Beit Furik, Burin (Yitzhar), Huwwara, Za'tara (Tapuah), Tue 14.4.09, Morning

Etika, Didika, Noa P. (reporting)

Translator:  Charles K.

Huwwara as seen by one who was last here many months ago.

It may be that the solitary turnstile, standing useless amidst a tangle of useless fences, tells the whole story

That turnstile, once used by people entering Nablus, stands embarrassed, tilted and neglected.

Erected in folly, abandoned in folly.

Vehicles enter Nablus; there's no curfew.

"There are no more permits," says ‘I., the DCO representative - "The story's over," seeing my surprised expression.

No more entry permits?  I wonder, looking for the entrance booth, where I'd often seen vehicles, including ambulances, detained for a long time.  It's gone.  And there's no more line of cars.

There was once a DCO representative, T., who once proudly showed us the form he'd prepared for each booth listing the permits whose bearers could go through without delay, so the soldiers "wouldn't have to keep asking" - for the benefit of the population, so they'd wouldn't have to wait so long.

Now permits aren't necessary.  Nor is T., the DCO representative, assigned to the Nablus sector any longer.  "He's been moved to the perimeter," I. says.

There are two inspection lanes for the very long line of exiting vehicles.  We can't see the end of the line.  And what about the dogs?  I ask, hopefully.  They're brought occasionally, not all the time, he replies.

The checkpoint commander comes over to introduce himself and talk to us.  His name is E; he's from Nahariyya.  They're new here, I. says - maybe two weeks.  E., says that he's been here one month.  I've trained to fight in Lebanon, he says, in Syria, in Gaza, wherever they send me, not to inspect people going to the regional capital city.  But this is where the army put me, and I have to obey orders.

This is the second time during his military service that he's come to Huwwara.  The first time he came as an ordinary soldier, in 2006.  Now he's an officer and a commander. 

He says:  People are being arrested at night in Nablus, but "the arrests are carried out ‘more gently' than they were the last time I served here, when about 15 wanted men were caught in each night raid.  Today - maybe half that number."

We noticed that some people go through the checkpoint in jitneys, and some on foot and then take another jitney to their destination.

Didika keeps asking: Why?  Isn't it more comfortable to remain in the taxi when passing through the checkpoint?  The answer is, essentially, economic in nature:  It turns out that someone with a permit can charge more for his services, so a trip in two taxis that would cost 8-10 shekels, costs about 25 shekels if you take the same taxi all the way through.

Didika finds this hard to believe - in other words, someone with a permit can earn more?  Why should Israel lend a hand to this?

Why not, I wonder?  That's called divide and rule.

We asked a few people.  They all said the same thing - it's cheaper to take two different taxis, so most choose to do so.

I stand opposite the inspection lane for pedestrians.  The shed is only about one-third full.  We timed how long it took the last person on line to go through - about 12 minutes.

E., and ‘I., pass by with a man who isn't young, holding his documents.  They're apparently taking him to the inspection booth.  Something seems familiar - that same old inspection booth that was used at the old checkpoint has been moved here.  That's the detention cell the checkpoint commander was referring to last year when he said "...detention cell???  You think that's a detention cell???  You're joking, right?  That's a spacious, well-ventilated room..."  The Huwwara Hilton, I called it then.

Now, there's no way to visit the detaineesinfo-icon, and it's also hard to keep track of who enters - it's located a secure distance from the checkpoint entrances and exits, facing the soldiers.

We didn't see the man again, and the DCO representative and the officer also disappeared.

We have no contact with the soldiers, and no chance to speak to them - except by shouting.

From time to time the soldier concealed in the booth near where we're standing barks out: Back, back I said.  Did I call you?  The Palestinians, used to humiliations, obey silently.  The point is to get through the checkpoint as quickly as possible.

The taxi drivers actually welcome the new checkpoint - there are no fights and passage is much faster than before.  The era of punishments for drivers who don't behave "nicely" is over.  But there's no more market.  The colorful, interesting market, the sellers of fruits and vegetables, Arab bagels and candy, coffee, falafel, water and soft drinks - the market is gone.

"No permission," say the taxi drivers.

How do you manage without the market services, I ask.  We bring things from home, they reply.

And the merchants suffer; it's now harder for them to make a living.

But, I notice - life goes on.  Despite the prohibition, a boy comes over to us holding a bottle of water - and before we leave, Etika discovers someone selling large pitas - village bread, he calls them.  The market operates in secret, and will apparently burst open again.

What is most noticeable is the tremendous financial investment in the new checkpoint.

Talking to a friend after the shift ended, I learned that, apparently, they're also going to dismantle the new Huwwara checkpoint, like they dismantled the one at Beit Iba.

The wise men of Chelm couldn't improve on this folly.

Beit Furik: 
The upper parking lot, which had been full of people and cars, is now empty.  The improvised kiosk selling tea and coffee is not there.  The only remaining evidence are the stones arranged by its former owner, who tried to make it look nice.

The soldiers come over to us.  They're not used to visitors, much less those who stop and watch them.  They ask whether everything's all right, and tell us that they stop drivers from time to time "to check their papers."  Etika says, you're new here; that's why you're detaining them.  You're supposed to let them go through without checking.

The shed is empty.  The white line drawn at the end to indicate where the Machsom Watch women should stand is still there, even though there's no need for it since the checkpoint, which embittered the lives of the residents of Beit Furik for such a long time, one that only residents of the village could go through, and, especially, that didn't allow passage to anyone who wasn't registered as a resident of the West Bank, who were trapped in their village, has been removed.

It seems that now the encirclementinfo-icon, the curfew, or whatever the blockade is called by our compatriots has been eased.  But at night the familiar security arrangements are again imposed on the village - the steel bar at the entrance is locked until the following morning.

A Border Police jeep stood at the Burin junction, randomly stopping cars.  It was no longer there when we returned.

A line of about 20 cars from the north at Za'tara.  We were, after all, very humane, and eased the curfew at locations near Nablus; we don't have to do so at checkpoints that are farther away.

Happy Holidays, Palestine.