Sunday morning, the first messages came by SMS: Israeli settlers, supported by Israeli Police, had taken over and were demolishing a Palestinian home in Sheikh Jarrah.
Then, subsequent messages reported that several members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and the Palestinian Authority recently-resigned Minister for Jerusalem Affairs (who seems to be still functioning in the position), Hatem Abdel-Qader, had been detained with them. Then, an SMS saying that Hatem Abdel Qader had been arrested.
In the late afternoon, a call came saying that there were fears of an imminent attack on the house of Maher Hanoun and his family, and two other families (a total of 17 persons), Maher Hanoun and another Palestinian were given a court deadline of 19 July to evacuate.
Today, at Qalandia “border crossing terminal” manned by the Israeli Defense Forces, Border Police, and private contractors, in the baking afternoon sun, a Palestinian Red Crescent Ambulance coming from Nablus was pulled over to the area next to the “passenger” area.
Waiting was an ambulance from the Israeli Magen David Adom (Red Star of David) from the Lachish region in southern Israel.
While they might have been air-conditioned, neither of them had a refrigerated compartment.
Inside was the corpse of a woman who had arrived three days ago from Gaza for heart surgery. Unfortunately, despite a tremendous effort and an arduous trip out of Gaza, across Israel, and into the West Bank, crossing at least three major and several minor Israeli military checkpoints, the operation was not successful, and she died.
Her body was being returned to Gaza via the same long route.
The major Israeli border crossing into Gaza at Erez normally closes these days at 2 pm. It seems it would be open until 8 pm to allow the return of the Palestinian woman’s body.
Two months after the Israeli Defense Forces announced at the beginning of June that it was removing the Atara checkpoint, north of Ramallah, it was still there today.
I went with a team of three Israeli women from Machsom Watch [or “Checkpoint Watch” – women against the occupation and for human rights], to see for myself.
Young Israeli soldiers sweltering in the heat were in the watchtower. Others were on the ground inside a compound formed of concrete blocks, where a generator was making some noise.
When they saw the Machsom Watch women, the soldiers in the watchtower shouted: “Oh, it’s those people from Peace Now [another Israeli anti-occupation group], they’re back again!”
The soldiers shouted down to the women that they knew they were responsible for an article about thempublished last Wednesday on the Israel website Walla — and they shouted that they had no intention to give the women another story this week.
They threatened to lodge a complaint against one of the Machsom Watch ladies who was taking pictures, because, they said, she was taking pictures of a “military installation”.
Then, someone shouted down through a loudspeaker that it was a closed military zone — one through which there just happened to be a steady stream of Palestinian civilian road traffic — and ordered the Machsom Watch ladies to leave.
The Machsom Watch team leader laughed it off, saying that the soldiers had to show a written order, which they had not done.
A brief history of the movement posted on its website, Machsom Watch explains that “Legal advice assured us (and its worth remembering) that the army has no right to prevent citizens from being present in the area of the checkpoint unless a closed military area is declared and a document signed by the area commander or other senior officer presented”. This can be read in full here.
The main page of the group’s website says that “MachsomWatch, in existence since 2001, is an organisation of peace activist Israeli women against the Israeli Occupation of the territories and the systematic repression of the Palestinian nation. We call for Palestinian freedom of movement within their own territory and for an end to the Occupation that destroys Palestinian society and inflicts grievous harm on Israeli society” — see here
The soldiers then said they were calling their commander, and one stood in the watchtower window with a phone at his ear. One solder came out of the gate and took our pictures.
The soldiers were completely preoccupied with the presence of the Machsom Watch team, and paid no attention whatsoever to the passing Palestinians.
If it looks like a checkpoint- the chain of spikes was rolled up and placed behind the cemented post, the pillbox was standing like a phallic sentry on the highest spot, the lights were turned on even though the sun was blazing in the sky.
And if it sounds like a checkpoint- from a distance we could hear the soldiers yelling.
Even if all the media and all the newspaper say the checkpoint has been taken down- it is still a checkpoint.
The soldiers, some were seen standing behind the pillbox window and the others hurried to hid from us (or from our camera), who were inside the confined area yelled out to us, and then later started using the megaphone.
Here are some selected quotes, as published in the Machsom Watch team report of 26 July: – “Here they are, those women from ‘Peace Now’ just arrived…”
– “Yalla, come on, get lost. What is there for you to take a photo of?…”
-” Yalla, go home… Yalla, go home to your kids, your grandkids… Yalla, go on…”.
-“This is a military zone, you can’t be here!”
-“This is a military zone, you aren’t allowed to take pictures!”
And the best one:
-“Isn’t it enough you made an article on us?!- You want another one?- We’re not giving you another one!…”
Now, MachsomWatch has released a video, with a photo montage of the earlier moments, and footage of the final confrontation and then, at last, after the sun had set, the release of the mini-bus driver, five hours after the bus and its passengers were detained at this checkpoint-that-does-not exist.
The video can also be found on the Machsom Watch website, here.
The story: in an extraordinary confrontation at an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank on 12 July, a group of Palestinian passengers was detained from 15h15 (3:15 pm) until 8:45 pm, and subjected to a lengthy period of prolonged searching, apparently as a punitive measure — and not for security reasons, unless the concept of security requires a totally cowed and intimidated submissive population.
What is it like at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank?
Middle East peace negotiators should know, if they don’t already, that what really happens at Israeli checkpoints is not just a matter of obstruction of movement with purely economic consequences.
In a recent report, Machsom Watch, a group of Israeli women who observe the behavior of Israeli forces at Palestinian checkpoints in the West Bank, have documented a Palestinian civilian mini-revolt during an abusive delay at the Atara/Bir Zeit checkpoint just north of Ramallah on Sunday 12 July.
One note: a common Palestinian reaction these days — it seems to be the only defense — to an inappropriate show of Israeli force in an normal civilian situation is a mocking smile and a quiet joke shared with other Palestinians trapped in the same moment — such as this group of young men who were separated from the other passengers on the bus whose story will be told below.
Here is the story of the bus whose passengers annoyed the soldiers at the checkpoint that does not exist
This, as Machsom Watch stresses, is a checkpoint that the Israeli military has said it dismantled. Machsom Watch calls it “the checkpoint that does not exist”.
The IDF, we now know, has no sense of humor, as the Israeli Cellcom phone company tried to imply in a misleadingly untruthful “feel-good” ad that we have previously reported on here.
The Bil’in village website has posted a video send-up here of the Cellcom ad, but there was no light-hearted athletic exchange last Friday 17 July when Palestinians kicked across a soccer ball at the site of the weekly protests against the The-Wall-where-it-is-a-fence, in an “unbuilt-up area” at the edge of Bil’il village, east of Ramallah in the West Bank.
Only tear gas was returned.
The Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the IDF to re-route The Wall (here, in its fence-like form), but that order has been left un-implemented.
Meanwhile, peaceful demonstrators are regularly tear-gassed, kidnapped, detained, and occasionally injured and killed, and Bil’in village is now subject to frequent nightly IDF raids to detain even more Palestinians who are accused of supporting these protests.
Earlier this week, Farouq Kaddoumi (or Qaddumi), also known as Abu Lutuf, one of the original founding members of the largest Palestinian “faction”, Fatah, and one of the senior leaders in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) made a statement to journalists in Amman, Jordan that has created turmoil in the Palestinian political scene.
The Jerusalem Post’s well-connected defense correspondent Yaakov Katz has confirmed in an article published today that “The IDF has started using undercover elite border policemen to quell anti-fence demonstrations in the West Bank, sources in the Central Command said on Tuesday. Last Friday, officers from the Border Police’s elite YAMAS undercover unit disguised themselves as Palestinians and stood among a crowd of demonstrators from Nil’in … Sources in the Central Command confirmed on Tuesday that undercover YAMAS border policemen were used to help suppress the demonstrators at Nil’in as part of the IDF’s increasing efforts to prevent clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and security forces. On Friday, the IDF also used its ‘skunk bomb’ – a foul-smelling liquid that is sprayed on protesters, causing them to flee due to the intense odor” [n.b. I think this was at Bil’in]. This post can be read in full here.
We reported on this shocking development earlier here.
We first saw this video posted on the mondoweiss blog, here.
Dr. Salim Tamari, sociologist in Ramallah, asked why I was surprised — he said that while this may be new in the Nil’il-Bil’in demonstrations, it is nevertheless a well-known phenomenon called “mua3rrabah” — infiltrating Arabic-speaking Israeli forces into Palestinian areas — which happens routinely in the West Bank, he said.
But, I wondered, since this is a well-known phenomena, or perhaps more accurately a “classic” tactic now being revived, why aren’t Palestinian demonstrators more concerned about verifying the identities of those who show up at their demonstrations?
Just in time for consideration by the UN Human Rights Council’s Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, headed by South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone, is the release by the Israeli organization of soldiers and former soldiers called Breaking the Silence.
Acting out of concern for the deterioration in military observance of Jewish moral values, Breaking the Silence has spent the last six months conducting interviews and preparing transcripts and videos of testimonies from dozens of Israeli soldiers who served in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead (27 December – 18 January).
What has emerged is a picture that mirrors and corroborates the field work examinations conducted by human rights organizations and the reporting by media organizations.
It has to be said that the Israeli military operation in Gaza was designed to stop sporadic rocket, mortar, and missile fire onto neighboring Israeli territory.
The testimonies confirm statements made by military officials in Israel before the offensive was launched: The chosen tactic was to use of overwhelming firepower.
This video posted on Youtube hereshows the dreadful Bethlehem “300” (or “Rachel’s Tomb”) terminal as looking a lot like Erez crossing into Gaza used to look, back in the days when tens of thousands of Gazans lined up in the pre-dawn hours to be herded through lines leading to daily employment in Israel.
Here’s another video — done two-and-a-half years agom apparently by a volunteer with the World Council of Church’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) — showing the same thing, before the technology got even more “perfected”:
Qaddura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, and “Young Guard” Fateh leader, said this morning in a brief phone conversation that there is no decision yet on the Leonard Cohen concert in Ramallah.
“We decided [that there would be] at least a freeze on this issue. We will wait until after the Fateh conference”, Fares said.
This means that the issue got too big and too hot to tackle at the moment.
The long-delayed and much-anticipated Fateh conference is now scheduled for 4 August in Bethlehem.