In martial law, which has prevailed on the West Bank since June 1967, every soldier is a king. Some of them act like King Antiochus of Persia before he crowned Queen Esther. Take this incident at a checkpoint witnessed by the Jewish ladies of Machsom Watch [Israeli women who try to protect Palestinians from abuse at checkpoints]:
A soldier examining a Palestinian driver noticed a daily paper sitting on the windshield. The soldier asked to look at the headlines. The Palestinian driver refused. He said he was in a hurry. The soldier ordered him to stand aside.
A little while later the commander appeared. He explained to the Palestinian: “Here the soldier is the law. If he asks you for your underwear you give it to him. Now go.”
The driver was lucky that the Machsom ladies were present. They witnessed the soldier’s action and called the commander.
Machsom Watch is a group of about 400 middle class Jewish ladies who go out to about 40 permanent checkpoints in the West Bank twice a day in the early morning and the late afternoon. There are over 500 permanent and flying checkpoints in the West Bank,
Their reports are digested and edited and sent by email once a week to interested parties. The latest report for February 11 to 17 shows that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s recent promise to ease restrictions at West Bank checkpoints was honored for a day or two. And then it was business as usual. The full reign of the army, replete with confused orders that change from day to day, was completely restored.
At the Huwwara checkpoint, a few minutes from Nablus, on Sunday February 11 at 3.30 p.m., the Machsom Watch ladies reported that men and women age 15 to 35 from Nablus are not allowed to pass. Residents of the Tulkarim and Jenin districts are not allowed at the Huwwars CP and must go through Bait Ibo. “Great confusion among both soldiers and Palestinians,” the ladies report.
“A 33-year old resident of Deir Balut with his 25-year old wife were turned back to Nablus,” the report continues. Deir Balut is 20 minutes from Nablus through Huwwara. It is four hours away over bad roads through Beit Iba. The Arabs claimed they had a sick mother at home. No dice. In the name of security, the couple made the long ride home.
On the same day, at the Beit Furiq checkpoint, a Nablus doctor who spends one day a week at the Beit Furiq clinic was turned back to Nablus. He kept repeating in English. “I am a doctor. Doctors have an international status. That is the way it is all over the world.” But not in Beit Furiq on February 11. He was from Nablus and he was sent back. The sick in Beit Furiq will have to wait until next week for treatment.
The next day, some people from Nablus with medical problems or permits to work in East Jerusalem found a way to get through to Qalandia, the main entrance to Jerusalem from the north. On Monday, February 12, Machsom Watch ladies tried in vain to help men from Nablus with permits to work in East Jerusalem. They were turned away.
Four women with sick children who held one-day permits to East Jerusalem hospitals were held up because they came from Nablus. Here the Machsom ladies were able to help. “Our intervention succeeded,” the ladies reported. “The soldiers had misunderstood the orders,” the ladies were told.
What exactly were the orders? Why the discrimination against Nablus residents? No one knows. No ordinary Israeli, certainly no Palestinian is allowed to question army security. The soldier is king and he has been king for almost 40 years.
What is true for the soldiers is true for the Border Police. Machsom Watch reports that the BP has been carrying on a feud with the village of Huwwara.
For weeks BP jeeps hung out in the courtyard of the girls high school. This stopped when three of the older girls filed a complaint. But then harassment of the whole village began. The residents say that the BP’s objective is to pressure them to withdraw the complaint.
On Sunday February 11, the ladies report on the testimony of the girls who made the complaint and on a conversation with the BP commander as to why his men on the roof of a residential building were keeping fearful women and children awake all night.
“They are there for road surveillance,” said the commander. To the ladies query of why they can’t survey from the roofs of commercial buildings where no one sleeps, he answered: “We mustn’t interfere with security considerations. It is our right to climb on any roof we choose.”
At 4 PM that day a curfew was enforced by the BP. All shops in Huwarra village were shut. The excuse was that some kids threw stones at a BP jeep.
Two days later at 4:40 PM, Machsom Watch ladies in Huwwara village observed ten men standing in the rain. They had been ordered out of their workshop by the BP while their papers were examined.
The feud continues. The power is with the army, but the villagers are steadfast.