Hebron, Sansana, South Hebron Hills, Thu 14.2.08, Morning
06:30 - 11:30
Meitar Crossing (Sansana)
06:25 – scores of vehicles waiting. On the Palestinian side of the checkpoint at this hour, more than 300 people in the roofed area both in the sleeve and in the hut. Upon our arrival we hear the female workers "barking" at the Palestinians that the checkpoint is closed. "Go away, go away, the checkpoint is closed," they repeat. From the tower the lookout also raises his voice with the same message – there is nothing to wait for, the checkpoint is closed. Some of the Palestinians begin to walk back towards the vehicles.
In conversation with Shlomi it transpires that the checkpoint was closed for a few minutes because of a security incident and will shortly reopen. We stand in the exit in the direction of the parking lot and ask the men to wait a few more minutes in the hope that Shlomi is not wrong. To the best of our understanding, the checkpoint was closed for a few minutes before we arrived, and until then workers did pass.
We wait 15 minutes.
Again a talk with Shlomi. Avner answers that the checkpoint is open. And indeed, at the vehicle crossing there is movement. But at the pedestrian crossing nothing is happening, and the crowding gets worse. Some of the Palestinians shorten the wait by climbing over one of the fences. >From the lookout position, the "guardian of Israel" tries to educate them. "You, you there, you don’t pass." Scores of crowded and crushed people. Who exactly does he mean – only he knows. The atmosphere is very bad. All the time shouting at the workers from the checking positions and over the loudspeakers.
We decide to cross to the Israeli side of the checkpoint in the hope of finding an explanation. At the entrance from the Israeli side we are again greeted by the barking of the checkers. Disgusting. Embarrassing way to talk...
As we enter, the workers begin to come out slowly. We go over to the checking positions and, on the other side of the window, we see eight (!) checkers: two military policewomen and six civilian women. Two of them are sitting close to the window and the others at tables. In addition there is one man checker. Appears that the shouting group are satisfied with the whole business. The loss of critical work days for the Palestinian labourers is no concern of theirs. Let the workers wait, we are warm and comfortable, there’s a nice atmosphere, so what... One of the checkers notices that I am counting and writing, and begins to shout at us. With no limits to the language. At this stage, the checking stops completely. The whole gathering, in the small room, is seething as the party is joined by uninvited guests. In parallel, we try to contact Shlomi. He is not answering.
Avi arrives. A friendly and calm security man. We say our piece, and it seems that his presence produces faster, more efficient work. The workers begin to come out. I also explain that today there was some security happening because of which the check stopped for a few minutes. We note that we arrived at 06:30, when the men were being told that they could go home because the checkpoint was closed. Now it is 07:03, and only now are the workers beginning to come. The happening, according to what Shlomi told us on the phone, ended at 06:37.
Yehuda, Shlomi’s deputy, arrives. He is also patient, listens and is willing to hear. He also notes the security happening that caused the delay (it is important to note that, even without the happening, there were by our estimate 300 men at the checkpoint at 06:30: a fact that evidences inefficient checking). While we are standing there, a few workers turn to Yehuda with complaints about the lateness of the check. He relates patiently, and good humouredly he encourages them. We mention the manner of speech of the women checkers in dealing with the workers, their contemptuous attitude and the fact that the work simply does not get done. The conversation goes on for about 15 minutes, in the course of the workers continue to come out. Yehuda and Avi leave after a few minutes. The tone of the woman checker has changed and, surprisingly, she has learnt meanwhile to say "please" (three times while we were there). One of the workers comes to us to complain that he cannot transfer olive oil, and as a result he has to wait another half hour at the checkpoint. Another complains that the powdered coffee which he brought has been confiscated. At a certain stage the women checkers again identify our presence, and one raises a finger at me and screams that we are writing. They again call Avi and Zaki who ask us to leave. I refuse, saying that we are not interfering with their work, and that the loud checker should learn how to talk. After a few minutes conversation, Avi and Zaki leave. We continue to stand by the inside turnstile and the x-ray machine till 08:15, when we see that only a small number of workers are still at the checkpoint.
From our long stay on the spot, we conclude that some of the delays are the result of lack og knowhow and understanding of the process of checking on the part of the workers. We also conclude that the checkers are not constant in their routines, and so we made a number of suggestions for greater efficiency:
* hang a sign (in Arabic) with instructions relating to the bodily check – what to take off, what to place in the machine.
* hang a sign (in Arabic) before the entry to the check with details of what is permissible and what forbidden (food, drink, etc.) in transiting the x-ray machine.
* bring two tables on which to put things after the machine check (today everything is on the floor).
* water – since apparently it is forbidden to transfer liquids. Hot and cold water.
* in the event of a happening, the workers should be informed in Arabic of the reasons for the delay. The attempt of some to move back, and others to push forwards, causes pressure which luckily did not cause physical injury. In addition, clear explanation will save much unrest, anger, humiliation and loss of work days.
* education of the security people towards courteous, respectful attitudes and pleasant speech patterns.
It is important to note: two additional checking stations are being built to allow faster transit.
we are counting
The stormy and cold weather causes very thin traffic of people. Conversely, we see relatively lively presence of military vehicles in the area.
Along the whole road it looks as if somebody has again employed the tractors. After last week’s rain, all the earthworks have been again raised along the roadside. All the blocks along the road are in place across the tracks and turns to villages or nearby houses.
We also didn’t see any Palestinian cars on the road.
Dura al-Fawar – open to pedestrians.
Sheep crossing – open to pedestrians. As usual – completely muddy!
08:50 – we are greeted at the entry to the city by green and white flags – the Nahal is back. Yesterday 50 Battalion arrived in Hebron. Perhaps it has brought with a quieter atmosphere.
Checkpoint before Tomb of Patriarchs – three youths detained. Two are 15.5 years old and the third is 14. They have no IDs. Two very unpleasant Border Police in the position. One (with fringes) contemptuous, the other simply indifferent. After 15 minutes the boys are released to go on their way.
Tel Rumeida – marching along the road is the milkman with his donkey. We cross the deserted road. Two Border Police come over to us. One identifies himself by name. The second asks to see our IDs. Doesn’t want us to know his name, so the other one relates to him without mentioning who he is. The IDs are okay, we are indeed Israeli citizens. The house at the end of the street of the Jewish neighbourhood, beyond the gate that informs us "Kahana Lives," is abandoned? In the past it seemed that someone was taking care of the garden, but now the house appears empty, the trees are sagging with fruit and the windows are shuttered.
Tomb of Patriarchs Checkpoint – three detainees, released after a few minutes. At the checkpoint before the Tomb of the Patriarchs, five young detainees. They stood waiting more than 45 minutes till release. While we stood with them, a number of people passed by, but the soldiers didn’t even ask to see IDs. Again we wondered, trying to understand the logic, the reason for, and the advantage from these checks. Of course there were no answers. One of the youngsters feels bad. Asks to sit on the other side of the road where there is concrete so he doesn’t have to get dirty in mud. The contemptuous soldier calls him over, stands above him on the wall, asks him again to approach. The authoritarianism and the power of humiliation scream to the heavens. He explains to the sick youngster that he wont sit on the other side because of the girls, and he points towards us. I go to the police post in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the hope that they will put me in touch with the soldier’s commander. A policeman explains to me, with great politeness and courtesy that the reference is to a settlement and "it’s best not to make a story of it." At the Tomb of the Patriarchs Checkpoint I find the soldier’s commander, explain the matter to him and hear him demand of the soldier that he remains in the emplacement, and does not come out. It seems that he is problematic, and there have already been issues with him. Meanwhile there are eight detainees at the checkpoint so we split up.
Shouts, whistles and loud cries can be heard from the direction of the school next to the pharmacy. The soldiers jump. Three soldiers race in that direction. A police patrol is summoned. Turns out that the children are playing a game with appropriate cries of encouragement and joy. The atmosphere calms down again. The detainees are still detained. After 20 minutes they are released: suddenly a soldier talks into his radio, asks permission to let them go, gets no response, and simply returns all their IDs. What happened here? How come they are so contemptuous of people’s time? There is nothing contagious, it’s just arbitrary. They want, they take an ID, they don’t want then they return it without a check – no logic, no security reasons, just persecution.
...And while time passes, a girl (settler) sits on the steps of the Jewish community souvenir shop reading a book. On either side of her, detainees, debating, receiving summonses, being released – and she, what goes through her mind? Does she see any of it?
Around 11:30 we leave, after all the detainees have been released.
Two Palestinian riders approach on the side of the road. Only donkeys have permission to move here.
Zif Junction – open.
Close to Avigail they have heightened the concrete rail to double what it was (what purpose does it serve?).
The road from At-Tuwani to Yatta is blocked anew. [L]