Beit Iba, Shave Shomron, Sun 10.8.08, Afternoon
Open Sesame! The phrase comes from the magical formula, "Open Sesame," used by Ali Baba in the Arabian Nights to open the door of the robbers' cave. Basically, it's a simple, trusty means of attaining a goal, be that goal to open a gate at a checkpoint that's been closed for years (Shavei Shomron), a closed suitcase or the trunk of a car to see what's inside (Beit Iba, Qalqiliya, A-Ras), emptying the boxes on a donkey cart, (Beit Iba), taking a blindfold off a detainee (Beit Iba) or masked men (the IDF) breaking into the Huwwash Brothers' home at 2:00 a.m. in Nablus. It's all so simple: "open Sesame!" Anything goes in an Occupation where any result, however small or inane, however humiliating or harassing, is deemed successful.
15:45 Shavei Shomron
It's not usual to look back on past notes and observations made at checkpoints, but today's reopening of the checkpoint, or rather, the reopening of the gate outside the settlement, made us look back at some of the observations made at Shavei Shomron, at about the same time of year, in the past few years.
August 2005: "We note that the many large semi-trailers, bearing Israeli license plates and the usual settler cars and pick-ups, sail past, the owners of the latter usually waving to the soldiers." (Israeli settlers were driving north on Route 60).
September 2006: "At the junction with the well paved road to the settlement, the new concrete blocks by the new but always open, unmanned barrier, are painted a bright neon green, and the same color (perhaps preferred by the settlers in addition to the orange they favor) is seen also at the concrete boulders at the entrance to the east side of the settlement. A jeep wails at us as we get to the formerly busy checkpoint. It's closed, we're told by the captain, and it'll remain closed forever, he adds categorically. And what about the people who live just beyond the checkpoint? "They," he responds casually, "have to go around, go via Asira," an area to which MachsomWatch is not "invited."
Today, it's a hot summer day, in 2008, and as we've been told, in a phone conversation at the end of last week from our friend in Deir Sharaf, the checkpoint at Shavei Shomron was opened on Saturday. A day later, we're there, as are a steady stream of Palestinian vehicles, taxis, private cars, small trucks – non stop, nobody being checked, just free flowing traffic. Journeys that in the past two years have taken hours now take fifteen minutes.
Such are the ways of Occupation: Open Sesame! And it's done, gates opened or closed at the whim of the Occupier.
There's a lone soldier beneath the camouflage netting at the entrance of the settlement. He has no idea if Israelis are allowed to go beyond the open gate. As we wonder whether to venture, an older man, looking like a private security guard, only partially dressed in army fatigues, but wielding his weapon aggressively, tells us that no Israelis can cross here, and that, of course, he was here when the gate was open in the past (making us suspect that he's a member of the settlement movement perched contentedly at the entry way to the disengaged communities north of here).
16:00 Beit Iba
Perhaps there's traffic heading directly to Shavei Shomron, making the flow of people and vehicular traffic much less than usual. The soldiers are lethargic in the extreme. Yet the lights are on, the generator humming. What's new here is shouting from the lookout tower above. One can't see the shouter, presumably on the megaphone that was recently used by women soldiers at the vehicle checking area, but some soldier seems to have his eyes trained on those entering the checkpoint, or those trying to go around it. What is said is far from clear. But orders are clearly being given, and the noise pierces the still, hot summer air.
Also new, or possibly we've never observed before: two young men, both wearing glasses, find that they set off a loud buzz as they pass the checking portal. Both remove their glasses and place them on the shelf, with their other possessions. No, that didn't work. The loud, piercing buzz goes off again. The culprit: a belt which is hidden from view, but not from the all seeing electronic eye!
Most of the time, there are seven to eight vehicles, all shapes and sizes, but as we leave, after an hour or so, the stream of container and construction trucks, trying to head into Nablus, grows.
The fast lane is usually almost empty, as are the turnstiles with never more than ten people.
There are some detainees, about whom the commander is reluctant to talk, and one young man is blindfolded. But as we try to observe more closely, a soldier unties the blindfold, hands him his ID and before we can talk further with the young man, he's headed on his way, in the direction he wanted to go in originally.
Note: Nighttime in Nablus.
The Huwwash brothers tell of a horrifying, but sadly typical, tale. Last Monday, at 2:00 in the morning, in other words, in the middle of the night, a group of about ten soldiers, all wearing face masks, burst into their home. Open Sesame! They enter, shoot all over the place, turn it upside down, frightening children, and take the four brothers, together with a number of young men picked up on the street, blindfolded and handcuffed them (the wrists are still visibly cut into). Many hours after, having been dragged from one DCO office to another, having checked into everything, they are released and an apology given! Hard to believe, but true. The boys, two of them, are back at work, one of them is, as he says, as usual, stopped and checked as he goes through Beit Iba on his way home, (something we witness), and this, he tells us, happens twice a day, on the way to work and the way home.
This is no fantasy, no modern Arabian Nights. This is the reality of Occupation.