Here is a tale that illustrates a number of things.
Nablus, 3:30 pm on a sunny and relatively quiet Friday afternoon, at the entry to the city: an unmarked black SUV-type van, with very dark windows, was parked at 90 degree angle to road.
The unmarked black van had a Palestinian Authority [PA] license or number plate [white, with green numbers on white background], with the number 7-8600-91.
I glanced at it as I drove past, never having seen any of the usual white and marked PA security vans parked at the entry to the city — they used to be further in, at the point where you would turn if going to the Balata Refugee Camp, but never here.
But this was not a normal PA security van — it was black, unmarked, with very dark windows. Just one.
It could be PA, but not the usual security.
However, I thought, it could be Israeli … they could be using false PA plates. But, it was just one van, and the Israelis don’t ususally station themselves around the West Bank so exposed.
Suddenly, just after I passed, it pulled out right behind me, and drove quickly right up on my tail, flashing its headlights on high beams. As I slowed down, it zipped around to cut me off in front, blocking me diagonally.
Immediately, four men in civilian clothes (nice clothes, too — there were some honey- or cognac-colored suede jackets, trousers, normal shoes in good condition) jumped out of the side doors of the black unmarked van with black windows. At least two men remained inside, in the front seat of the van.
The four rush, but do not run, to my window. They’re suddenly right there. They don’t show any ID, but they don’t show any weapons, either.
In Arabic, they demand to know where I’m from. New York, I say. Then they ask to see my “hawiyya” [Palestinian ID card]. I tell them I don’t have a “hawiyya”.
I thought the best first thing to show, in the circumstances, might be my PA Press Card.
Luckily, I was right. Oh, a journalist! they said, and backed off. That was an immediately improvement in the situation. But, I felt I had to ask them why they had chased and stopped me, in such an alarming manner.
What was the reason? Why had these plainclothed officers in an unmarked black car with black windows chase + stop me for no apparent reason without showing ID? Why did they never give me any explanation? They didn’t even relax and smile, and say “Welcome”, the way the green-uniformed PA Security did at the very few Palestinian checkpoints that exist in the West Bank [at several places in Jericho, at the northern entrance to Nablus coming on the road from Shavei Shomron, and maybe one or two other spots]…
They just backed off, got into the unmarked black van, and drove away…Scary.
At least, it showed the utility and usefulness of PA Press Cards…