Beit Iba, Sun 30.3.08, Afternoon
Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem on the first of a three-day visit to the region, Condoleeza Rice today said: "We will be verifying what it is they (Israel) are doing and this is all aimed at trying to improve the movement and access of the Palestinian people in the West Bank." According to the consensus on the West Bank on today's shift, the soldiers and the Palestinians for once agreed: they've heard these words before, most recently during Rice's last visit to the area, so, `the more things change, the more they stay the same.'
15:15 Deir Sharaf
All quiet here, but we know now that the families whose homes were vandalized a few weeks ago made no complaint. Finding fault with the Occupier, voicing disapproval, even of an invasion of the sanctity of one's home is impossible for a populace whose daily lives are filled with fear.
15:30 Beit Iba
Chaos seems to reign, but only before the checkpoint proper is reached. There's noise and nervousness as taxis, trucks and buses try to pass each other, to turn, or to find a spot to park.
15:35 -- five An Narjah University students (men) complain that they've been taken off the bus which has been stopped for checking, parallel to the pedestrian checking area. The students are standing in what we've called, until now, the "humanitarian lane." But UNOCHA indicates that this nomenclature is inaccurate. In future, we will refer to the "fast" lane, for women, children, and men over 45 years of age. The students will, therefore, probably be sent back – a common happening – to wait in the lengthy lines behind the turnstiles. Three soldiers gather round them to "problem solve." (The fact is that this shift is characterized by groups of
soldiers "standing around" at Beit Iba.) After about five minutes there's a consensus reached, and the young men are on their way home. Since there seems little method to what is going at the checkpoint today, often there are as many as 30 people in the fast lane, at other times, a soldier comes to help out the lone soldier checking people returning from Nablus, and the lane is then empty. In the "fast" lane, there's a new phenomenon, a metal arm which can be raised or put down manually. We're first made aware of it as the
local, mentally challenged young man puts the arm down and prevents a few women students from making their through the "fast" lane.
A second innovation is that a soldier now stands in the checking booth for people entering Nablus. Many don't realize that they are meant to stop here, and continue to use the pathway that has existed since the checkpoint was newly renovated. Soldiers on duty, of which there are at least a dozen, are reservists, and there are a great many of them with communication packs, making one wonder if there are as many as five commanders! The soldiers are easy in some ways and they work, or don't work, nearly always in groups, perhaps a more accurate description is "packs." Only the two military policewomen in the checking booth work alone and non stop, unless, of course, as happens a couple of times, one steps out of the booth and chats with a group/pack of soldiers, leaving one alone while the lines behind the turnstile, never less than 40, but usually 50-60 men, grow and grow.
We are told, not for the first time, that we can't stand in our usual place, near the turnstiles (where soldiers also no longer stand: instead they gather behind the turnstiles doing little or nothing at all, since the women in the checking booth do all the checking of clothing articles, brief cases and shopping bags, shoes and belts.)
Standing where the soldiers want us to is disrespectful of men "dressing:" putting their clothing together, threading belts through jeans or pants, and we tell the soldiers this. One of them says, "I agree." But nothing is done.
15:50 -- an elderly man, limping, holding a stick and wearing a neck brace, in the "fast" lane, is made to unbutton his long coat, and a soldier pats his portly stomach, and feels around his waist.
15:55 -- a beautiful horse stands proudly above the crowd in a tender, high above the indignity of all it surveys. Its driver has stopped at the vehicle checking area, two soldiers and a military policeman are immediately joined by another two. And then there were five – all standing around.
16:00 -- R., the DCL representative arrives, spends the rest of the time we're there in a vehicle checking booth as the reservists, often as many as nine of them, continue to crowd this area which lacks only
vehicles to be checked. Often, there are no vehicles at all coming out of Nablus, and there are rarely more than two or three vehicles trying to enter the city. When a taxi does go through, it and its
occupants are thoroughly checked, but the engine is left running!
16:20 -- as we leave, a Palestinian comments to us, smilingly, that "the soldiers seem to be enjoying their time here." We could echo that!