A return visit to the checkpoint that does not exist

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.

Atara - Bir Zeit checkpoint north of Ramallah in the West Bank - June 2009

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,
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.

Continue reading A return visit to the checkpoint that does not exist

The Day of the Palestinian revolt at Atara checkpoint – the checkpoint that does not exist,

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.

Atara - Bir Zeit checkpoint 12 July 09 - sitting in the thorns

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.

Atara - Bir Zeit checkpoint - 12 July 2009 - young men being detained separately from the other passengers

Here is the story of the bus whose passengers annoyed the soldiers at the checkpoint that does not exist

Atara - Bir Zeit checkpoint - 12 July 2009 - the back of the bus being inspected first

Atara - Bir Zeit checkpoint 12 July 2009 - photo by Tamar Fleishman

Atara - Bir Zeit checkpoint 12 July 2009

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”.

Continue reading The Day of the Palestinian revolt at Atara checkpoint – the checkpoint that does not exist,

Barak blusters about West Bank roadblocks

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Roadblock, has now said that roadblocks in the West Bank are great, they serve Israel’s purpose, and they will remain! That is despite the commitments made at the Annapolis conference. It will be interesting to see the arguments made to justify this…

IDF file photo published in the JPost

Look at this neat and clean roadblock, pictured in an IDF file photo published in the Jerusalem Post today — there are not 20-50 cars (or more) backed up, waiting, waiting, and waiting. There are no Palestinian teenagers being led away in handcuffed pairs. There are no Palestinian young women in jeans and headscarves being pushed around by groups of IDF female soldiers with rifles, as another dozen armed Israeli men (soldiers, border police, and “private security contractors”) look on without intervening — only explaining that this young Palestinian woman was trying to get through the checkpoint by force. There are no Israeli soldiers ordering American journalists, with a wave of the head, and in Arabic: “imshi” – “get going”.

IDF file photo published in the JPost

There is just a neat picture of a crisply flying Israeli flag (in the West Bank) stopping a UN car — bound to be popular with the home readership.

IDF file photo published in the JPost

And, let’s not forget, there are between 300 and 600 of these checkpoints (fixed and “flying”) in the West Bank at any given point in time…

The Jerusalem Post reported today that “Barak told a group of soldiers from the Golani Brigade, deployed near Nablus, that ‘the checkpoints have proven themselves, and without real daily control of the territory there is no way to conduct an effective battle against terrorism‘ …
Barak confirmed that Israel had removed two checkpoints – one near Hebron and the other near the Judean Desert – out of the 16 large crossings, in addition to a number of temporary dirt roadblocks that were also recently lifted. ‘We may ease restrictions even more, here and there’, he said. But despite these efforts, Barak said that the majority of roadblocks would remain. The Palestinians recently complained that Barak posed a stumbling block to peace talks due to his opposition to remove more roadblocks in the West Bank … ‘We need to ensure the security of our citizens – here in the center and throughout the entire country’, he said. ‘We are not going to stop overseeing the flow of traffic and our operations in these territories‘.”

This JPost report is published here.

Haaretz reported, with an ever-so-slightly different take on Barak’s remarks to soldiers at a checkpoint near the main northern West Bank city of Nablus, that “The defense minister added, however, that Israel was making an attempt to alleviate the Palestinians’ plight … ‘We are trying to make life easier for the Palestinians by opening roadblocks on the outskirts’, he said. ‘We have recently opened dozens of dirt blockings and removed two of the 16 major roadblocks. We may do a few other things to ease the Palestinians’ lives’.”

This Haaretz report is posted here.