Journalists get mad

A group of Palestinian journalists in Bethlehem are mad as hell — and they aren’t going to take it any more (?)

Ma’an News Agency reported today that as a result of what happened at a demonstration at the main Bethlehem checkpoint yesterday (see our earlier report here, protesters and journalists were hit from both sides), “reporters will officially hand over a letter to the PA demanding that those security officers suspected of assaulting journalists be reprimanded. If the PA fails to respond to the letter, journalists say they will boycott all Palestinian official visits in Bethlehem during Easter, particularly that of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Abdul Nasser An-Najjar, head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, told Ma’an that he and the body’s secretary-general fully support the protest. On Monday, PA and Israeli forces cracked down on protesters at a Bethlehem rally who were voicing dissent against the continued detention of the Palm Sunday detainees [a group of 10 Palestinians who were arrested on Sunday while trying to go to Jerusalem for Palm Sunday religious observances, but without a permit]… Journalists said PA forces not only prevented them from covering the rally, but assaulted members of the press. Heated arguments ensued between journalists covering the incident and PA forces, resulting in a sit-in near Rachel’s Tomb by journalists”. This story can be read in full here.

The main Gilo checkpoint into and out of Bethlehem was reportedly closed today until further notice.

The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee issued a communiqué today by email giving this report:
“Fifteen demonstrators were arrested by Israeli forces during a peaceful demonstration near Rachel’s Tomb last Sunday, protesting Israeli violations of Palestinian freedom of religion and lack of access to Jerusalem. The demonstrators marked Palm Sunday and demanded to exercise the centuries old Christian tradition of pilgrimage to Jerusalem on that day … After soldiers tried to stop the procession at a checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem near Rachel’s Tomb, demonstrators overwhelmed the few soldiers positioned there with their numbers, and peacefully continued to march towards Jerusalem. [Another account said that a group of demonstrators surprised the Israeli Border Police who were massed on the Jerusalem side by turning to the side and passing through a huge sliding metal gate that was opened to allow the passage of Israeli military vehicles, but no mention of that in this communiqué…] They were, however, stopped by a large contingent of Israeli Police officers a few hundred meters into Jerusalem. When the crowed could not advance farther, a number of Palestinian dignitaries held speeches, after which the protesters began retreating back towards Bethlehem. It was at that point, that the police began its unprovoked assault at the demonstrators, making fifteen arrests, including those of Abbas Zaki of the PLO Executive Committee, four members of local popular committees and an AP photographer. Abbas Zaki is one of the most prominent Palestinian leaders to have been arrested in grassroots demonstrations in recent years … All demonstrators were arrested under the exact same circumstances, and on the same suspicions. The four Israelis and one international detained during the incident, were released that same evening. The Palestinians, however, were subjected to much harsher treatment. The police extended the arrest of all ten of them by 96 hours, which are likely to be extended by another 96 hours even before they will be brought before a judge. While Israelis and internationals are, as a matter of policy, subject to Israeli law, which only allows for a 24 hours detention by the police, Palestinians are subject to Israeli Military Law, which allows for their detention for a period of eight days before being brought in front of a judge … The Army had also used concussion grenades to disperse a demonstration in support of the ten arrestees in Bethlehem today. One demonstrator was lightly injured after a grenade hit his back”.

Meanwhile, other Palestinian journalists are mad as hell because some of their colleagues accepted an invitation by The Israel Project media advocacy organization to spend a day in Tel Aviv, cafe-hopping, being invited to lunch, shopping in malls, and meeting with an Arabic-language-speaking IDF spokesman… This is reported by Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post One of the Palestinian invitees was teased about it, but in a supportive way, by one of his close friends on Facebook last week…

Crossing Qalandia – cont'd

There has been more or less non-stop construction at the major Qalandia (Kalandia) checkpoint for several months.

The plans have not been publicly announced or published.  The tens of thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of people who cross Qalandia daily never know in advance what is about to happen, or what is going on.

Information such as this is not a courtesy afforded to people under occupation.

A circle was constructed within the last year just on the Ramallah side of Qalandia checkpoint — which Israeli officials refer to as a “border crossing”, although it is not one of Israel’s officially-listed international crossing points.

This traffic circle was slightly bizarre in that the lane of car traffic coming into Ramallah from the Jerusalem area was funneled into the circle counter-clockwise, while traffic coming from Ramallah into the Qalandia car-parking area was also directed into exactly the same lane.  Drivers just had to work it out for themselves (as we have written before, there is NO civilian or military traffic control on either side of the Qalandia crossing, where there is major traffic passing every single day).

Now, as part of the mysterious new construction that has been going on for over a month, the circle has been cut off just at the left side, although the same cross-direction traffic (incoming from Jerusalem to the south, and drop-off and arrival car-park traffic from Ramallah to the north) has to pass on the right side.

Once you get through that cross-traffic, now, there is suddenly a line of border police vehicles and border police personnel with big black automatic weapons in their arms, and a road block.

There are no signs explaining what is happening, and absolutely no instruction about where to go, except the soldiers with the guns.

Behind them, bulldozers and construction vehicles can be seen at work, day and night — but there is NO explanation.

One night recently, coming from Jerusalem, I was surprised, just after passing through the stress of the checkpoint, by being confronted with a blocked road and armed soldiers.  I had no idea what to do, and tried to continue along the side.  (Once through the checkpoint, there are no street lights, and it was totally dark.) An Israeli border policewoman flagged me down — but, luckily, she was helpful, and polite.  She had no idea, herself, what I should do, because she had never ventured more than 50 meters (if that far) to either side of where she was standing.  But, talking to her, I was able to calm down and stop panicking, and realized I might try to go to a second traffic circle on the other side of the Qalandia car park.  That worked.

Last night, my friend and colleague Yasmine was leaving Ramallah after working with the editor and director of a film she is producing.  She hadn’t passed that way recently, and had absolutely no idea that there was construction underway at Qalandia.  She ran into the blocked road, the military vehicles parked across the road, and the armed soldiers.  But they were not so polite.  They both pointed their guns directly at her, and told her to go, go, go.  “Where?” she asked, “Where?  There are no absolutely no signs indicating where to go”.   They kept pointing their guns, then they motioned with one free arm as their other arm kept a firm hold on their weapon.  “Over there, just go…”

That is one small part of what it means to be under occupation.

And it is not nice.

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.

New sign at the checkpoint

There is a new sign that has been erected just before the entry to the Ar-Ram/ Dahiet al-Bariid checkpoint, which is written in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic and English), and which reads.

It is forbidden to hand over or deliver vehicles for repair to the Palestinian Authority

I saw it for the first time tonight,

This checkpoint is just north of the Jewish residential area of Neve Ya’akov, but it is on the Jerusalem side of The Wall — and is thus in Jerusalem, according to what Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said.

Or maybe he just doesn’t know …

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…

Just coming home — Dahiet al-Bariid

I wrote this before, but seeing is believing.

And, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Ladies and gentlemen, anyone entering my little neighborhood is putting his/her life at risk.

The sign reads:

A lawyer might say this sign gives rather broad discretionary powers to those administering this checkpoint by military force.

My neighbors here, and I, and the drivers and passengers of literally thousands of cars a day, are all in mortal danger in this area, even if just going home.

A warning sign at the ar-Ram checkpoint entering Dahiet al-Bariid

We are so informed by this little sign at the checkpoint (usually referred to as the ar-Ram checkpoint) which is supposed to control traffic going OUT — in the direction of downtown Jerusalem.

This little red sign — in three languages: Hebrew first, then Arabic, AND THEN English — used to be put up only during total closures of the West Bank. Those total closures happen during every Jewish and/or Israeli holiday, and during events such as … peace negotiations.

Now, this sign declaring some unspecified area around it as a “MILITARY ZONE” (though not a closed military zone) is up ALL THE TIME.

This checkpoint is in Jerusalem.

The checkpoint is ostensibly placed here because The Wall is still open up the hill (see yesterday’s post, below).

It might be dismantled soon. Or, it might not be dismantled.

Nobody who lives here knows anything, of course, because people who are affected by these checkpoints and this WALL are never informed of anything that is about to happen, no matter how much it will impact their lives. They are not given the simple respect of clear information.

But common wisdom is that The Wall will be completely closed within the next ten days. And then, this checkpoint is supposed to be dismantled.

This amazing development might, then, be presented to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a success story — a checkpoint dismantled.

So far, maybe 60 out of some 600 checkpoints have been very reluctantly dismantled, months after the Annapolis process began. (Other checkpoints, however, have been reinforced, and expanded.) These checkpoints make life absolutely miserable for tens of thousands of people — or more — each and every day.

However, if I were a betting person, I’d bet that this checkpoint will stay — though there would no longer be any rationale for it.

Here’s how the checkpoint looks while coming from downtown Jerusalem. Normally there is no check for anyone entering this area — but of course there is the little red sign warning that this is a military zone, and that anyone entering is in mortal danger:

approaching the ar-Ram checkpoint on 29 July 2008

Once you’re in this little Twilight Zone, between the checkpoint and, up the hill, the still-open gap in The Wall, there is an Israeli military observation post, at the huge administrative complex located beside Neve Ya’acov (inhabited mainly by Canadian and/or religious Jews), just to keep an eye on things:

Israeli military observation post overlooking Dahiet al-Bariid

And, here’s how the checkpoint looks for those trying to get out of the area, to go to downtown Jerusalem.
Luckily, there are not too many cars waiting. Sometimes there are twenty or thirty or more — and it can take several minutes per car, even at the best of times.

approaching the ar-Ram checkpoint to leave Dahiet al-Bariid