Habla Checkpoint (1393)
05:30 We went via Bidya, Siniriyya, and Beit Amin to the Abu Salman and Habla agricultural checkpoints.
06:00 Abu Salman checkpoint
We arrived as it opened. About 20 people gathered at the gate, waiting for inspection. They cross in groups of five. As time passes, congestion increases. More people arrive and hurry to the gate. We estimated that 100-150 people wanted to cross. Some have land beyond the fence, and some are hired agricultural workers.
While awaiting their turn they told us they prefered this checkpoint over Habla. One reason is that it opens earlier, even though the difference is only half an hour. That’s significant when you’re hurrying to the fields. No one complained about the checkpoint opening late. One man complained that at times the gate opened earlier than usual and closed too early. They should adhere to the timetable they established, he said, justifiably. Most complaints address the longer distance to the fields and the time it takes because due to the gate's location relative to the fields and groves. One landowner said he lived in ‘Azzun ‘Atma. Entry via Abu Salman means he travels an hour and a half, instead of half an hour before the fence was built. The wait at the gate and the crossing procedure also wastes time and is tiring.
Additional serious complaints concern the soldiers’ offensive behavior. A man from Qalqilya, speaking excellent Hebrew, stressed that he only wants to live in peace and support his family. The checkpoint isn’t far from his home. The problems are with the soldiers. He notes that some soldiers act properly. But sometimes he’s out of luck and the soldier conducting the inspection doesn’t allow him to bring merchandise through. He has 12 dunums of orchards – avocado and guava. The soldier doesn’t allow him through with his truck even though he has a permit to cross with the vehicle. How can he transport the fruit? But the soldier doesn’t care if the fruit spoils. It took a day of phone calls to the Israeli and Palestinian DCL to solve the problem – hours to deal with a soldier’s spitefulness and harassment.
The produce is sold in Nablus. Prices are higher there. A large truck loads produce from the entire Qalqilya area and unloads it in Nablus.
We remained until 06:30, when the Habla checkpoint was to have been opened by the unit doing the inspection at Abu Salman. Many people still waited on the Palestinian side of the gate. We were told they would all go through. They won’t close the gate while people are still waiting on the other side. Perhaps this checkpoint should open for longer hours, because Habla checkpoint will be open late.
06:40 Habla checkpoint
The gate is still closed. People arrive in small groups, in vehicles, on foot, or by bicycle. They wait quietly. They don’t gather together before the checkpoint opens. We went over to speak to three women waiting on the side. One spoke Hebrew because she’d worked as a housekeeper in Israel before the fence was built. The women have land –they grow eggplants. It’s harvest season. The children help. The women say one of the problems at the crossing is physical contact with men. They moved forward and stood together when the gate opened, on the side, until the soldiers called them to be inspected.
07:10 Back to Habla. At this hour the streets are already bustling. Boys and girls on their way to school. The girls wear the characteristic striped uniforms.
We stopped to ask a taxi driver how to exit the village. A young man, married, he invited us for coffee. He said he’s blacklisted by the Shabak. His brothers work in Israel. He worked for 28 days and then his entry permit was cancelled without an explanation. He’s a tile-layer by profession. Now he works as a taxi driver to earn money, and makes NIS 40-70 per day.
We stopped at a junction, uncertain about which way to turn, when a car stopped and the driver emerged. With a surprised smile he asked what we were doing in Bidya. After he hears our reply he suggested we follow him and kept us in sight the entire journey.