Tour of the Palestinian Jordan Valley with a camera crew of a French documentary film Tuesday, 18.6.2013

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Daphne Banai
Seriously? Does this make us safer?

Zaatara TapuachJunction Checkpoint 9:30 – The checkpoint is not manned but two soldiers patrol around the turnabout. A 16-year old youngster is being detained by them. We ask why, they say he’s been rude. “What did he say?” I asked. “He wouldn’t stop when we told him to.” The boy claims he didn’t hear them, but for out sake, they let him go. They speak to the film crew and tell them I’m very dangerous and that they should be careful of me. A Palestinian couple crosses the turnabout on foot, going southbound. One of the soldiers sounding full of hate yells at them, “Get out of here!!” and directs them to go east. They look confusedly in all directions and continue eastbound.


We wish to get on our way but the soldiers insist on having the film crew join them to photograph the memorial they have put up for a Jewish settler who was killed here about two months ago, and to listen to the assassination details.


Male Efrayim Checkpoint – 10:15 and 16:15 – unmanned.


Hamra Checkpoint- 10:45 -  not much traffic seen. Mainly exhausted Palestinians coming back from their work in the Jewish setters’ fields for a pittance. The film crew members speak with and photograph several workers returning from their work at the Hamra settlement and going to Nisreen. At 4 a.m. they had crossed over into the Jordan Valley. Sometimes it takes them 10 minutes to cross the checkpoint, at other times an hour-and-a-half might go by until they get through. Now their employer drives them to the checkpoint, they cross on foot and try to hitch a ride westbound.


The soldiers send their representative to distance us from the Checkpoint and stay beyond the junction. DCO representatives arrive as well. DCO officer Faisal refuses to give me their telephone number to turn to if any problems arise. He tells me I’ll need to call the regional Brigade HQ war-room and they would locate him.


Near Roi settlement we meet a friend who tells us that the entire area between Alon Road and Road no. 90, north ofr Roi and Marj Naja has been intentionally set on fire by the army in order to prevent the shepherds from grazing their flocks. If the report is true, and I’ll be checking it next time – then the whole of Um Zuka nature reserve is included. The giant fire distresses the herds terribly and this at the beginning of the summer yet! What cruelty. We did not manage to see the whole area, but at Samarah and Makhoul the whole area around Hemdat settlement looked burnt indeed.


Gokhia Checkpoint Gate is closed and has not been opened for months now. The only scant, limited passage in the earth and rock dykes separating the Jordan Valley from its legitimate heartland – the hills of the West Bank – is now blocked. The Palestinians bypass the gate by climbing the mountain on the right, their cars teetering dangerously on the unpaved mountainside. Clearly the army is aware, but ignores them.


Khirbet Yanoun 17:00 – The small hamlet is surrounded by settlements and outposts. Its residents left in 2001 but Israeli Taayush activists persuaded them to return and served as a human shield there for many months. Later they were replaced by wonderful volunteers of the EAPPI organization who have been living inside this tormented village for over a decade now uninterruptedly. One of the activists asked me to come and he, along with the village elder, showed me two new Jewish outposts now being erected next door, one to the north, on the lands of the village elder who has appealed to the Israeli High Court of Justice. The court ruled that the land is indeed his property. So what? The court rules, and the settlers build. Who would prevent them from doing so? The army, after all, works for them.


18:00 – a mini-tractor arrives at the hamlet where only a few families are left. Most left as a result of incessant harassment by the settlers, headed by the notorious A., and by the army. Three settlers ride this vehicle, all armed of course, and on the back seat, sits a ferocious looking German shepherd. They stop by the water well at the center of the village. As the settlers approached, all the villagers hurried to gather their children indoors and locked themselves in behind their metal doors, peeking anxiously at the intruders. I had a feeling this is what Jewish towns in Russia felt like when the Cossacks came by. You could cut the air with a knife.


The settlers got off their mini-tractor, the dog hopped off and circled them, looking ferocious. We approached them. They explained to us in a friendly tone that they just came to have a drink at the well (“What, can’t we? It’s a democratic country”) I mentioned that they come armed and threatening with a dog. Is this a social visit? They said the Palestinians invited them and that they come every day and even have coffee with the Arabs. The Arabs too hang around armed, they say. Finally they said to the film crew that they were good people and that my lies about them should not be believed. Seemingly the presence of foreign television made them really try to be nice and dispel the rumors about them. After trying to find out where they could see themselves in our film, they boarded their little tractor again, called the dog back, and left. So did we.


(Note – the next day, one of the international volunteers there called and said that an hour later that day they ran into other settlers when they (the internationals) were taking their evening stroll on the road from Khirbet Yannoun to Hawarra. The settlers forbade them to use that road and called the army. That same evening, the internationals got a phone call from the army authorities informing them they must not walk on that road. It should be noted that the road does not lead directly to any Jewish settlement, and unarmed civilians (who oppose any kind of violence) taking a walk cannot possibly be seen as a threat to anyone’s security.


On our way back, along road no. 5, there were many surprise checkposts (“flying checkpoints”) – east of the roundabout at Zaatara Tapuach Junction, near Zeita-Jama’in, east of the roundabout at the entrance to the settlement of Ariel. Zaatara (Tapuach) Checkpoint was active as well. Long waiting lines are formed at every such checkpoint. A person crossing at Huwarra Checkpoint telephoned and reported an hour-and-a-half waiting time.