Observers: Vivi Suri, Tamar Goldschmidt, Hava Halevi, Aya Baker Kaniuk (reporting)
Saturday, the Ramadan month of fasting. The checkpoint is as it always is. Cruel and mean. The soldiers, as all soldiers are. Young, cruel and racist. Their minds poisoned in the name of their parents and country and needs of the herd, to check and curb people’s movement.
Huwara checkpoint checks. Movement. That is what it does. That is its essence. All the rest is variation. Whoever desires security does not impose closure upon Nablus and prevents people from entering and exiting it. These are the objectives of whoever wishes to strangle, starve and harass.
I shall tell especially one thing of this ugly and depressing afternoon, so similar and different and yet similar to everything that typifies occupation and oppression and incarceration and abuse as a method and a goal in itself.
In the denial of life, enclosing people in enclaves amongst which there are checkpoints and roads for Jews only, there are these junctions, checkpoints, ‘passages’ which attract various venders to try and sell things. Mostly these are people with different vocations who have been prevented from practicing their trade by the ever-worsening rules of separation and oppression. People who are trying to provide for their families, usually large ones, and earn a pittance. For the terrible economic situation does not enable them to charge much. No one can afford much. Still, in spite of everything, people sometimes do need a cup of coffee or some humus or diapers. And at the exit points from the checkpoints, before they board taxis on their way anywhere, they sometimes buy something. It’s good for the venders, of course, and good for the taxi drivers who usually have to wait around for hours, and good for the passers-by who have also been waiting for hours to be allowed through. What is wrong with this? Precisely for this reason, namely that this is a last meager resort to earn and provide some relief for the passers-by, and the possibility for drivers to relax over a cup of coffee once in a while – this is just the reason to inflict harm precisely upon this miserable population.
After all, if any of them were suspect in the eyes of the Occupation, they would long since be arrested and investigated. But they are not. They must not earn a living. This is the rule of Occupation. And the means – sending the young executors to take out their wrath on these poor. At all the checkpoints, by all the army units, for years now. It has become routine. It is not a whim, not a single incident perpetrated by some cruel individual soldier. It is policy. To prevent the venders from making a living.
Why? Because they are needy. That is the reason.
At points of need, the Jewish imagination is mobilized for prevention. Thus, too, the DCO (district coordination office), the very place that is supposed to provide answers to people under occupation, that acknowledges its duty to maintain the lives of occupied civilians, be driven by “relatively humane” and humanitarian motives, even in a state of war. It is the very center and brain of the prevention system. Of its sinister nature and terrifying stranglehold. And it is the very center for recruitment of collaborators.
Through the cynical use of sweeping, targeted prevention, and the fact that it is the only venue where Palestinians are allowed to appeal to for their everyday needs, the DCO has turned into the perfect place to demand of people to betray their own, in order to obtain even the slightest minimum. The greater the need, the greater the possibility to pressure them. The DCO offices are synonymous with the GSS – General Security Service. That is where it sits. These are the inquisitors in a “humane” guise. Humaneness is only the non-essential language. What could be more sophisticated? If a person wants to apply for a permit to build a house, he must turn to the DCO, and of course not receive such a permit because he is Palestinian.
That is the root of it all. But then his address is already known so his house can be demolished as soon as it goes up. And if someone is ill with cancer and wants to go to another town where he is not allowed to go by the laws of separation, all the better.
Ample reason to ask of him one thing or the other. And then he will pass. For prevention is methodical control and pressure which has not a thing to do with security. It is the distilled embodiment of evil. The army’s “humanitarian” hotline is the DCO. The place that constitutes one of the centers of oppression, or organizing apartheid, of administering the destruction of Palestinian society – is the one and only place to which they are to turn. It is so cynical and sophisticated and so very awful.
And thus the juncture of need of the venders is the juncture of abuse.
This is an especially poor family, everyone say sit. (Judith Levin of Machsomwatch, too, knows them well. She is a good friend to them and can tell more about their situation and what they have been through). And in Huwara, where people are certainly not wealthy, they were given a shack without having to pay. There they spread their mattresses. According to Judith, that is all they have. They live in dire poverty. However impoverished everyone is, there are the poorer poor, and such is this family. Seven children. Originally from the Jenin area. The main bread-earners are the eldest son, 16-year old Nizar, and 12-year old Mu’atasssem. The livelihood of the entire family rests on the shoulders of these two children. They earn no more than 50 shekel a day, usually less than 20. If the two children earn nothing, then there is nothing to buy food with. It is extremely simple.
This – of course – is an excellent reason to hurt them.
Little terror squads of one-two-three soldiers venture out to hunt down the venders.
These children usually sell tea and coffee. That’s it. They have already been beaten before. Soldiers have spilt their sugar and water and coffee on the ground. Every soldier and his own special fancy…
In recent weeks, usually soldier Israel and soldier Alex have been starring in this program, but not only they. They are but the prominent ones. Israel sometimes comes around in a Hummer, and not just from the checkpoint itself. An especially industrious fellow, it seems.
There are those who beat, and those who keep silent, and those who are detained in the concrete cell for hours or placed in the sun on purpose or just yelled at that if they don’t get the hell out their wares will end up on the ground, and those who listen to their i-pod as though there is no world around them.
I don’t usually harbor feelings of vengeance. It is not my nature. Not even against the bad guys. But I do admit that at times I need for all of them, down to the last one, everyone partaking in this sinister regime, all these young executioners, “our soldiers”, to be denied entry when they will be boarding the plane on their way to the standard post-army treks in India and South America. And that no university will ever admit whoever took part in this sinister war against another people only because it is another people. At least this.
Saturday was such a day. We did not see anyone get shot, nor beaten, nor shackled. There were only young men with helmets and guns who prevented people from moving in their land and home for their everyday needs, from going to school or the doctor or the garage to visiting their elderly sister. Only if they fit today’s passage criteria. And even so, not everyone.
What criteria can be worthy to not allow someone to breathe, to live, to raise children, to eat? Why can a person who dwells elsewhere not be allowed to visit his father who lives here? Why?
Very simply, for hurt is the purpose and not the symptom. And so that at the juncture points of permit applications needed for the most trivial, minimal thing, it will be possible to recruit collaborators. The first and foremost method of destroying life texture, is to poison people’s ability to trust each other. Under such dreadful conditions of pressure, the likelihood that a neighbor or friend has been pushed into acting against his people is enormous. It is also human. And thus, you can no longer let go with one another, for who knows, perhaps the other has already received his permit and more than anything that arouses suspicion… And he, the one who receives his permit, is sometimes more suspect than everyone else, for how did he do it? What did he tell the ‘captain’? Who knows… And so even receiving permits is problematic, and without them nothing is possible…
A few days ago the brothers sold diapers, for during the Ramadan fast there is no demand for coffee. Again, Nizar and Mu’atassem. Soldier Israel took the bag of diapers and hit 16-year old, epileptic Nizar on the head. Then soldier Alex took skinny little Mu’atassem and said, I’ll cut off your head and tongue. He has a voice creeping with worms, say the others of Alex. They say he also speaks Arabic. And that he said all of this to the frightened boy in Arabic. They spent four and a half hours in the holding cell, standing for there is no room to sit. Then they were allowed to leave.
Another time, recently, can’t say exactly when for it happens all the time, they were selling in the taxi park. Soldiers came along and took them, stood them in the sun behind what they call the “Humanitarian Point”. Behind the shack. So they would not be seen. Some time. Hours. And their mother came. People told her they were there. And she began to cry and said that they are the family’s bread-winners. Then a jeep came along, listened, and released them.
“Two days ago,” says N., the taxi coordinator, “soldiers threw down the water and diapers they were selling. So I came and gathered the stuff, and the soldier who threw it came to me, he knows my face, and he looked at me, hard. That’s how he remembers me, I think.
Today on my way from Nablus, while waiting in line, I sat down on a concrete slab, and that same soldier came up to me, he must have remembered me, and he said ‘I think today you’re not going to be allowed through’. Why? I ask. I’m no terrorist. It’s because you’re getting back at me for helping the children. So the soldier said, ‘you’ll get to the line, but you won’t be allowed to pass.’ So I told him, you want a fight? I’m strong. But I did nothing. We both know it’s because I helped those children. That’s why you want to give me a hard time.
He spoke no more. Then I got to the head of the line, and he came and said ‘go home!’
I said, check me. I’m clean. I know the law. It didn’t help. They told me to go back. I yelled, and then they said, ‘come and bring your ID. You’re not getting in.’ I yelled at them that this is unlawful, and I know it. Then the officer came along and I told him we’re not fighting. You are responsible for this order of the soldiers. That’s what an officer is here for, to be smarter. If I get to the DCO you’ll have a problem here. So he said, ‘take your ID back. You’re not crossing before 12 o’clock.” I said, why? I lose money like this. And he said, ‘you’re not crossing.” Some officer.
So I crossed in a cab. The officer caught me. I told him again that I’m right by the law. He said, ‘you yelled!” I did not, I said. I said the soldier had tried to get me into an argument. That it was all in order to get back at me. Because I helped the children. I told him they’re behaving as if we he and I are at war. And that I want to go to work.
“Give me your ID” he said and I did. He gave it back to me and said, ‘just don’t yell.’
And I got through.
All because I helped the children. They’re getting back at me.
Today the mother was on her way back from Nablus and happened to be there just as her sons’ cart was being kicked over. Soldier Israel and another. Three cartons, each containing 72 glasses made of glass. It’s Ramadan so they’re not selling food or beverages. Everything fell and broke. All the money was gone. She came running, crying, gripped the soldier, and one of the soldiers threatened her face with his M-16, the other pushed her from the side with his rifle butt, and she said to him: “Shoot me. Death’s better”, and they continued pushing her with their rifle butts, and she took the children and went off.
And they did not shoot her.
Some of us, friends, thought we’d try to do something for them, says N. the taxi dispatcher. They’re not from around here, I told you. They’re from the Jenin area. No work. Nothing. Not even bread and oil and thyme. I’m ashamed of the money I earn, you see? What is 20 shekels a day, do you get it?
Later the mother took her sick son, Muntasser, to Nablus for a medical examination and walked on the paved lane and not through the turnstile. The soldiers yelled at her, and she told them ‘my child is ill’. God take you, said the soldier. And she passed.
These children are not the only children venders at Huwara checkpoint whom the Israeli army brutes harass. There are also adults. We have written about them again and again. For as I said, this is what the soldiers were sent here to do. And do with zest. Some have dashed the venders’ bread on the ground into the dirt. Poured out cooled drinks. Not all soldiers beat them. Some only say, “Git! Split! Get out of here!” Some draw a line in the dirt and say, ‘Don’t cross this line!” Some kick. And some do it with their rifle butts. On that day at the checkpoint some people were detained in the concrete cell because their name bingo-ed on the computer list. Some tried to bypass and some were “cheeky”, meaning they did not look submissively at the ground while being checked. Some we re caught leaning “too long” on the concrete side ledge. And there was a taxi carrying an ailing, invalid father whose son was driving, on their way home to Nablus. And the soldier said no. You don’t drive in. Because the taxi is registered under the father’s name and not the son’s. Because.
But the father is here, by me, says the son. And he is now crippled. And they’re on their way home. And he’s not feeling well. And after residents of Nablus are “allowed” by “law” to come and go. But alas, the son is driving his father’s taxi who, true, is sitting right there beside him and is, true, a cripple now, but he’s not driving so git! Go away! So the man turned back. And came back alone and said again, but I should be allowed in, and him too, and the cab, I’m not on my way to Tel Aviv.
The soldier gestured him to go away, split! The man said one more thing, pleaded, and the soldier gestured shackled, as if saying I’ll shackle you if you don’t get out of here, and said “to the concrete cell!” And the man, angry and frustrated and worried, rushing off to his father, raised his hands skywards as if saying, this is my fate, our fate… And the soldier told him “come here!” and he’ll probably shackle him now because he is a soldier with a gun, and because this young man is only a Palestinian.
And this is no metaphor.
Our summary of this Saturday shift, as any other day, is that the soldiers of the Israeli army stood there according to their nature and the instructions of the day and abused the Palestinian people because it is Palestinian. That is more or less all.