Why we want to win the race to the Tayibe-Roumana agricultural checkpoint

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Roni Shalit and Shuli Bar (report, photo)
The Barta'a checkpoint: quarrels at the checkpoint in the morning in 2017

02:30 pre-dawn, my bed

I woke up with a start, afraid I had forgotten to set the alarm. Alas. The alarm is all set. Since I was already awake I checked on the Likud primaries results. The news about Oren Hazan… Still took a quarter of a sleeping pill.

04:45 Got up and all that… drove to pick up Roni, living in the next community. Dark outside. Strong winds. The rain is holding its breath. All our friends are curled up in their beds now. When we meet they’ll not want to hear what we saw and heard. Okay, okay, they’ll say. Enough of that, right?

We first went to the largest northern checkpoint in the West Bank that opens earliest. Barta’a Checkpoint. The military language laundry has long since turned it into ‘Reihan’ checkpoint. But we identify with the locals who call it Barta’a, for it used to be very close to the Palestinian town of the same name.

05:55 the checkpoint has now been open for about an hour, and we really aren’t used to this lack of chaos. Not too long ago at dawn fights would break out and the locals would begin quarreling about their place in the waiting line. Since the number of passers has gone down, since Palestinian armed with wooden clubs have been placed to keep order, and since a more sophisticated passage to the terminal has been set up through a new corral with extra turnstiles, and perhaps since there are now more active checking posts in the terminal – the fights have ceased. At least this morning.

An Israeli farmer gets up in the morning and goes out to make love with his farming. The Palestinian farmer sees his own farmlands across the fence and his eyes ache.

06:10 - we hurried up the road leading to Mei Ami and entered the potholed track leading to ‘Aneen agricultural checkpoint. Literally, it is meant for farmers of the Palestinian village ‘Aneen that we see across the separation fence. Because of the fence they have lost their direct access to their own farmlands, to the olive trees and the tobacco they used to plant among the trees as well as the vegetables they used to grow for their own private consumption. No longer. This checkpoint is opened only twice a week, and the Israeli occupation is doing all it can, ever faster, to take even this meager lot from them, to encourage the farmers to change their calling and quit farming. How? For example, by not re-issuing permits that are no longer valid, by not issuing permits to family members, by inventing draconian laws which the farmers cannot obey. For example: having to provide an original ownership document even if it date back from 19th century Ottoman Empire days! Farming permits are issued mainly to the elderly of the family, to widows, or to the deceased. And indeed, the number of people eligible to cross this checkpoint is steadily on the decrease.

Deserted olive tree groves are not a rare sight in the occupied territories. Whoever is willing to guess what will happen to them and who will soon get to enjoy them – should write us. Perhaps even win a prize.

06:50 Why we want to win the race to the Tayibe-Roumana agricultural checkpoint

On our way to the next agricultural checkpoint we climb up Mt. Iskandar, the highest peak in Umm Al Fahm (inside Israel), and then wind down the sleepy alleys towards the eastern slopes of the city. Many of its inhabitants are not familiar with this checkpoint. Strange, but true. We hurry. If the soldiers get there first we might not be able to see whether someone has been turned back or if some clash has taken place between them and those Palestinian waiting for them, or alternately – if the soldiers will show some human consideration. Here too a small and regular group of Palestinians are here to cross with their farming permits. But although the same person holds a ‘kosher’ permit, the soldiers will still be glad to catch him as an imposter. “Going to tend your land with such land? Hah! Go home.”

It’s a small and distant checkpoint. But here too all hell might break loose because of the frustrating life forced upon the Palestinians.