Ar-Ras, Jubara (Kafriat), Qalqiliya, Sun 15.2.09, Afternoon
A number is a mathematical object used in counting and measuring, and tallying seems to have been the theme of today's shift, which took place, not in the desert, or wilderness (Book of Numbers) but in the OPT.
A checkpoint with zero soldiers! Most of the drivers, out of habit, stop dutifully (they are well trained after years and years of this Occupation), can't believe their eyes (nor can we) and wave as they pass by. A lone plastic coffee cup sits atop the soldiers' position which is graced also by a single white Keter chair inside. "Better like this," says a cheerful passing taxi driver.
From zero, we go to one and two: one large settlement activity above us, near Zufin, as the hilltop continues to be gouged out, with two visible shovel dozers hard at work.
15:00 -- the biblical theme of numbers continues as huge flocks of woolly sheep or long haired goats are led from one green pasture to another by a single shepherd, wending his way through olive groves or helping his animals over now lusciously well equipped Occupier built hillocks and ditches along the roadside.
As we approach the checkpoint from the junction, there are but eleven vehicles in line, but it soon increases to twice that number. A officer with two bars is visiting, stops five pedestrians, of whom there are plenty today, looks at their IDs, then stops the two of us, asking us to stand in the tall growth outside the checkpoint. We don't do so, but find a convenient concrete "shelter" (made for soldiers) and watch as the waiting line of vehicles quickly grow threefold. Next, the lieutenant, getting out of the large army vehicle standing in the middle of the roadway at the checkpoint, lines up five soldiers, next to us, and they pull up their guns, as if to fire them, click whatever needs clicking, fire as if firing, a few centimeters from us. Quite a performance, something that is quite usual, but in the midst of a checkpoint, when these weren't even soldiers going to replace the current shift! In fact, the checkpoint soldiers on duty look on, as do waiting pedestrians, and the line of vehicles increases, again in exponential manner.
15:15 -- the officer calls his men to the army truck which proceeds to turn, in the middle of the checkpoint, holding up the already infinite line of vehicles from Tulkarm.
Many more pedestrians than usual today, but none are checked, as they were with the visiting officer.
15:20 -- to Tulkarm, the line has almost dissipated now, just ten vehicles, including container trucks, pick up vans, Israeli cars (yellow license plates), full sized buses, large yellow taxis. Most are let go quickly, some are stopped - randomness is the name of the usual game.
On the other side of the checkpoint, nearly every vehicle is checked. Sometimes this takes three minutes, at other times only half a minute. But it still means that at the end of the line that we can see, the wait will be over an hour at this rate.
Another army truck arrives, also stops in the middle of the roadway, in the direction to Tulkarm, but passing vehicles can maneuver around it, and this one is merely delivering food. Checking continues, as one soldier eats, the other waves on passing vehicles.
We seem to have disturbed the four soldiers here, one of whom is actually reading a book, the others lounging about. By the time we're in position at the checkpoint, they, too, are at their posts, one in the crows nest, the others checking cars in both directions, including trucks and cars. This is one instance where we feel our presence is making matters worse, so we head back to:
On our way to A-Ras, two detainees, squatting in the brisk, cold wind in an area where there is no shelter from the elements. True, the soldier's post has been upgraded to provide some comfort - to them - and we note that there are now two porta-toilets!
On our return, as we wait to cross the security road, two other men are stopped, then a third. (Note: this is becoming one of the most onerous checkpoints in the area).
16:05 -- one of the detainees, pulls up one leg of his pants to show the soldier that he has a prosthetic device, needs to get to the hospital in Ramallah. He is made to sit with the others. But he is soon allowed to leave, and we take him, by car, to A-Ras, where we trust he finds a taxi.
The other detainees tell us that they are stopped every morning, every evening, day in, day out. Yet, they persevere. How else to feed children, their families? The soldiers tell us that men without permits must be held for three hours. Admittedly, they can put this down to two (which used to be the time that detainees could be held: but things get worse in this Occupation, so who knows what the truth is?) The soldiers insist that if they let the men go earlier, they themselves are liable to serve time in prison(!). As we stand there, yet another man comes by, is stopped and made to wait with the others, saying it's now impossible to get a permit before the age of 39 (if that's true, that's another change - for the worse!).
16:15 -- a carload of people is allowed to venture along the security road - homeward bound. One man and his donkey cart make their way easily across the way towards A-Ras, but everybody is thoroughly checked, and names compared to lists in a book (the Jubara permit holders).
The wind gets colder, there is no shelter, no hope, and we make our way back to the gate at Jubara, knowing that there is nothing more we can do. We feel in a wilderness, and feel there are many more years of this wandering, of being helpless, ahead.