'Azzun, Habla, Jit, Wed 9.6.10, Afternoon
It's time to take an honest look at what the so called "Tel Aviv group" does on its shifts. Perhaps the routes we now take throughout the West Bank need to be reviewed critically in terms of the goals of MW: the course of our travels throughout the West Bank takes us to no checkpoints, at least none around Nablus, Qalqilya or Tulkarm (all have been removed), and one, maybe two agricultural gates; the overall itinerary has little to do with our goals of bearing witness, of monitoring the "freedom of movement" of Palestinians, the basic human right on which MachsomWatch was founded, and reporting on the same. We're rarely there when trouble with settlers occurs and never when the IDF makes yet another incursion, a nightly occurrence in Nablus. The terminal buildings, which a couple of shifts monitor a couple of times a week, are something else, but as in Bethlehem, we rely on the Ecumenical Accompaniers on the Palestinian side. So, where are we, the Central group of MachsomWatchers? And what are we doing? And why?
In spite of all the above concerns, not new, there is still something to report from today's shift!
Route 55 11:00 --
There's a third huge advertising sign (joining the other two which have graced this junction for some years), on the turnoff to the settlement of Alfei Menashe, advertising brand new housing (color mainly a bright orange: surely no accident!).
A Border Police jeep stands across the roadway, and we note that the soldier stopping the minibus is quite elderly, probably a volunteer. A passerby tells us that this jeep is "always there… checking IDs," but no sign of it on our return journey.
The telltale house, taken over by settler youth a couple of years ago, is now painted blue!
New houses going up apace, no building stoppage here.
Jit Jct. and on the way to Sarra
Recently, it was announced that more checkpoints have been removed in the West Bank.
Sarra has not been accessible for a number of years, but the mathematics of the Occupier seem to be wrong. Here, on the roadway leading up to the village, there is a brand new barrier, made of cement blocks, adding to the one which was already there, a little further up the hill.
There's now only one entrance to the settlement, on its brand new roadway.
Route 60 is closed, and roadwork is proceeding there. A large sign, "US AID," also bears the American flag and Palestinian Authority insignia: "Bizzarriya-Deir Sharaf road. A gift from the American people in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Works and Housing."
Orange signs, in Arabic, English and Hebrew point the way to Nablus or Jenin, the latter approachable only via Anabta because of the roadwork.
12:30 Habla Gate 139
We arrive at the same time as the Hummer from which soldiers (religious) descend and fumble with the many locks on the many gates that make up this "agricultural gate."
There are seven people waiting to cross from the side where we stand, plus the inevitable donkey cart. There's a plethora of flags here now: two Israeli, another half green and half black (Armored Corps), yet another completely black and a third orange and blue. Two soldiers take their time checking on the far side of the checkpoint as people where we stand wait and wait. A third soldier finally emerges from the Hummer, leaving a woman soldier sitting inside, doing nothing.
A Palestinian tells us of a new ruling about gate opening times, as of tomorrow.
Sure enough, on the open gate, so that so one can see it, is a hastily hand written notice about new opening times:
6:45-8:00 13:45-15:00 17:00-18:30
These times, we're told, are hugely inconvenient to the Palestinians and will cause them many problems, so what else is new, but we promised to take this up with the DCO, or whoever can instill some sense (decency) into the Occupier.
The soldiers function as automatons -- but thorough automatons. Every pickup truck is thoroughly examined, each tractor checked inside and out, and plastic bags of produce fondled and peeped into; it matters not at all if the Palestinians are coming out of Habla or going into Habla.
All IDs are given to a soldier who marches with them off to the concrete checking booth as people stand in the sweltering noontime heat.
One soldier, in particular, stands out. He has no greeting for anybody, just suspicious eyes which survey each person, woman or man, with undisguised disdain.
12:55 -- the line of vehicles coming from the Habla side has to wait as the three soldiers confer in the middle of the checkpoint. The muezzin sounds in the near distance, and four people, men and women, plant something into the dry earth where, just two months ago, we saw potatoes being harvested.
And the seasons roll on ….