Hamra (Beqaot), Ma'ale Efrayim, Tayasir, Za'tara (Tapuah), Tue 19.3.13, Afternoon

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Irit Sela and Daphne Banai (reporting and photographing)


 freedom theatre in the jordan valley

  jordan valley solidarity and freedom  theatre bus building a school

 Zaatara checkpoint -  passengers taken off a bus on thier way home


The Freedom Bus (of the Freedom Theatre, Jenin) goes down to the Jordan Valley;

Don’t discard me when I get old – the elderly couple whose home was demolished on January 24th, 2013, what is happening with them now?

Dog trainers practicing at Tapuach Checkpoint – at the expense of Palestinians.


10:50, Tapuach Checkpoint – unmanned, 


but two bored Border Policemen are busy sitting and eating at the roadside. On the hill overlooking the roundabout, a single soldier stands next to the watchtower.


11:10 – Maale Efrayim Checkpoint- manned by 3 soldiers checking vehicles entering the Palestinian Jordan Valley.

11:35, Hamra Checkpoint – cars traveling in both directions are allowed through without passengers having to disembark for 

inspection. The soldiers attempt to force us away from our usual (distant) spot, we insist on staying, they give in. Even when cars are not inspected, every car that arrives is required to stop about 50 meters before the checkpoint and await the soldier’s slight gesture signaling it to approach. How do the Palestinians know they must stop? There is no sign instructing them to do so. Just like the apartheid roads, here, too the instructions are kept unwritten, so as not to be photographed and seen publicly, but they are the law and woe to any who dares overlook them.


12:10, Gokhia Gate – a single soldier with lots of gear and five submachine guns pointing north, stands by the closed gate, waiting for his unit. When it arrives they will cross the gate east-bound for another series of maneuvers (a few days ago the inhabitants of Ras Al Ahmar were forced away from their homes for 24 hours, for the sake of these maneuvers).


A Palestinians arrives at the gate from the Jordan Valley side, to pick up his brother. They tell us that the gate is never, ever opened. Neither at 3 p.m. nor at 8 a.m. (when it is supposed to be opened at their disposal, as agreed upon at the Red Cross’ demand). Neither when Palestinians show up nor when they don’t. The occupier has decided to forego even this faint illusion of passage and now it is official – the prison that is the Palestinian Jordan Valley is closed.


12:40, Tyassir checkpoint – scant traffic, fast passage, no delays. The passengers are allowed through inside the vehicles, without disembarking.


Fighter planes and distance explosions resound throughout the afternoon.


We stopped at Hamam Al Malih to see the elderly couple whose hovel had been demolished twice (the second time, January 24th, 2013, the tent supplied by the Red Cross and all their effects were taken as well). The woman, N., came out to greet us from their neighbors’ tent, where she and her husband have been dwelling since the demolitions. They are prevented from returning to the place where they lived for years (I personally have been their guest often in the past 6 years), where they raised their children who have long since flown away to live elsewhere. In their advanced age, the two have become homeless. N.’s arm is still very swollen since she did not get medical treatment for injury, fearing she couldn’t afford such care. Only yesterday she finally went to have it examined and was informed that her shoulder is fractured and forearm badly bruised.


13:30, Samara (south of the Um Zuka reserve)  - members of the Jenin Freedom Theatre, founded by Arna Mer and her son Juliano, have come out on a wondrous journey to visit the brave residents of the Jordan Valley who are holding on to their land steadfastly in both the Palestinian Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills (the bus will be visiting there next week). In daytime the young actors keep the children busy with games, singing and dancing, and in the evening they perform for the adults. In between they sit under a tree and play music – strumming the oud, drumming the darbouka, playing the accordion and other instruments whose names are unfamiliar to me, but their lovely tones float up in the warm breeze above the reddish hills of the Jordan Valley and carry a message of freedom and rectitude. Next to them a group of youngsters from Finland, Wales and even Majdal Shams has joined the activists of Jordan Valley Solidarity in order to build a schoolhouse for the children of the region, out of mud bricks.


Two of Samara’s inhabitants approach me, seeking help. M. and his brother graze their flock, and at the end of summer when the grass is scarce, they enter that miserably neglected place which the occupier has named “Um Zuka nature reserve” in search of food for their livestock. Every time they are caught there with their flock, they are fined thousands of shekels. They say they have documents proving their ownership claim to the land inside the reserve from those days when the region’s people were allowed to make their living out of the valley’s growth. They have consulted with a lawyer who told them there was nothing to be done. On the other hand, while a nature reserve, the area is also a “firing zone” for the army (the two signs stand next to each other…) and the army’s maneuvers often set the reserve in flames. M. and his brother tell us how on different occasions they recruited their extended family to fight the flames, as none of those authorities who so hastily fine them for grazing there never came to the rescue… They are seeking some protection, help against this abuse.


15:00, Hamra checkpoint – 4 Palestinians are standing at the side, detained 15 minutes for inspection. As soon as we showed up, their papers are returned to them and they get on their way. One of them wants to go back to Nablus but does not know the way. He tries to walk back, but the soldiers run towards him to prevent this and make him get on the road. He goes around the fence and proceeds towards the soldiers on the road, but then they remember there’s a special track for pedestrians bound for Nablus, except that it means going back 50 meters to the junction and that is where they send him. The man, embarrassed and rather scared, signals to the soldiers that his leg hurts. They relent and let him use the road.


Unlike this morning, now all those arriving from the West Bank hills are required to disembark about30 meters before the checkpoint, cross on foot and wait for the vehicle on the other side. Everything, after all, depends on the whims of the soldiers manning the checkpoint. In the middle of the checkpoint a military vehicle stands, blocking the road, so no car is able to get through, for about 20 minutes. When the cars begin to cross, every driver is asked “Where to? What for?” as if that should be the soldier’s business…


16:30, Maale Efrayim Checkpoint – manned, every car entering the Jordan Valley is checked.


16:45, Tapuach Checkpoint at Zaatara Junction -  a bus is parked in the lot, having brought a detector dog unit to the checkpoint. Every female soldier-trainer has a dog. 3 cars stand parallel to each other, a dog is made to enter each, climbing on the front as well as back seats, salivating and sniffing. About 10 meters to the back stand the passengers in a straight line, looking on with disgust, having been ordered by the soldiers. The dog is an unclean animal in Islam and the Palestinians have a very hard time with having dogs introduced into their cars. The large number of trainers attests to this being no security matter but rather a training practice for the soldiers and their dogs. I believe that only a security need of the highest degree might be an excuse to hurt people’s religious feelings so severely. The practice should be done some other way…


The dog trainers don't like our photographing the situation and summon the policeman to order us away. The obedient policeman tells us to keep our distance and not take pictures, claiming it's forbidden. We explain we're photographing from behind but he is not convinced. Finally the practice is over, IDs are returned to the Palestinians standing in line, and they angrily get on their way. The trainers continue hanging around the checkpoint, each with her dog.

In the meantime we notice that on road 60 vehicles bound for Nablus are being stopped. We didn't notice this before because the inspections are usually held in cars coming from Nablus and heading south, and the whole structure of the checkpoint is built accordingly. But this time, "to confuse the enemy", some Border Policemen stand on the north-bound lane, and have stopped a red car and a bus full of youngsters heading back from a demonstration in Ramallah. The passengers of the red car disembark and the car is thoroughly checked, as if the soldiers have some kind of information on it. 15 minutes later it is released. THe soldiers order all male passengers off the bus, while the women remain inside. 25 young men stand on the sidewalk, their IDs taken. "Photograph this!" they say. "Take a picture of the driver!" they laugh, and he, a jolly chubby type, poses for us, sporting his paunch with a good natured smile, and everyone has a moment's relief in this imposed halt...

Two of the youngsters have no IDs, they've forgotten them at home so they are made to stand apart. A third young man is led to the shack in the middle of the road and is held there, with the soldiers trying to turn him around so he wouldn't "observe" them, but this is rather impossible for he can "observe" something from every angle. They give up. The youngster looks stressed. Finally, after 220 minutes, he is allowed to get back to the bus. The soldiers check the ID numbers one by one on their radio. They even bother calling the homes of the two ID-less persons, asking for their numbers to check their legitimacy. When the soldiers are finally satisfaied, half an hour later, the bus continues home to Tul Karm.


The Israeli authorities may have relieved the burden of some major checkpoints, but every Palestinian who ventures out of his home knows very well that on his way, at any given moment, surprise barriers might suddenly pop up, and he will be experiencing yet again the stress caused by a document that doesn't look right to the soldiers, and standing in the cold of descending evening, and the dogs sniffing inside the cars, and no certainty anywhere along the journey, regardless of how short or long it actually is.