenant-colonel (battalion commander). A moment after our arrival they began to be released. This procedure actually jeopardized all vehicles moving along the narrow road, especially traveled by very rapid trucks driving in both directions. To our question, passengers trapped inside the cabs answered they have been waiting like this for over half an hour.
In the meantime, another dusty jeep arrives with a soldier holding another ID.
The senior officer present loudly calls out - for our sake? - that there's some business with some cab that has broken through the checkpoint and that's why this roadblock was put up, to stop all yellow vans traveling here until the suspect be found.
On the other hand, they are all identical so how will the soldiers know which one it was? And how does that sit with the instruction to release all the cabs as soon as the ID arrived in the dusty jeep?
18:10 Azun Atme Checkpoint
On our way home we monitored this checkpoint and observed workers coming home from their job and being forced to handle and carry very heavy equipment that is no longer allowed to be transported by vehicle into the village. Machines, sacks, a refrigerator, everything must now be carried by hand. A reserves soldier sporting stylish ski-sun-glasses does not understand what's bothering us. Why, don't porters carry stuff seven or five or four stories up his own building?
Anyway, we got a repeat performance of the mantra about how few suicide bombings there have been since...
So what did we have? A caged city, caged pedestrians, caged passengers, and finally, a caged village.
At 18:30 we re-entered the State of Israel.