Hamra (Beqaot), Tayasir, Za'tara (Tapuah)

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Nirit Haviv, Dafna Banai (reporting). Translator: Charles K.
Seriously? Does this make us safer?


08:45 – Za’tara junction (Tapuach)

No soldiers. There’s a traffic jam, but it’s the result of morning traffic and congestion at the plaza.


09:00  Ma’aleh Efrayim

No soldiers, but all the positions are reinforced with sandbags and there are two new positions on the road between Hamra and Highway 90.  Do they anticipate masses of Palestinians coming to this checkpoint?  It’s more likely the reinforcement is intended to burn into the soldiers’ consciousness the fact that this is a very, very dangerous location.


All along the road to Hamra we saw no shepherds with flocks of sheep.  Usually there are many flocks in the “Gitit basin,” especially next to the large water pump (hoping to benefit from the small amount of leaking water) and at the deserted agricultural packing house.  But there are none today.


09:20  Hamra

Almost no traffic.  We didn’t stop.


The vineyards of the Beqa’ot settlement are being watered at 11 in the morning!  There are five unnecessary drip irrigation points at each grapevine, watering empty ground.  They have abundant water, which has been stolen from the Palestinians. Their dry, yellowed fields, opposite the blinding green of the settlements, tell the depressing tale of water inthe Jordan Valley.


At Makhul they planted winter wheat.  After the rainless winter all the fields dried up.  At Homsa, on the other hand, they planted fodder for the sheep, and managed to raise a certain amount from the barren land.  Now they sell it to the residents of Makhul and elsewhere.  The settlements’ sprouting green fields make clear they have no drought problem.  And no wonder – The Israeli water company diverts to them almost all water in the Jordan Valley.  Why, even during a drought year it’s possible, with irrigation, to raise grapes, spices, dates – anything!


11:00  Tayasir checkpoint

Very light traffic, but all the cars, from every direction, are inspected, including opening the trunks.


15:30  Hamra checkpoint

A long line of cars: 14 coming from the Jordan Valley and 13 from the direction of Nablus (from the west).  The fourth driver in line said he’s been waiting for half an hour.  Half the cars have air-conditioning, the others don’t (based on open windows and hands trying to fan a little cooler air through the window).  It’s more than 40 degrees centigrade in the shade, but there’s no shade.  The rigorous inspections, including making people get out of their vehicles, opening all the doors and the trunk, hold up the line. While we were there (about two hours and15 minutes) the line sometimes got shorter and then lengthened again.


A bus arrives with 50 laborers who’d left home at 03:00 and worked for slave wages in the settlements.  Now all the passengers were made to get out and stand in a line next to the bus.  But that’s not enough for the bored soldiers.  A soldier stands in front of them yelling “two straight lines,” indicating the lines with two raised arms.  The tired laborers form two lines, looking up toward the road.  I complain to the checkpoint commander; he says he has to make sure that there aren’t any among them with Israeli ID cards (who are forbidden to go through this checkpoint).  So why harass them? I persist.  “What do you want – that I should enter the bus?”


Two young people “wanted by the Shabak” sit in the sun by the roadside.  Two cars wait for them on the west side of the checkpoint, with very elderly people, apparently their parents.  For two and a quarter hours we've telephoned the DCL officer, who said he’d send his checkpoint non-com, but didn’t, said he’s taking care of releasing them, but didn’t; we called the humanitarian office, to Chana B., who was busy, and all we managed to do was convince the soldiers at the checkpoint to move them into the shade.  Two and a quarter hours of sitting by the roadside, in 40 degree temperatures, sweating and irritable.  The soldiers forbade us to speak to them, and we were afraid if we annoyed the soldiers they’d take it out on the detaineesinfo-icon, but we maintained eye contact with them.  Their parents (apparently) kept moving around on the other side of the checkpoint, on the road, helpless and worried.  Nothing helped.


Only after two and a quarter hours were the youths’ IDs returned, and Nirit heard over the radio the checkpoint commander being told to “yell at them, frighten them before releasing them.”  He didn’t.  Thus, with unbearable ease, two youths and their families had two and aquarter hours stolen from their lives for no apparent reason!  Not to mention the suffering and humiliation they underwent.  For what?  Because they’re Palestinians.


While we were there we were moved away from the checkpoint and then moved farther away (to the shed at the junction).  While I was arguing with him, the checkpoint commander said:  “Just because you have nothing to do while I’m protecting your children doesn’t mean that you can come bother me,” and after I replied that serving in the occupied territories doesn’t really protect my children – in fact, just the opposite – he said:  “Everything here, it’s Israel!  All these (with a wave of his hand, encompassing all the Palestinians at the checkpoint), those who come here – that’s just a mishap.”


A man with an injured arm got out of a car which had arrived from east of the checkpoint, next to the pedestrian path bypassing the checkpoint (there’s a sign:  “Pedestrians”).  He began walking west and then three angry soldiers rushed toward him:  “What?  Where are you going?” (in Hebrew, of course).  I ran over to them, explained that’s the pedestrian path and Palestinians always use it.  I had to repeat myself twice until they changed their minds, inspected the man’s documents and finally let him alone.  When I turned to go he called to me quietly, so the soldiers wouldn’t hear – “Thank you, madame.”


16:40  A taxi filled with passengers who have come from the Jordan Valley was sent back, not allowed through.  The driver said it was because the passengers had blue ID cards (Israeli Arabs).