Hamra, Ma'ale Efrayim, Tayasir, Za'tara (Tapuah), Tue 30.12.08, Afternoon

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Michal S, Daphna B (reporting & photos)
Seriously? Does this make us safer?
11:30 Zaatra Checkpoint
The west side position (Ariel) is not manned and passage is free. On the north side (Nablus) many cars (we could not see the end of the line).
Along Route 505 to the Allon Road
All paths, every track to the villages north of the road blocked by earth mounds, concrete blocks and rocks, and the only road open to them is Huwwara-Beita or Akraba. These tracks were blocked in the past by iron gatesinfo-icon and, two months ago, in the frame of media "easements" the gates were opened. In the last week they came back and blocked the tracks, this time in a more permanent fashion.
12:00 Maale Ephraim Checkpoint
We stopped only for ten minutes, during which time one car arrived from each direction. The soldiers, idle from duties but busy with conversations with a number of young settlers waiting for lifts, let each car wait, for no reason, for five minutes before calling them, after which passage was quick.
12:25 Hamra Checkpoint
About 30 people waiting east of the checkpoint for the cars which brought them, and from which they were ordered to alight for checking through the pedestrian checkpoint. They claim that they have been waiting an hour. Nine cars waiting for inspection from the west, and eight from the east. The check itself is fast – but the whole process takes time: the car stops 20 metres from the soldiers, the driver descends, lifts his shirt, and pirouettes to show them that he has no explosives (maybe in the car, but not on his body). Anyone who lifted a shirt but not an undervest is called again to get out of the car and display his abdomen! Extra reason for delay – only one car is inspected at a time – so while a vehicle from the east is inspected, the cars from the west wait and vice versa..
A DCO representative observed and left, and the soldiers refuse to say who is replacing him.
13:50 Tayasir Checkpoint
New soldiers. The commander orders his soldiers not to talk to us, but to leave us alone "as long as we don’t interfere," but one of the soldiers came over and was happy to talk, even if quietly. And discretely, so his comrades will not see. A young girl passes alone on foot. Her husband and babyinfo-icon, in a truck, are going through a separate inspection. The soldier says "what a bombshell!" And his comrade is stunned by the comment (not from the chauvinism, but by the fact that he sees an Arab as a woman, as if she was Jewish, or maybe Swedish). "It’s only natural," the soldier apologizes.
The soldiers are from Kfir Brigade and this is their first day at the checkpoint. They have not yet acquired the overlordship and hard heartedness of the veterans. On the other hand, there is no human relationship to the passers by – a woman comes with a baby in army and two 2-3 year old toddlers. She has difficulty negotiating the turnstile with the little ones clinging to her skirt. The soldier standing by the turnstile doesn’t even think to help her, or to open the gate to let them pass easily. He lets them struggle alone. He looks at her – but doesn’t see her!
15:00 Iron Gate facing Ro’i Settlement
One tractor from the direction of the valley, waiting since 14:00 – perhaps they’ll open early. Officially they open at 15:00. On the tractor, a youngster, an older man, a woman in a stunningly beautiful dress, sitting high up on the wagon’s load, and only coming down as she begins to feel the cold, and one old-timer. At 15:15 I begin to phone the DCO. A female soldier courteously but helplessly passes on to me the responses from brigade.
"They are on the way" (a lie: the road from brigade takes two minutes, and they took two hours).
"They are quite busy!" One of the waiting men is under pressure, and his hands shake from fear. He has only just discovered that his photo is missing from his ID because of the damp (the rain), and now he fears that they will accuse him of having a forged ID. Throughout the two hours he keeps asking me my opinion – will they make problems?
We discover that the gate isn’t really locked, but the Palestinians don’t dare to open it or pass through. They claim that the soldiers see every movement from the watchtowers, and within a couple of minutes a jeep will appear to arrest them. In an obedience born of fear they stand in front of an open gate, shivering with cold and waiting.
A Red Cross man arrives. He is also helpless. He phones the DCO but they don’t come. Nor did they say "They are on the way." After half an hour, he leaves.
Darkness descends and it is freezing. The woman takes the initiative, brings twigs and we sit around a (miserable without foliage) fire to try to keep warm.

I phone Zafa’s replacement who says "they’ll come already, here, they have left and within 2/5/10 minutes they’ll be there." In the end I tell him angrily that if the soldiers don’t come in ten minutes, I will open the gate and pass them through (an empty threat because the Palestinians are the ones unprepared to take the risk of passing without permission). Now he is nervous, and says he will come himself. 17:00 he hasn’t arrived, but the "key" jeep arrives and immediately passes the people through. A delay of two hours! The soldiers: "There was a hitch. It’s not that we are insensitive..." They all pass safely, but the woman begins a series of sneezes – obviously caught a cold.
Incidentally, following the massacres in Gaza I feared that we would encounter hostility, but everywhere the Palestinians greeted us with warmth and sympathy (thought – would we also be capable of relating to Arabs in the same way after a strike? After the pictures of blood and the bodies of children?)
18:00 Zaatra Checkpoint
Endless line of cars from the south (Nablus). The western post is again manned by soldiers checking people coming from the direction of Ariel.