Azzun, Sat 9.2.08, Afternoon
On the way to Huwwara checkpoint, we wanted to get to the checkpoint that closes off the Azzun Atma enclave, situated south east of Qalqiliya. We were told about this checkpoint by people at Huwwara checkpoint the week before. Azzun Atma is a seam-line enclave locked up between the separation fence and the Green Line, linked to the West Bank and the neighboring villages by a single opening in the fence where the checkpoint was built. Soon another fence is going to be constructed, which will plunder another chunk of the village lands for the benefit of the Israeli side.
The construction of the fence, the present and the planned, has been charted so as to leave the settlement Sha'are Tikva, which was built on lands of the village, on the Israeli side. The fence cuts off the villagers from their plots of land in the West Bank and the residents of Beit Amin, Sanniriya and Hable from their lands in Azzun Atma. Only people from the village, about 2000 of them, and agricultural workers with permits from the neighboring villages may pass through the opening which has become a regular checkpoint. Their passage is subject to a regime of permits that involves days and hours of opening, denying access catching "illegals" [in Israel without a residence permit] and also depends on the "warden's" state of mind. As a matter of fact, we met a man who had an entry permit but since it was Saturday, he was not allowed to enter.
The checkpoint that was set up at the opening in the fence, the only one for Azzun Atma residents that connects them to the West Bank, includes all the improvements: men and women soldiers, watch towers, blockades and separation lanes, a turnstile, threatening signs and a special, guarded place for detainees' people caught in the net of man hunters, exactly as we were told by people at Huwwara checkpoint.
The residents of Azzun Atma, which is a seam-line enclave open partly in the direction of the Green Line, don't take advantage of the "benefit" they have; being so isolated and vulnerable, they fear they might lose the permits to enter and leave for the West Bank through the checkpoint. This part of the boarder between them and Israel has been probably left with some breaches on purpose for the benefit of the workers who sneak out at nights for work in Israel, sleeping in orange groves and tunnels during the week and sneak back in to their homes in the West Bank at the end of the day but mostly on Thursdays just to be caught by the army and the police. They are then held in the area or brought to the checkpoint where they are being abused for hours. This story about the man hunt is repeated by the people in different shades of brutality, viciousness and abuse.
The checkpoint is open during the day from 05:00 or 06:00 in the morning to 21:00 or 22:00 in the evening. At night the checkpoint is closed. However, for emergency cases there is a soldier who sits in the pillbox. Naturally, since the aim of closing the checkpoint at night is to keep the soldiers safe, the soldier in the pillbox doesn't rush to open the gates even in urgent cases. Just a reminder of something that happened here two months ago, when two women gave birth in the cars, because of the delay in opening the gates. One of them was left with a severe bodily damage after giving birth in the car.
In Azzun Atma there is only one clinic that serves also the residents of two neighboring villages who are now denied access. Sick people from Azzun Atma who need medical treatments in the hospital of Qalqiliya – another enclave – have to pass four times through the opening/checkpoint in the separation fence. We heard all these things from people at the checkpoint, waiting to enter or leaving and waiting for transportation. Passengers of cars entering and leaving through the checkpoint get out firs and continue on foot to be checked. We didn't enter the checkpoint and had no connection with the soldiers but we saw from the outside a number of Palestinian men, detained. Eye witnesses who came out of the checkpoint testified that the men had been caught in the village on their way to the West Bank and that they had been standing there for hours suffering the abuse of men and women soldiers who forbade them to sit, smoke, talk on the phone or else talk at all. The same story of abuse. All the time the detainees were there, we kept hearing the laughter among the soldiers.
Right above the checkpoint, the settlement Sha'are Tikva, with its horrendous architecture, commands the vicinity threateningly. A turbulent river of sewage flows at the foot of the checkpoint and the stench is dreadful. It's not hard to imagine what happens there in the summer. We saw children playing near the sewage and realized how hard it must be for the people waiting to pass the checkpoint and also for the residents of Beit Amin whose houses are close by, having to suffer the stench and the gases. We could not understand whose fault it was that the sewer remained broken. Apparently they started laying new pipes but the work stopped because of difficulties with the authorities.
Driving near and through neighboring villages, we arrived at the checkpoint. Everywhere we stopped to ask for directions, we met people who answered politely and pleasantly despite everything we had done to them. Maybe it was because they didn't detect any racism and landlordship in us. We met three women and three children who left the village and walked through the checkpoint. They were very nice, smiling and very anxious to talk. They were not from Azzun Atma, but they were allowed to enter because two of the women were pregnant and their families were in the closed off villages. They said that this was very rare. Personally, I was amazed to see how nice and polite these people were. This is how they behave when we show no condescension.
We enclose two photographs of the signs at the checkpoint. A certain, unknown hand or hands erased some of the letters in the bottom line and instead of wishing a pleasant stay, what it says now in Arabic is 'pleasant death to you', and in Hebrew, instead of saying farewell, what is left is the word 'to the conqueror.'