Northern checkpoints, Taibe Romana: Late opening times alongside large holes in the 'security' fence
At 3 p.m. we arrived at Tayiba-Rummana, an agricultural checkpoint at the foothills of Umm Al Fahm (Palestinian town inside Israel proper) to the east. Some Palestinians were already waiting there and were glad to see us. The gate was locked but flanked now for some time with two wide holes which the Israeli army does not bother closing. Mahamid who passes here always with his red Ferguson tractor crossed one of the holes to the soldiers’ post for checking his papers, and came back through the hole. The gate was still locked. This morning he was very worried to find it locked at 8 a.m. He was told that the soldiers already had people crossing at 7:30. What do I do now? he asked me on the phone. I had no answer for him. I called and called, but received no answer from any of the occupation forces’ numbers on my list. Somehow he did get across.
The women-soldiers came to open the gate, perhaps for the tractor. Mahamid, the gentleman always wearing a jacket, his head bearing the checkered kuffiye (Arab headdress) and black holder, always holding a walking-stick, always saying “Good morning, how are you”, always stopping his tractor and shaking our hands with dignified reserve – mounts the tractor and cross the open gate.
Afternoon, on the way home to the village, there is sometimes time to chat. So today he told us he has no children. It’s all God’s will, he said, raising his eyes to the heavens. People around him, and especially one youngster, hurried to add: “We are all his children”.
We were told that earlier in the week the checkpoint was opened very late for afternoon passage – at 5 instead of 3 p.m. People stood there waiting for two hours. How blessed we are…
After everyone got through we asked to speak with one of the women-soldiers, hoping we could finally crack the well-kept secret: what are the new opening times during the olive harvest season? The one who heard our request passed it on to the one standing next to her who said disgustedly: “I don’t feel like it. Don’t answer her. Don’t talk with them…” She must have felt very righteous, one of the guys, certainly did not suspect that she is perhaps much more vulgar than one of the guys.
At 3:30 p.m. we arrived at the Agricultural checkpoint Anin, a village that is situated what was once a mere 10 minute walk from Umm Al Fahm, until the Separation Fence came and pushed it back, far back.
Beside the road leading to the checkpoint three men and one woman had been harvesting an impressive, neat olive grove. Too bad it has not borne many olives this year. Further on, in a neglected plot filled with thorn bushes stand sad, abashed olive trees. This is A.I.’s grove, once wonderfully tended, until his tractor permit was taken away and since he has no horse to do the job, he left farming and became a cab driver.
The weather, incidentally, is perfect for olive harvesting. A pleasure. Long ago, you know when, this season used to fill the olive groves with men and women, children and babies, grandparents, all harvesting, eating, drinking, and even sleeping among the trees. It was pure fun. And now? Permits are issued for the harvest sparingly, stingily… Celebration over.
The checkpoint is open for passage, people arrive, no inspections, so they cross to go home. On the road lie 3 sacks bursting with olives. Waiting for the tractor. Another tractor rises from the hill slope and drags the olives that people had harvested today. They look happy.
The ‘security’ road has some strange military action going on. Lost of vehicles rush by, exit, enter, return. One of them stops next to us. A sergeant-major and driver wonder what we’re doing there. “No more checkpoints, no more barrier, no more occupation…” we repeat our mantra.
So, says the sergeant-major, like what?
Like living this way for 52 years? We answer and choke ourselves trying to clarify what we mean by “this way”.
What do I care? says he. I’m a Bedouin. Give me a tent, a tree and some sheep. Nothing more needed.
And if we surround your tent with a fence, and station soldiers there, and you’ll need a permit to breathe the air?
Oh, he says. Oh. Okay. And drives off.