Hamra, Ma'ale Efrayim, Tayasir, Thu 30.7.09, Morning

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Keren M., Yifat D. (reporting)
Seriously? Does this make us safer?

Visitor: Michael

04:20 Maale Ephraim Checkpoint
In the darkness ten cars are in line from the direction of Nablus. In each car workers who have to be checked before they are allowed to continue to the Valley to work in the settlements. A group of people stand under the roof waiting for the soldier to call them. Some are very young, 12 or 13. When the soldier wants us to back off, I ask how come settlers are allowed to stand inside the checkpoint to catch lifts. His answer: "the people who live here are of a different kind."

05:10 Hamra Checkpoint
The men leave the checking area with their belts in their hands, and either stop to fix or do it while walking. The soldiers’ dog races around everywhere.

06:30 Tayasir Checkpoint

The placard before the checkpoint has been dressed in a soldier’s shirt and helmet. The soldiers ask the Palestinians questions in Hebrew that they do not understand. The men driving cars are ordered to undress before they approach the soldiers.
We stopped by the spring next to the turn from Allon Road to Tayasir. Higher up behind the hill is the settlement of Rotem which seems from the distance like a desert oasis, flush with greenery of all kinds. The people living them make a habit of strolling down to bathe in the spring. The residents of the encampments are forbidden the use of the area’s many water sources. They drive on tractors hitched to tanks in order to bring water from nearby villages. If they try to take water from the spring, an inspector from the Nature Reserve Authority arrives to forbid them.

07:45 Gucia (Gate) Checkpoint
We arrived at the checkpoint which was supposed to open at 08:00 for half an hour today. Just before the checkpoint we meet a friend: E. Emotionally he tells us that a few minutes ago an army patrol grabbed his brother who was grazing his flock 300 metres from their tent camp, and took him to Hamra. E. was on the way to collect the flock. We drove on to Hamra.

08:00 Hamra Checkpoint
We find the brother in the pen at the checkpoint. The soldiers say they arrested him because he did not have an ID card. We call the DCO to check how long they intend to hold him. The DCO rep says they are waiting for the police, and if they don’t come he will be released in three hours. At 08:16 a soldier shouts to pedestrians: "Stop! Nobody passes. Without ‘why,’ or anything..."

The soldiers (about 20) stop the traffic and don’t agree to pass anyone. There is no visible reason and they refuse to explain. They don’t seem particularly tense. Some are smoking, all are joking between themselves. A soldier lays tefillin and starts to pray in the pedestrian hut.

A ten year old child wants to pass. One soldier says to another: "He came on foot alone." They hasten to move the wire coils to let a UN car through.

From both sides a line of 15 cars. In all our calls to the DCO, the same answer: "The soldiers say the checkpoint is open." But it is closed – fact!

At 09:30 the police arrive (whether connected or not, shortly after the police visit the soldiers open the checkpoint). The police check E.’s brother. Seems they have no special interest in him. They drive on. One of the soldiers calls G., another brother, and tells him to bring the missing ID from home, the they will let the shepherd go. We take G. home because our car is faster than his tractor.

When we come back, 20 minutes later, there are many more soldiers at the checkpoint. G. goes to an officer and shows him the ID. The officer starts to provoke: it’s not the first time that the brother has been caught without ID, and the officer does not intend to release him. In his despair, G. shows the officer a restraint order against demolition of their tent, explaining that if they can live there, they can also graze their flock.

It’s 10:00 and the soldiers again close the checkpoint. This time they say it’s because of our presence. Clearly from their behaviour, they don’t like our friendship with the brothers.

We pull back in order not to influence in the release of the shepherd. After another 20 minutes the officer relents, hands over the ID and lets the brothers go. After a few steps they are called by other soldiers, who order the shepherd to sit on the nearby rail and tell him he is not released yet. I go over to say that we are leaving, in the hope that this will cause them to release him.

We move away and sit in the car at a distance from the checkpoint. G. comes over, agitated, hardly able to speak. The soldiers put his brother back in the pen and started to kick him. We run to the pen and stand between the soldiers and the shepherd. One of the soldiers comes up and, with raised hand to strike, says: "Nobody has hit him, but I’ll immediately hit you..." Other soldiers drag him away. After ten minutes of threats against the brothers, DCO officer Majdi appears and releases the brothers. G. refuses to leave. He wants to submit a complaint. The checkpoint commander refuses to give his name. One of the officers again approaches the brothers with threatening gestures, and Majdi send him back, saying that he will deal with the complaint.

At 11:00 we part with G. and his brother, who climb on the tractor to go home, as we drive towards Tel Aviv.

Zaatra Checkpoint
Forty minutes later we get a phone call from E. Agitated again: the soldiers followed the brothers in a jeep, took them off the tractor and told them: "Now we’ll see what heroes you are without the women beside you." Then they beat them with the stocks of their rifles. We phone Tal, the DCO officer, who says simply: Soldiers don’t hit." Quarter of an hour later we succeed in getting G. The soldiers let them go home...