Barta’a Junction: Who profits from Palestinians’ free passage through openings in the Separation Fence?

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Roni Shalit, Shuli Bar, Translation Tal H.
רכבים חונים משני צידי הכביש
רכב צבאי לרוחב הכביש ושני חיילים

7:00-8:30 a.m.

Barta’a Junction

We park alongside the main road (611) at the entrance to eastern Barta’a, opposite the hill in the West Bank, topped by the village Daher Al Abed. We witness an insane scene, starred by the main characters in the piece called “Occupation”… Try to imagine the written words as a short film: the Separation Fence stretches opposite the road, and has holes in several places. There are small holes through which people must crawl, and larger ones that easily accommodate a grown person. Lately, such openings in the Separation Fence are the hottest item in passing from here to there and back, and serve well the kind of stupidity that typifies Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

We identity the relevant hole in the fence by the stream of people arriving from the West Bank in our direction. To our short film, please add the nervous hither-and-thither traffic of vans and yellow taxi cabs in all directions. Cabs from the West Bank carry passengers to the hole in the fence. We see them from afar, in the background. And where we stand, vans and yellow cans speed back and forth from the Seamline Zone to the fence. Presumably many of the people passing through do hold valid transit permits, all kosher. Why did they willingly forego the pleasure of passing through the Barta’a checkpoint, all renovated and air-conditioned and replete with electronic identification and moving belts? “Ah,” says W., “for freedom! For the fun of crossing over without the inspection of the occupation authorities!” and he places his hand on his neck gesturing suffocation…

Soon we’ll see that the occupation forces are here, and they too take part in the general fun.

We arrived an hour late, and still the action is impressive, and ongoing. Imagine how right opposite us, on the hill slopes, people and more and more people run down, mostly men hurrying off to work. Palestinian taxi cabs, in a nervous tizzy, speed to pick them up (the drivers look happy, they’re making a lot of money today) and grab as many fares as possible. At the very same moment an exact replica of this scene takes place along the Separation Fence – from Jalame in the north to the South Hebron Hills and further down. The holes that appeared in the fence one day are a story over half a year old. Namely, an old one. But today we have a surprise:

A massive presence of the Israeli army. Many army jeeps parked on our side of the hole alongside the main road, or on the ground on narrow old inner roads. Some of the soldiers sit inside the jeeps, others are scattered on the ground, armed with rifles at the ready, spikes spread beside the jeep.

“We’re keeping an open track”, a major says curly, wearing a surgical mask, not wiling to elaborate. Locals explained the matter: why does the army ignore all the people passing here rather than at the checkpoint? It has only come here to catch smugglers. The spikes are intended to stop cabs and vans carrying “things” and people with bags. Sacks filled with vegetables and fruit, drugs, sheep and cows… Yes, animals too. Soldiers take IDs and transit permits and detain the fellows for an hour or two, then release then. W. says: “Okay, game’s over.”

With perfect timing, a van passed us by with sheep, speeding towards the Barta’a checkpoint, and a van with sheep entered Eastern Barta’a. The great holiday of sacrifice, Eid Al Adha, is only a few days away.

At the entrance to Barta’a on both sides of the road, stand two long lines of vehicles, from Israel according to their license plates. We hear that they belong to Arab construction workers who prefer to park here and continue to their jobs building Harish City in their contractors’ transports. Israeli police does fine them for illegal parking (laws must be respected during occupation…), but they still park here.

The fearless chaos of men running the openings in the fence, moving freely (and happily) in the open space from the fence to the road, of Palestinian taxi cabs speeding amongst army jeeps that ignore them and the lines of fence-crossers, and all within our favorite pastoral landscape – that’s what we had today.