by ISM Nablus, October 1st
Huwarra checkpoint, just South of Nablus, is notorious for its volatile atmosphere and violent soldiers. Today was an example in point. Hundreds of women and men were forced into a large holding pen, with small children being crushed against the turnstiles separating the soldiers from the Palestinians waiting in line. Young and old suffered from the heat, perspiring and holding onto one another as not to faint or fall. Young infants and fragile groceries were carried on shoulders and heads so as to escape injury as the soldiers shouted and waved their weapons in the faces of people at the back of the line to make them step forward.
Ramadan is an exertion in itself, yet one which the pious believe that Allah will repay in plenty in the afterlife. What should be a humbling and beautiful display of piety and steadfastness is transformed and sullied by aggressive soldiers intent on, in the words of one commander, “torturing the people as much as possible until they break the fast.” To this soldier’s contentment and flying in the face of the spirit of this the ‘prohibitive month,’ Palestinians waiting in line were reduced to elbowing their way forward in line and arguing heatedly about who was to go first.
At one point, a well-known journalist, Jafar, from the nearby village of Salim, approached one of the higher-ranking soldiers in order to inquire whether he could take pictures of the chaos unfurling in front of him. Yet before he even had time to open his mouth, the soldier punched him in the face and beat his chest with his rifle. As the journalist backed away, the soldier followed and continued kicking his shins and thighs with his heavy boots. Bleeding from his mouth and limping badly due to pain in his right leg, the journalist demanded to file a report on the incident while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
The attack was witnessed by a human rights worker and reported to a senior officer who arrived at the scene shortly afterwards. After threatening to arrest the journalist, the officer finally ceded to his demands and documented all injuries incurred, promising to let the journalist know what consequences this completely unprovoked attack would have for the soldier in question.
Just as the line of people started moving more smoothly through the checkpoint, four young men requested that human rights workers go with them through the olive groves around Huwarra checkpoint. They wanted to make sure that three of their friends, who had been intercepted by Israeli military while trying to make their way home around the checkpoint, and thus avoid the several hours long wait, were not being beaten or otherwise maltreated. While walking across a field between Rujeeb and Awarta, two soldiers spotted the group and ordered them to approach. They were extremely aggressive, pushing two Palestinians and holding their guns to the head of one of the men. While assaulting the men physically in front of the human rights observers, the soldiers cursed at the Palestinians, and repeatedly addressed them as “dog.” The group was taken to Awarta checkpoint, where three others were already being made to wait since two hours back.
After half an hour there were in total 10 Palestinian men and 3 international human rights observers detained at Awarta checkpoint. At four o’clock they were told that they would not be allowed to leave until nine o’clock in the evening as “punishment for breaking the law.” When human rights workers inquired as to what punishment the law proscribed for the offense, the soldier responded, “I have the gun, I make the law, and I say they have to be punished for 5 hours.” When asked exactly what law the group was breaching, the soldiers answered that there was a law stipulating that everyone must go through the checkpoint. Upon being asked what they would do if they had to wait six to ten hours every day after having been at university just to go home and eat with their families, they offered nonsensical answers such as that they think that the young men should pass through the checkpoint only in the morning or bring food with them and break the fast on their own in Nablus.
At one point, a plainclothes settler from Britain approached the people being detained pretending to be a police officer and then a soldier, threatening them with arrest. The soldiers gave the settler a welcoming hug and then stood chatting, smoking and snacking on pomegranate seed right in front of the fasting Palestinians without any regard to their feelings. The settler stood menacingly over the seated detainees and joined the soldier in his questioning and taunting. In effect, the settler was allowed to ‘play soldier,’ with the lives of the Palestinians in detention.
After an hour, the group was allowed to return to Huwarra where their IDs were given back to them and they were allowed to go home. Before leaving, one of the men, a university student from Beita, told the human rights workers that their presence had prevented “physical punishment today” but emphasized that this is a daily occurrence and that he will continue to walk around the checkpoint. “Why not take the chance? I have to wait at the checkpoint anyway so I might as well wait outside in the fresh air,” he said and winked.