Six hours. This is how long Palestinians have to wait before they can pass the “terminal” at Tarqumia in the West Bank, which leads either into Israel or, eventually on to the Gaza Strip. The soldiers at the checkpoint deny this. “All they need is permission from the District Coordination Office (DCO, the civil administration wing of the Israeli military in the occupied Palestinian territories) and ID-papers and they’ll get through in one minute,” says Schlomo, who is the commander at the checkpoint.
Already at three o’clock in the morning the Palestinian workers arrive at the checkpoint. At best they can pass at nine into Israel with their goods, or onto Gaza via Erez or Karni, the two possible crossings into the Strip.
Those who want to visit family members who are imprisoned in Israel also come to the checkpoint. Most of Israel’s prisons are in Negev desert in the south and no matter where you live in the West Bank, you have to pass through the checkpoint in Tarqumia. At five in the morning the visitors arrive. It is not until twelve midday that they can continue to visit their loved ones after submitting to humiliating security procedures and routine strip searches.
“It’s a lie,” says Hasan, one of the soldiers, but changes his mind as soon as he sees us writing. Symbolically he holds his hand in front of his mouth and then says that it’s not a lie at all, and that he cannot speak about this matter. His colleague Schlomo says, “All that’s necessary is permission from DCO and ID-papers and they’ll get through in one minute.”
Permission is needed from the DCO, to be able to visit the prisons. The families have to wait several months before permission is granted. Unsurprisingly, the information given to us by Palestinians about their experience at the checkpoint conflicts with the soldier’s version.
“Two days ago I saw a person who had been handcuffed, both hand and foot. They forced him to lie with his head on the ground and with his mouth open and then forced a gun in his mouth,” says Asam, who owns a car repair shop nearby.
The checkpoint was built ten years ago and was then called as such. It was expanded two years ago into a more developed control system, and the Occupation Forces started referring to it as a “terminal”. Now, Israel has new ideas for how the “terminal” should function, which in practice means Palestinians will have to wait at the checkpoint for three days before they can go through. A system like that would be devastating for the Palestinian economy, which already is almost non-existent.
In the town Idhna, a couple of kilometers from Tarqumia, 17,000 out of a total of 36,000 dunums have already been confiscated. 2,100 people live in Idhna and they are completely dependent on their land to survive. In 2005, 3000 dunums were stolen from the village when Israel started to build the wall. On the other side of the wall there are 7000 olive trees that belong to the citizens of Idhna. They can’t get to their land. Fifty wells have been either destroyed or made inaccessible at the same time as the wall was being built. The wells are on land behind the wall.
Five thousand dunums have already been stolen to establish a “buffer zone” in front of the wall. Buffer zones are established to make sure Palestinians will not be able to get close to the wall. The remaining 9000 dunums are behind the wall.
“Missiles have not been stopped by the wall. We are no fools. We know the wall is being built by Israel because they want to steal our land and transfer the people that live here,” says Jamal, the mayor of Idhna. Twenty families have ended up on the other side of the wall. Contact with the village is difficult. “It will get worse when the wall is finished. To get to their houses, they have to ride on donkeys. There are no roads to where they live anymore. They have been destroyed by Israel,” Jamal continues. The families are being threatened with house demolitions if they refuse to move off their land.
There have been one hundred deaths in Idhna since 1956, as a result of attacks by both Israeli army and settlers. Many people have been injured, but despite the difficult situation, Jamal only wants the occupation to end and for Palestinians to be able to live in freedom.
“We want peace between Palestinians and Israelis. We don’t want people to die.”
- Four dunums equals one acre, and can also be quantified as 1,000 meters squared.
- Checkpoints take many forms, and can be either permanent, partial (an established checkpoint operating periodically) or ‘flying’ (temporary roadblocks enforced by one or two Israeli military jeeps). At a checkpoint, Israeli soldiers check Palestinian ID papers against lists of “wanted” persons, and search cars, packages and persons. Checkpoints have been established so that Israel can control Palestinian movement within the West Bank and at the borders of the Gaza Strip.
- “Terminals” are a more recent phenomenon and amount to an attempt by Israel to unilaterally enforce permanent borders. They are essentially upgraded checkpoints, built to look like international border crossings or airport terminals. They are sometimes placed near the internationally recognised Green Line border, but more often they encroach on Palestinain territory as in this case between Tarqumia and Israel. One of the most notorious of these new “terminals”, Qalandia checkpoint actually divides Palestinian Jerusalem from Palestinian Ramallah. There is a similar checkpoint on the way to Bethlehem from Ramallah. The Occupation authorities claim this change was to make life easier for the Palestinians passing through the new “terminals”, and point to extra lanes and better facilities added to what were once shoddy structures. But in practice, the extra lanes are rarely opened and the better facilities simply allow for better crowd control and serve to distance the soldiers from the human face of their victims. Through the more permanent nature of these structures Israel is seeking to create “facts on the ground”, driving out all hope of a two state solution.
- District Coordination Office, DCO – Created as a result of the Oslo Accords and originally consisting of both Israeli authorities and Palestinian Authority representatives. At the start of the Al-Aqsa intifada, Israel kicked out the PA. The DCOs are now essentially no different from the old, notorious Civil Administration wing of the Israeli Occupation Forces.