Zatara Checkpoint

July 5, 2007 Commuting to work

Dear friends and family,
This morning at about 9:30 am we received a call from our landlord that a young man from Kifl Haris (the village next to us to the east) was being detained and beaten at Zatara checkpoint, which is only about 15-20 minutes from where we live. Beth and I were out of the house in less than 3 minutes and luckily caught a service (shared taxi) right away. We arrived at the checkpoint before 10:00 am.

We had to go through the checkpoint before we got out of the service. While the soldier was checking IDs he looked up and saw me, smiled and yelled “Berkeley!” I had gone through the same checkpoint the previous day and this soldier had demanded that I get out of the service so he could question me.

“What are you doing here?”
(with a look of surprise) “Who are you visiting?”
“A former student who lives in Ramallah.” (Which was true. I was on my way to see Amjad who had first been my student in 1998 when he was 19 years old. I went to his wedding when I was here in 2005. Now he has a baby.)
“Don’t you have any Jewish friends?”
“Yes, and Arab friends.”
“Where are you from?”
“Berkeley! You know what I don’t like about Berkeley? They hate Israel!”
“25% of the population of Berkeley is Jewish. I am Jewish.” (Notice I didn’t really respond to his statement.)
“You are Jewish! That is very good. Be careful here.”

So anyway, we got out of the service after we went through the checkpoint but we didn’t see anything unusual and we couldn’t find anyone being detained. We called the Israeli Army Humanitarian Office to ask them to inquire about the incident but we didn’t really expect them to call us back, despite the fact that they promised to do so in just 5 minutes. So I had the bright idea to ask my soldier friend who didn’t like Berkeley for information. We walked over to the booth and I said to him, “Soldier who doesn’t like where I come from, I want to ask you a question.” I asked him where the man that was detained just a short while ago was taken. He started off denying that there had been any man that was detained or any problem at all. Beth and I continued to ask questions and finally he admitted that there was a man who had gotten very upset earlier when he was not allowed through the checkpoint. His partner joined in the conversation at some point to correct something that my soldier had said. It soon became clear to us that the incident not only had happened but we were actually talking to the two soldiers who had been involved. They claimed that although a gun was never pointed at the man, he grabbed the barrel. They admitted that the man was hit but just to teach him that it was absolutely forbidden to touch a soldier’s gun. Then they said that they gave him some chocolate milk and he went home.

During the conversation my soldier explained to me that the Israeli army is the most humane in the world. It also came out that he is a paratrooper and that they are planning to “go into” (invade) Jenin next week. I can’t believe that he would actually divulge such information to us, but chances are more that 50 – 50 that they will invade somewhere next week and Jenin is definitely a likely candidate. (By the way Nablus was reinvaded two days ago but ISM had enough support so they didn’t call us to come up again.)

On our way home from Zatara we called the Kifl Haris municipality and found out the name and phone number of the man who was “hit”. We called him and arranged to take his statement. We arrived at his house at about 11:30 am. Of course we were seated with half a dozen of his family and friends and served in sequence, juice, coffee, cookies and tea.

It turns out that the man, Osama, is a Civil Engineer and he told us that he had been travelling that morning on a bus to Salfit to go to work. Soldiers stopped the bus at Zatara checkpoint and everyone was ordered off. IDs were collected and most passengers were eventually allowed back onto the bus. However Osama was told that he could not proceed on the bus and must turn back. He told us that he tried to explain to the soldiers that he travels to Salfit daily for his job and insisted that they must be making a mistake in denying him passage. He told us that one soldier poked the barrel of his gun into his belly, which he pushed away. Again the soldier pressed the barrel into his belly, and once again he moved it aside. Then the soldier started to punch and hit him while a second soldier hit him from behind on his head. Osama said that the first soldier told him to kneel, and when he refused the soldier began to kick him. Blood started to run down his head and they stopped beating him. Then they gave him water to wash the wound and also to drink. When we asked if they gave him chocolate milk he said yes. (This must be the humanitarian part.) Then he said that they told him to go home, which he did.

Osama didn’t understand why he had been turned back because he had never had a problem with the army before and does not know why he was not allowed through the checkpoint when other men from his village were. He showed us wounds on his left arm, right shin, the back of his neck and the top of his head. He also showed a shirt which was covered in blood.

Then he invited us to lunch. Of course it was delicious. It was a traditional Palestinian dish called Moqlubah (means upside down) made of rice, chick peas, silvered almonds and spices that I couldn’t even begin to guess what they were. There was also delicious roasted chicken with potatoes and carrots. And yoghurt and soup. Then another round of coffee. We finally were able to leave at about 2:30 pm. We promised Osama that a womyn from IWPS would accompany him to work on Saturday. (Friday is the Muslim Sabbath and so no one works that day.) Hopefully, nothing will happen and he will be able to go to work without a problem. Inshallah.


July 2, 2007 The everyday sorrows of occupation

Dear friends and family,
Since I’ve been here IWPS has been working with people in the area trying to help out with various problems they are facing as a result of the occupation. Here is a short list of examples.

A farmer from Deir Istiya was hit by the car of a settler while being harassed and then beaten by soldiers. The road he was using is the one his family has been using for generations and there is no other one available to him. When we met with him and some of the other farmers who have endured the same treatment they told us that they were not interested in seeking medical expense reimbursement or even a simple apology. “What is done is done.” Their only concern was to stop the bad behavior of the soldiers and settlers.

While we were taking the report of the farmer hit by the settler car we were being served numerous rounds of tea and coffee at his home. His family and some of the other farmers were sitting with us. All of a sudden the kids started shouting and running out into the fields. They heard wild pigs and went to chase them away. These pigs are huge nuisances and very destructive to crops. Apparently the farmers think the settlers released them. They told us that years ago there was unexplained deer who roamed the fields who were also nuisances but they were easily trapped and the farmers could use their meat. When the pigs arrived mysteriously they were much more difficult to deal with. Pigs are much more difficult to trap and even if they did succeed in trapping them, Muslims are forbidden to eat pork.

We met with another man from Deir Istiya who used to work in Israel and has turned to farming to feed his family (Palestinians have been prohibited to work in Israel since 2001. This used to be a significant portion of Palestinians’ income. Now the Palestinian labor in Israel has been replaced by immigrants, mostly from Thailand). He recently built a chicken coop for 1,000 chickens. He has received a demolition order for it because he built without a permit. If he doesn’t remove it by July 21st the army will come to bulldoze it. Furthermore, they will charge him for the expense to do this. Since the occupation began in 1967 Palestinians are virtually never given permits to build anything. Not new homes, room additions or even chicken coops. And when they are given permits the permit will always specify that they are “inhabitants but not owners”. When you think about the typical large Palestinian family and how the population has grown since 1967 you can imagine the crowded conditions in which they live.

Yesterday we accompanied some shepherds from the village of Salam. There is now a Jewish by-pass road on the land that their families have used for generations to graze their goats and sheep. They are not allowed to use it and they need to cross it at least twice a day. So they are often caught and stopped by soldiers. One of them was beaten by a soldier last week when he was caught crossing. He showed us his broken finger. Because we were there they were allowed to cross. But we can’t be there every day.

We took a report today in a village that was invaded last night by the Israeli army. The army entered at approximately 3:00 am with about 5 or 6 jeeps and 40 soldiers. They shot live ammunition and sound bombs and then surrounded a house. They forced the family outside and searched the home for one of the sons. When they didn’t find him they took Samir, a 30 year old mentally ill son of the family as a human shield to go to the home of the “wanted” son. The mother begged them not to abuse him because she feared they would exacerbate his mental illness. I got the impression that his illness was something like PTSD but I can’t be sure.

Yesterday, while we were visiting one of the families in Hares, one of the womyn asked us if we could go to Tel Aviv. We were very uncomfortable but had to answer truthfully. Yes, we could. She just nodded wishfully. You may think this was a strange question but I have been asked it very often here. Another very common question is whether I can go to Jerusalem. West Bank Arabs are not allowed to go to Jerusalem, or to cross the green line (the internationally recognized Israel). This means that they cannot pray at the Holy Sanctuary (Dome of the Rock) which is the third most holy place in Islam nor can they go to the sea shore although it is less than an hour’s drive away. Both these sorrows are felt very keenly.


June 30, 2007 A good-will package, invasions included

Dear friends and family,
We returned from Nablus last night. It had been invaded by the Israeli occupation forces early Thursday morning and we received a call at the house from the ISM coordinator at about noon asking us to come and help them out. Kim, one of the other IWPS womyn, and I arrived there at about 5:00 pm and found 18 other Internationals and half a dozen Palestinian coordinators of ISM organizing three teams to go out into the Old City and Balata Refugee Camp. Both areas were under curfew with houses that had been transformed into military posts.

Sami, one of the Palestinian Coordinators and a member of the Palestinian Medical Relief Services, led my team of eight Internationals through the Old City. We were looking for any families who might need medical assistance or food. We saw a few military jeeps but they didn’t seem very interested in us, much to my relief. In the past when I have participated in this kind of activity the soldiers have told us to leave because it is a closed military zone and if we don’t we will be arrested. Being arrested often means automatic deportation and banishment for at least 10 years. This is one my greatest fears. (Much greater than being hit at a demo or getting caught in crossfire.)

While out walking we saw many people on the street which surprised me since there was a curfew in effect. I remember walking through Ramallah during curfew and it was like a ghost town. But Nablus is a different story, considered to be much more militant. Even so, mostly it was just young boys and teenagers out on the streets looking for jeeps to throw stones at. There were a few men sitting outside their closed shops drinking tea. We also came across a family consisting of a father, three sons and a daughter. (I presume the mother was at home.) They father thanked us for being there and the kids smiled at us so sweetly. The smell of tear gas was suffocating and we constantly heard explosions and gunfire. We did not come across anyone who needed aid, nor did we find an occupied house to help out. (One of the other teams did help a womyn with a baby get back to her home.)

We went back to the hotel at about 9:30 pm where we were to spend the night. At about 10:30 pm one of the medics came to ask us to accompany him to a house that had just been demolished because he wanted to retrieve a body that was under the rubble. He had tried and the soldiers wouldn’t allow him to do it. He thought they might if we were there. But it was dark and we couldn’t walk since the Palestinian coordinators said that it was too dangerous. In the dark the Israelis would think we were Palestinian fighters and the Palestinian fighters would think we were Special Forces. In either case we would be shot. So the medic tried to transport us in his ambulance but just when we were piling into it an army jeep rounded the corner. A soldier got out and said he’d arrest us all, including the Palestinian medic, and so we skedaddled back inside the hotel and the medic went off by himself.

The next day the military retreated after carrying out numerous arrests and an assassination of a member of the Fatah-affiliated Al Aqsa Brigades. Mohammad, the lead Palestinian Coordinator said that the army could very well be back in just a few hours and he asked us to stay awhile. So we visited three of the houses that had been occupied during the invasion. The families told us that they had been either locked in a small room of their own house or forced to leave and go to a neighbor’s house. The houses were completely ransacked and damaged. The soldiers had broken down doors, thrown electrical equipment to the floor (breaking it), and had emptied closets, cupboards and drawers such that things were strewn all over. In many places the soldiers had bored holes in the floors and walls, presumably looking for weapons or tunnels. In one home the ceiling was ripped out and the wood paneling on the walls was pried off.

We also visited two hospitals that had been under siege by the military. We talked to doctors, nurses and staff who told us that they had been delayed or prevented from going to work. Even an emergency patient’s entry had been delayed. Furthermore, the hospitals had great difficulty getting in basic food supplies, such as bread, and the Israeli forces even tried to prevent oxygen and dialysis treatment equipment from being delivered. These were finally delivered but only after the hospital director intervened by a call to the Israeli District Command. We were also told that the soldiers had opened fire five times on one of the hospitals during the course of the invasion, splaying the walls of the hospital with machine gun bullets.

The military did not return that afternoon and so we finally went home to Hares at about 5:00 pm. We promised to come back if they were invaded again. Which could be tonight, tomorrow or next week. One can never know.

When we returned to Hares, our landlord (and convener of IWPS), Abu Rabia, invited us to come and talk to him. He knew that we had gone to Nablus and he wanted to explain the situation to us, as he sees it anyway. He is not only an avid supporter of Fatah, but has a relatively high position in the organization. He told us that Israel is trying to weaken Fatah so that the same exact thing that happened in Gaza will happen in the West Bank. I didn’t really understand his point exactly but I think it may have been that it is to Israel’s advantage to have chaos and internal fighting among the Palestinians.

In the meantime Olmert, during a summit convened by Mubarak in Egypt supposedly offered a number of goodwill gestures to Abbas, including the release of 250 Fatah prisoners and the release of tax money that has been withheld since Hamas came into power. I am left wondering how this invasion figures into the good will.