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!…”
The story published last week in Walla was also covered on this blog here.
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,
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.