MachsomWatch is an Israeli women’s organization that monitors one of the gravest aspects of the Occupation – the restriction of free movement by Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
‘Just wait – once the wall is ready, they’ll rot behind it’ (Border Police soldier, Abu Dis)
Following the ‘concessions’ and the ‘streamlining’ and for the sake of ‘minimizing friction with terror-tainted segments of the population`, the Palestinians’ freedom of movement is inexorably being reduced to total paralysis. Cases of hardheartedness, humiliation and malevolence are multiplying. Dehumanizing and disregarding the humanity of others are fast becoming the norm, and a whole generation of soldiers are learning how to “carry out orders” because “there’s no other choice”.
We found a large deployment of BP soldiers in the area. One group was in the alley, bent on capturing local residents and preventing them from crossing to their homes. Two other groups sent back everyone attempting to cross through - including humanitarian cases, even women with infants and small children. The mantra was “we have to get them used to going through the new, efficient Olives Checkpoint”. Half an hour later, a mounted policeman arrived, and a truck with dogs was parked across the intersection. (Abu Dis 22 January 2006)
After about an hour we phoned the commander of the area and he told us that the new terminal would only be opened in a month’s time, but as of today a ‘running-in’ period would begin. He added that the soldiers would still enjoy ‘a little’ discretion, and from time to time could allow people through - this would be cases of special consideration, because it’s important for him to ease matters for the population. This is what has been termed ‘The hope of us all’… (Abu Dis 22 Jan 2006)
Last month, there were more cases of bureaucratic harassment of Northern West Bank residents. As well as the cantonization, which has divided the West Bank into three “Bantustans”, a new edict has been handed down – Nablus residents wishing to go to Tulkarm must drive north-eastward, in the opposite direction to their destination. From there, they have to turn west, cross Route 60 and then continue on dirt-track side-roads to Tulkarm. And once they reach Tulkarm, they are liable to hear that the city is closed and entry is prohibited. A journey that in normal conditions takes 20 minutes, now requires an hour and a half.
A taxi driver who had his car fixed in Nablus wanted to return to his home in Nakura, five minutes from the checkpoint. The soldier tells him to go through `Ain Bidan. The taxi driver explains the unreasonableness of this route. He explains, gets annoyed, begs, gets angry. Nothing helps. In the end, he finds himself in the detention shed. The taxi driver lets all of his frustration out in words. The soldier threatens to send him to jail. But he says, `I wish it were so!` and continues to pour out his wrath: `It won`t help. You don`t scare me. At Jubara they say “Go to Anabta.` At Anabta `go to Al Badhan.` But I live in Nakura, three kilometres from here. Why do I have to drive 40 kilometres? As though it’s in another country! Just back and forth from my own city. There can`t be a good end to this.` The soldier at the checkpoint yells at him: `Get out! get out!` and threatens to blindfold him. Half an hour later they release the taxi driver … back to Nablus. He leaves, accompanied by two soldiers…while the soldier who is standing above the pillbox watches to make sure he doesn`t – heaven forbid! – take a short cut instead of going via Al Badhan (Beit Iba 16 January 2006)
Three women, one holding a baby in her arms had come from Nablus and were trying to get to Tulkarm. They were directed to Ein Al Badhan, which means a drive of an hour and a half, instead of twenty minutes on the direct route. It was very cold and a steady rain was falling. No DCO representative was present, so we tried to get hold of him by phone. The checkpoint commander made do with the phrase – “These are orders from above.” From the DCO, the reply was “They knew they couldn`t go through from here and you’re preventing me from dealing with the case.` A captain arrived with a DCO representative, whom we asked personally to make a one-time exception. He says “There’s no such thing as one-time, one-time` has a domino effect and then everyone will ask for an exception.` A few more precious minutes passed and then he told us that he would have let her pass, but she had already gone. (Beit Iba 25 January 2006)
Hardheartedness, humiliation and malevolence
The IDF has given its soldiers a new toy – a loudspeaker system – and they just love it. Its volume is deafening. Instructions are given in an aggressive, contemptuous tone. Soldiers talk to each other over the system about nothing in particular, swap jokes, and occasionally instructions how to humiliate people. Curses are hurled at people who don`t understand the instructions - “From here, not from there!” “Habla!” (idiot) and so on. Great fun is had when several soldiers give different instructions to the same person, who is then shouted at and threatened by everyone for not obeying instructions. (Qalandiya, every day)
A tremendous mess ensued, and the soldiers were totally indifferent to developments. Drivers coming from the other direction were ordered to organize the queue. To the soldiers’ joy, arguments erupted between the Palestinians. A Jeep drove up an hour later, and an officer got out and asked “What’s the problem?”. He added “You must understand - this is a hostile area, the soldiers are from an elite unit and it’s their second day at the checkpoint. They had two days of training how to behave respectfully towards the Palestinians. So they’re still a bit confused.”(Beit Iba, 29 January 2006).
A soldier– backed up by another who holds his weapon drawn -- inspects the car`s interior.
Pedestrians (around fifteen) have been waiting for a long time. A woman with a sick baby in her arms approaches; she is told to bare the baby’s stomach - which is discovered to be free of explosives. Boxed cucumbers are scattered on the ground and then collected. A parade of strip-searched Palestinians continues, as one of them is asked to take his pants off in the middle of the path and display his underwear (we have photographs of the incident). The commander notes that the procedure strikes him as reasonable. Strip-searched one after the other are an ambulance-attending doctor and a Kadi from Nazareth. In the course of an hour three pedestrians, an ambulance, and two cars have passed through the checkpoint. The cucumber car was asked to unload again at the entrance to Jubara, but following our request and the officer`s intervention, the re-enactment of the ritual was prevented. (Jubara, 3 January 2006)
One soldier is particularly aggressive, treating civilians at the checkpoint with contempt. There is a noticeable new discipline regime: two metres along the passageway he places a broom head (no handle) on the concrete ledge, and declares that this is the `red line` behind which everyone must remain until called by the soldier. (Beit Iba 19 January 2006)
A teenager (16) is lying on the pavement on the Tulkarm end at some distance from the checkpoint. He is cuffed by both hands and feet, blindfolded and watched by an armed soldier. He is writhing on the pavement and seems scared stiff. None of the soldiers speak Arabic. The checkpoint commander says the boy tried to cross the checkpoint, and when his name was fed to the computer it `popped up`. A `wanted`. In his ID folder they found `photos of shaheeds` [Arabic: Islamic militant-martyrs]. We ask him to unbind the boy`s legs, at least, and move him to the booth. He agrees to do that, and three soldiers carry the bound boy to the booth where his legs are released. Another officer arrives. He says the boy will probably be released soon, when the General Security Service (Shabak; Shin Bet) okays it. This indeed happens after a few minutes, following this officer`s phone call to whoever it was. Before he returns the ID to the boy he shows us a newspaper cutting that was inside with a photo of the boy`s brother, who is `seriously `wanted.`` (Jubara, 24 January 2006)
The closure / encirclement / cantonization are still in place, and soldiers comply with the instructions meticulously. One is having great fun, exercising his bullying skills to the full… When a nurse from a Nablus hospital asks him, `How will I get to my house outside Tulkarm if the road from Tulkarm to Beit Lid is closed as well?` The rude soldier on duty answers, `You can take a helicopter as far as I’m concerned.` (Beit Iba, 12 January 2006)
A man, maybe a teacher, comes out with a grim face. In excellent Hebrew he told us that the soldier behind the window had spoken to him insensitively, contemptuously and sitting in a way proclaiming that he was lord of all he surveyed. `They should behave with more politeness….like human beings…we too are human beings.` (DCO Etzion, 2 January 2006)
Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare, Act III scene i
How quickly we’ve forgotten…..