The day was mainly quiet. There was olive picking for the Abu Hekel family. Three Human Rights Workers (HRWs) were able to assist. About one hundred Israeli settlers passed by the Abu Hekel property but caused no trouble. The family said that this was due to the international presence. If HRWs had not been present, the settlers would have attacked by throwing rocks.
One HRW was on the street. At 10.20am, she walked down to checkpoint 56. Border police, with one policeman, were checking Palestinian IDs. Once she arrived, the Palestinians were processed with reasonable speed. The police left at 10.50 am. The HRW returned to the crossing at the top of the hill. The two Israeli soldiers on duty had detained a Palestinian man. He said that he had been there since 10.30am. The soldiers would not allow the HRW to talk to him long enough to find out his ID. The HRW waited about 10 minutes. She then asked the soldiers to release the Palestinian, whose name was Alein. She said that the soldiers had had enough time to check his ID. The soldiers refused. After another 15 minutes, the HRW spoke to the soldiers again. They would not release him. The man was forced to sit in the sun on the opposite side of the street to the soldiers. He had the collar of his jacket up to his face and was obviously not comfortable with the sun on his face for so long. It was a warm day and the HRW and soldiers were in the shade. The HRW asked the soldiers to let the man sit in the shade. They refused. She then called Machsom Watch, who agreed to try to help. Nothing happened. One of the soldiers said that the Palestinians skin was tanned enough to cope with the sun. The HRW tried to call TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron) but could not contact them. She them called CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams), who agreed to try to contact TIPH. The HRW was filming the incident and could not keep calling. TIPH were busy elsewhere so three HRWs from CPT came. The soldiers would not let the man go. At 12 noon, the Palestinian walked across the road and sat in the shade next to the soldiers. The soldiers pushed him back across the road and handcuffed him. They told the HRW that the Palestinian was a criminal. With the handcuffs on he could not protect his face from the sun. Another HRW arrived and called the District Coordination Office (DCO – the civilian administration wing of the Israeli military in the West Bank). The DCO spokeswoman said that it was not her business. The HRW said that soldier behaviour was the business of the DCO. The DCO spokeswoman said that it was not her job to talk to the HRW. At 12.30pm, the handcuffs were removed by one of the soldiers and the Palestinian was released. He had been held in the sun for two hours and handcuffed. Obviously he had done nothing wrong.
At 7.45am, Palestinian workmen came to prepare for the resealing of the apartment roof. Old camouflage netting and sandbags had to be cleared away. Water tanks and stands needed to be removed and the roof cleaned. After about half an hour, an Israeli first lieutenant with another soldier arrived on the roof. An International HRW, responsible for the work, approached the officer. She asked what the soldiers were doing there. He told her to go away. He spoke to the Palestinian workmen, probably in Arabic, but would not communicate with the people whose roof it is. The HRW asked a young Israeli HRW to talk to the officer in Hebrew. The officer was extremely rude and abusive to him. The two soldiers went to the top of the stairs. The International HRW told the officer that this was her house and that she wanted to speak to a polite officer, who spoke English. She said that there was a major who was polite. The officer replied, in English, that soldiers were coming to search her house. She said that he would need an order and the police to search her house. He said that the police were coming. This was not true. The officer and soldier went down the stairs and returned in 10 minutes with a patrol of six soldiers. The officer and soldier left.
The six soldiers were no trouble but were no help. A 75-year old HRW, who was moving a sandbag, complained that they were sitting while elderly people were struggling. A soldier asked what she wanted them to do. She said “help us”. They did not. However this may have been because it was Shabbat. When the work was done, the soldiers left.
There were many orthodox Jewish visitors on the street. At 2.25pm, a HRW arrived at checkpoint 56. Three Jewish visitors were sitting in the checkpoint with the soldier. The other soldier was outside. The HRW said that it was against the law for visitors to be in the checkpoint. The soldier said that they were no trouble. The HRW took out her camera to film. The soldier said that filming the checkpoint was against the law and shut the checkpoint door. The HRW said that she was making a note of the time and would report the law breaking. She then went out through the checkpoint to the shops. When she returned, the visitors had left.
We’ve been busy with the olive harvest. Many of the families round here have trees which are close to the Israeli settlements and which the settlers, who have very little land, want to claim as theirs. There is an old Ottoman-era law against absentee landowners. If the landowner or leasee does not access the land for three years, the land becomes the property of those who occupy it. The settlers try to use this law to claim Palestinian land. To do this they try to stop the Palestinians working on their land, usually by violent means. The Israeli army seems to support this. They shut Palestinians out of their land “for their protection”. Recently, there have been two Israeli high court rulings. One is that shutting Palestinians out of their property for their protection is not acceptable. The ruling equates this action to shutting the people out of their house while the thief is in there. The other ruling is that the local DCO is obliged to arrange for the protection of Palestinians, while they are harvesting olives. The Israeli army here is useless at doing this. The settlers ignore the young soldiers, who tell them to go away but do nothing when they stay. Instead, the Israeli soldiers tell the Internationals to go away, which makes the Palestinians more vulnerable. However the border police are more effective. The settlers seem to be afraid of them and they allow the Internationals to stay. Everywhere else the border police are considered the worst of the worst but here, at this time, we are grateful for them.
These new laws are a sign of some increased awareness among the Israeli public of what is occurring in the West Bank at least. Several Israeli human rights groups are becoming very interested in this area and in our reports. This means that we have a greater responsibility to report in detail. Using Israeli law is slow but has some effect. As far as the Israeli government is concerned, there seems to be no sign that they want peace. What they want and take is more and more Palestinian land. There are always checks moving from place to place. Palestinian holidays, both Muslim and Christian seem to be particularly targeted. A Christian Palestinian man I know, who works in Jerusalem, left Jerusalem at 10.30am on Christmas day to go to his family in Zebabdeh. The distance is less than 80km. That is Melbourne to Geelong. He arrived at 6pm exhausted by the many extra flying checkpoints with long delays. Israeli soldiers at these checkpoints are generally very rude and often very rough. To try to discuss the holdup or even plead leads to a longer wait and further harassment. It is definitely not about security.
I am mostly on the street because of my experience. The Israeli soldiers are a mixed bunch of 19, 20 & 21 year olds. Some behave well and some behave badly. They are given orders not to talk to us but some still do. The DCO is being difficult and won’t accept telephone calls. Most of the officers are very rude to us if we try to ask them anything or give them any information. How I miss Oren, the nice young officer who left in May! The police are much better than the officers. Thank God! But they don’t all speak English. We now have a number of video cameras and are allowed to film except on Shabbat and at army installations. I have a little Sony DCR-Hc23E. It’s easy to use but I need to concentrate hard. When things are happening, I keep finding my hands waving around. The police and Israeli human rights groups need video material in order to get some action. However, even with it, the police seldom act.