What is the occupation? The collective punishment of ar-Ram

There was a Tweet over the weekend signalling the start of the startling [not unusual but anachronistic, a throw-back to the darker days of the Second Palestinian Intifada] IDF punitive blockading of ar-Ram by large boulders put into place by construction equipment.

A piece published in Haaretz, here makes an attempt at explanation: “The Israel Defense Forces is not allowing vehicles in or out of A-Ram, a Palestinian city of 60,000 northeast of Jerusalem, because of a recent increase in stone and firebomb throwing at army patrols by local youth, the army said. Late Sunday night, soldiers placed large boulders across all four lanes of the road at the city’s main entrance to block incoming and outgoing vehicular traffic. Pedestrians are not restricted, the IDF said”.


    LATEST UPDATE: Ma’an News Agency is reporting on Thursday afternoon [12 April] here that the IDF has removed the huge square boulders that it petulantly put at the end of the main street of ar-Ram last weekend.The IDF put the boulders on the end of the main street that comes out right across the street from a large IDF military base [8211]. Other than being a graphic expression of petulance, the gesture was empty of significance, as Palestinians found it possible to move around from the other end of the main street, beside The Wall — or, alternatively, from the alternative option of a bumpy dirt track that opened out right next to the blocked main street… The Ma’an report said that the roadblocks were removed “after intervention from the Palestinian Authority, officials [presumably, Palestinian] said Thursday”.

UPDATE: I drove through Qalandiya and into ar-Ram to see for myself, between noon and 1 pm on Wednesday. I discovered that the road along The Wall was open, and cars can pass in and out of ar-Ram through that route. It is at the other, western, end of the main street of ar-Ram, right across from an IDF military base [8211] where the big boulders have been dropped to block the road. But, I also saw, cars have found another way out of that side of ar-Ram, and are using a dirt road in single file to come out just beside the boulder-blocked entrance.

Ar-Ram was once a beautiful garden community in between Jerusalem and Ramallah. It grew exponentially in recent decades, with thousands of Hebronites moving in and opening shops which thrived on commerce, taking advantage of the daily travellers passing in front of their road-side stores and shops.

It is located just before Qalandia. As the Checkpoint was established there at the start of the Second Intifada, new opportunities for roadside commerce developed, without severe disruption of the established businesses along the route between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

But, when the Checkpoint became more of a “terminal” [looking like the entrance to a cattle processing facility, or worse], the IDF’s construction of The Wall began around Qalandia.

No one was informed about the route of The Wall. Palestinian residents of the area watched it take shape, and only learned what path it would take as the construction proceeded.

Qalandia Checkpoint became a gate in The Wall, which was built at both edges of the checkpoint. The Wall then sliced off the Qalandia/Jerusalem Airport, on the very edge of the area [the runway comes right up to the very edge of the Qalandia checkpoint], but on the “Israeli” or “Jerusalem” side of The Wall, and not on the “West Bank” side.

The route of The Wall then extended south, down the middle of the road connecting Jerusalem and Ramallah. Here, it’s path carved out the Atarot industrial zone, so that it is on the “Israeli” or “Jerusalem” side of The Wall. On the other side of The Wall, here, is ar-Ram…

Now, ar-Ram is like an appendix, surrounded on three sides of the Wall. The suburb of Dahiet al-Bariid, on the south side of ar-Ram, is divided by The Wall into two, with part on the “West Bank” side, and the other part on the “Jerusalem” side [as some of its residents had asked the Israeli Supreme Court to order, which the Court did].

Blocking off the main street with large boulders now, easily, cuts ar-Ram off completely for vehicular traffic. But, there are many many people living in the small and encircled area.

See UPDATE above — There is a way in an out of ar-Ram, but it is the only way in and out [plus the dirt track that emerges beside the blocked entrance]. The first Palestinian football/soccer stadium upgraded by FIFA, the Faisal al-Husseini Stadium, is located in ar-Ram. there are already unbearable traffic jams in and around Qalandia … And, there is no hospital in ar-Ram. What if there is a mass medical emergency? How will ambulances be able to operate?

The mayor of ar-Ram noted that “more than 70 percent of A-Ram residents work in Israel proper, while nearly 60 percent of the city’s pupils study in Jerusalem or in schools out of A-Ram”

He said this sudden and shocking move by the IDF was “collective punishment”.

Continue reading What is the occupation? The collective punishment of ar-Ram

Getting a flat tire at Qalandia checkpoint

I once drove through the Ar-Ram checkpoint with two flat tires, just praying that the soldiers wouldn’t be more difficult than usual, so I could get to a garage to put in enough air to get to a place where I could have the tire repaired.

That time, my tires were probably deliberately punctured in the war being waged by my neighbors over parking spaces.

Hair-raising as that was, it was nothing compared to suddenly having a flat tire at Qalandia checkpoint last Sunday afternoon, in the peak heat of the day, as traffic trying to get out of Ramallah began to get out of control, and a collective electric road rage took over. Nobody was in a mood to help, needless to say. And the traffic pressure was increasing, and the heat was unbearable, and then the wilder drivers began driving on the other side of the road, and on the space on the side of the other side of the road, where I had pulled over to get out of the way and to try to think what to do next. They kicked up more dust, the hot wind was blowing, and they drove directly toward me in a stupid game of chicken, trying to bully me to get out of their way (they were really not where they were supposed to be, but that didn’t matter at all to them). They didn’t even think that I might have been there because I had a totally collapsed tire. No, for them, I was there just to be annoying and to bother them by getting in their way. It was, to be perfectly honest, scary. And hot.

The traffic gets out of control at Qalandia for one simple reason — too much traffic is funneled through a too-narrow space, and there is no traffic control allowed by the Israeli military near the checkpoint. So, it becomes a laboratory of the law of the jungle, where the strongest rule. And a multi-hour gridlock ensues.

I was trying to think what to do next. Then, I called Ibrahim, who I had just seen at his worksite, and who had big responsibilities. But he said without hesitation: “I am coming”, and he came right away, with his assistant, and they saved me, really saved me, an act of kindness and sympathetic solidarity for which I am extremely grateful. And all the time, as Ibrahim and his assistant were changing my tire, they were being greeted and exchanging greetings with friends slowly passing by in the gridlocked traffic, in the hot sun as the wind blew up gusts of sand, just outside Qalandia checkpoint. Then got back into their car and drove back to ar-Ram, merging easily back into the slow flow, headed back to the soccer/football stadium that is really just on the other side of The Wall from where I live, but so far away. Yet, coming back around from Jerusalem I can see the bright lights of the stadium lighting up the skyline. And, sitting here at my computer, I can hear the cheers and shouting and singing, whenever there is a soccer match on the other side of The Wall.

And in Dahiet al-Bariid …

More to follow from my own reporting on the closure of the checkpoint …

Meanwhile, here is what the United Nations OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) has reported: “Closure of Dahiyat Al Bareed checkpoint – On 19 February, the Israeli military dismantled Ar Ram checkpoint in northern Jerusalem after the checkpoint became redundent following the closure of the gate in the barrier between Dahiat al Bareed and Ar Ram on 16 February. While the removal of the checkpoint and the related checkpoint infrastructure will now allow free movement on road 1 between downtown Jerusalem and Qalandiya checkpoint, the closure has greatly increased the volume of traffic moving north through Qalandiya checkpoint. Ar Ram Checkpoint permitted access into Jerusalem only for residents of the immediate area around the checkpoint, but did not control north-bound (direction of Ar Ram) traffic from Jerusalem. All vehicles travelling to Ar Ram are now forced to travel through Qalandiya checkpoint. Delays of half an hour or longer are now regularly reported for travel north through Qalandiya checkpoint.” The full document is posted on the web here.

Checkpoint delay kept me from getting to the bank on time

Because of a 30-minute wait in the broiling sun and baking heat today, I arrived less than five minutes too late to get to the bank — and it was Thursday, normally the last day of the working week here in Jerusalem, Israel.

Luckily, my bank — which is in East Jerusalem — will be open a few hours on Friday morning (because it will be closed on Sunday), unlike other Israeli-chartered banks.

But, that means I’ll have to line up again to go through the checkpoint tomorrow, too.

Ar-Ram checkpoint to leave Dahiet al-Bariid

One thing that really makes me mad is when people cut in line, because they think their time is more valuable than the others. What’s worse is that some people allow others to cut. I jumped out of the car once this week already to ask the driver in front of me why he let somebody cut ahead, when we had been waiting so long. “Because he asked”, the driver replied. I wonder what else he would allow, if only somebody just asked …

Here is the clean and well-kept (NOT) path for pedestrian passage through the checkpoint. Notice the commanding perch on the upper right.

Ar-Ram checkpoint - pedestrian access.

Now, after 30 minutes waiting, I am just one car from being checked!

Ar-Ram checkpoint - Exhibit A

The soldiers (apparently they’re actually Border Police) — and the private contractors (in navy-blue shirts and bulletproof vests, carrying big black automatic weapons) do a thorough job. They demand ID — and this checkpoint is particularly notorious for turning people back, because they are not on a specific (unspecified) “permitted” category. Then, they hold the drivers ID …

Holding the driver's id at the Ar-Ram checkpoint

…. as they make the driver get out to open the trunk, so that they can check his baby stroller and what-not. One time, a soldier held back my U.S. passport, and began to lecture me on how I should not be angry. “So, I should be happy?”, I asked. I had to insist many times to get the passport back, because he wanted to give me a lecture. Finally, someone told him to give me back my passport and let me pass. My passport is getting dog-eared, from having to take it out and put it back several times a day. Sometimes the soldiers stand there and finger slowly through every single page of my passport. And, my passport holder has finally broken under the strain, so my papers are spilling out in the bottom of my handbag — I have to find a new passport case, somewhere…

Checking the BAGGAGE at the Ar-Ram checkpoint leaving Dahiet al-Bariid 31 July 2008

This stressful (adrenalin rushes through the veins and the heart pounds), and humiliating routine is done with an attitude of suspicion and superiority — anyone and everyone passing through here is to be ordered around, and viewed as a threat. And remember, this is done with loaded guns all around…

A Palestinian neighbor told me how I should approach this situation: “When they rap on the hood and bark “BAGGAGE” at you, you should calmly get out and open the trunk, saying ‘bevakasha'”. When I recounted this to dear Eliane, we both rolled around laughing. But you don’t laugh when you’re on the spot.

Israeli friends say to me: “But you should be able to pass the checkpoint easily!”. Yes, maybe, at least in principle — but if there are ten or twenty or even more cars ahead of me in line, and each car taks about five minutes, you can do the math … a 30-minute passage is virtually lightning speed.

But, today I missed the bank. And tomorrow I’ll have to go through the checkpoint AGAIN…

The Wall — and my neighbors being immured

The Associated Press has just posted this photo of the present situation in my neighborhood:

The Wall in Dahiet al-Bariid - AP Photo by Muhammed Muheisen

This photo is interesting for several reasons:
(1) the main intrigue is that the woman is rather exposed. My next door neighbor puts on her scarf and robe to hang out her laundry. It is rare to see this state of undress, no matter how hot the weather, and no matter how messy the chore…

(2) the photo shows some of the razor barbed wire that is being placed on the top of The Wall in our area — I have not seen it anywhere else — apparently in preparation for the onslaught of hoards of barbarians once the last two giant slabs are put in place to immure my neighbors. There is, in fact, a double row of razor barbed-wire.

(3) the photo is taken from the West Bank side (the razor barbed wire is only on the Jerusalem side of The Wall in our area.

(4) the photo shows that this house has all new glass windows — evidence of the construction boom on the Jerusalem side in our area, where ruthless market forces are at work. (Everybody here is building, thinking they will cash in soon on their new status, with great demand for housing in Jerusalem from both Palestinians and righteous internationals. On the West Bank side, by contrast, the market forces have caused the value of property to plummet, and many dwellings are simply being abandoned.

(5) But, this building boom is all being done in a political and legal vacuum — because the Israelis say they have no responsibility, this is area B and area C. The building permits are being issued by Ar-Ram municipality — which is notoriously sensitive to, um, there is no good way to say this, financial incentives. Yet, once the two giant slabs are in place, Ar-Ram will not have any further control of the area on the Jerusalem side of The Wall. As the Israelis are fully aware of this, yet say they can do nothing, one has to ask what their considerations are? What will they do, exactly, when The Wall is finally closed (according to rumor, in the next two weeks)? Will they demolish a few buildings? Or….what???

Here is a photo, taken by myself in June, of a skyscraper being built on a lot that was previously (until very recently) zoned as a “green area” — not permitted for building — just a few meters from my windows.

The lot was rezoned quite recently. The construction is proceeding apace — despite the fact that a twin tower built beside it has been deemed (by Ar-Ram municipality) to be illegal, and its nine stories should be reduced to four. Of course, this has not happened, because Ar-Ram will soon have no authority here. Everybody knows what is happening, and nobody is doing anything.

These new buildings are a great hazard to the area, and to their possible future inhabitants. There is no access, except through a very narrow street running perpendicular to The Wall. All the neighbors protested a few months ago, but they have all dropped out now. There are clearly powerful financial interests behind this construction, and the people said they were afraid. They have also reportedly been offered major incentives. One house next to the narrow access road will give a few feet from its garden, in exchange for the construction of a second story (for family expansion, or for renting), for example …
Another photo of big machine lifting concrete blocks - 25 June 08