Yesterday, August 2nd, hundreds of people waited for hours at Huwarra checkpoint, which is the main entrance to Nablus from the south and one of the most restrictive in all of the West Bank. Everyone was packed into the terminal, while soldiers allowed one to pass at a time, after undergoing humiliating searches and questioning. Yesterday, the average waiting time at Huwarra was over two hours.
Over the course of six hours, international activists working with ISM were able to escort many people through the illegal barriers, and facilitate the release of men detained without charge. Through physical accompaniment, negotiation and other non-violent means, the ISM was able to pressure Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) soldiers into allowing the passage of many Palestinians. Using this tactic, they were able to allow many pregnant women, small children and people with medical issues to pass. Without international accompaniment, the soldiers do not have any interests in treating Palestinians as humans and often force them to wait the entire day in the hot sun.
In response to the international presence, the soldiers brought an additional 15 soldiers, and threatened the ISM activists with arrest, while the soldiers pushed, screamed and physically attempted to stop the internationals from documenting the closure with cameras. The internationals witnessed IOF soldiers pushing Palestinians, grabbing some by the throat, and continuously touching Palestinian women after being asked not to do so. The internationals were also threatened violently by soldiers with M-16 machine guns. On one occasion, a female soldier told a female activist, “Fuck you, I will shoot you with my big gun,” after the international asked why the Palestinians were being delayed.
In the end, activists were able facilitate the crossing of about 20 people, forcing the IOF to create a “humanitarian line,” where women, children and the elderly were allowed to pass with more efficiency. After exhausting the patience of the soldiers at Huwara, the activists moved to Beit Iba checkpoint on the road to Tulkarem.
At Beit Iba, activists found eight young men in detention, one of whom was in isolation in a metal cell not much larger than the width of his shoulders. The man, named Bashir, had been in detention for over 8 hours, and when asked why, the soldiers told the activists that he was a “wanted, dangerous, terrorist.” After investigation, it turned out that the man had been detained that morning after he intervened in the case of an IOF soldier sexually harassing a Palestinian women. Once again, when the activists attempted to remain in the checkpoint to speak with the detained men, activists were physically assaulted, and threatened with arrest.
The other seven men were detained in a metal pen, surrounded by razor wire. Many had been there for close to six hours. The ISM activists brought them food, water and phones to call their families. Most of those detained were university students from al-Najah in Nablus, one was a Palestinian Authority policeman, and one was a taxi driver. The students had final exams the next day and most reported being stopped every day. When asked, the soldiers said they were detained because the Israeli intelligence had flagged their names.
After over one and a half hours of negotiation, the activists were able to pursuade the soldiers to let Bashir out of isolation and put with the other men. After an additional 30 minutes, all the men were released. As the ISM was leaving Beit Iba, a man of approximately 16 years of age was pulled from the crowd of waiting Palestinians and the IOF attempted to detain him. The man’s ID was not cross referenced with the list of “wanted persons,” and the soldiers gave no justification for singling him out. In response, ISM activists physically prevented the man from being taken by surrounding him with their bodies, and after de-esculating the situation, they accompanied the man to the front of the checkpoint. ISM activists remained with the man during his “interrogation,” in which the soldiers asked him very little. When this was over, the soldiers attempted to detain him again, but the activists were able to successfully accompany him out of the checkpoint. Although he was unable to pass into Tulkarem to visit his mother he was at least not arrested.