Tom Hurndall's Birthday, Understanding Checkpoints
1) Tom Hurndall's birthday party
2) Understanding Checkpoints
1) Tom Hurndall's birthday party November 29, 2003
ISM London The family and friends of British ISM activist, Tom Hurndall, shot in the head by an Israeli sniper on April 11, and lying in a permanent state of coma, gathered outside the Foreign Office on Thursday evening, November 27, to celebrate Tom's 22nd birthday. He is unlikely to live for us to mark his 23rd. To read the full account and see photos:
2) Understanding Checkpoints
November 30, 2003
I recently saw a cute interactive piece on the BBC website about "understanding checkpoints." They have a picture of what a checkpoint in Palestine might look like and links to the various parts of it for further explanation. You can check it out at:
For many of you, it will be easy to understand the problems with this representation. For those that haven't been here or have little information on checkpoints, I want to give a better description using the BBC's model.
A recent statement from the International Red Cross says that it will be halting it's emergency food program to Palestine saying "the economic collapse is the direct result of Israeli military closures and that Israel must live up to its responsibility as the occupying power for the economic needs of the Palestinians." Basically, even the Red Cross recognizes that the IOF occupation, including closure [checkpoints] is suffocating
Palestinians and is now calling for Israel to take the responsibility of providing humanitarian relief. Although this is important politically, it may end of harming the Palestinians that are already suffering to begin with.
Trying to visualize a "checkpoint", even with the BBC picture, is difficult. I don't think people can accurately understand what a checkpoint is unless they look from a Palestinian's point of view. Flash back to pictures you've seen in movies of occupations…now picture yourself a Palestinian student from Awarta (a village south of Nablus). It's 85 degrees and humid. Everyday you need to go to Nablus for university. Or better yet, you're my friend Bilel, from Asira (north of Nablus). You need to get to Nablus every other day for dialysis. If you don't get in, you could get very sick and die. Every day, or every other day, you go the checkpoint and stand in line (with 400 other people) for hours and hours, waiting to be "checked". You leave at 4:00 a.m. because you can always count on it taking at least 4 hours to get through (if you get through). This for a trip that should take 10 minutes by car...
For clarification purposes, the BBC says that "some of these [checkpoints] divide Palestinian-controlled areas from Israeli ones – but others, particularly unguarded barriers, are located in the middle of Palestinian areas." It is important to remember that checkpoints are all inside of the West Bank, not '48 (Israel). By Palestinian-controlled areas, they refer to Area A (cities) which are supposed to be (but are not) under the control of the PA since Oslo. Whether the checkpoint divides Area A from Area B (so-called joint control, villages), or a Palestinian village from a settler road, in reality they mean that people can not move from village to village, village to city, city to farms, etc. There is almost literally a checkpoint at each turn you make.
The BBC is correct to say that traveling from one Palestinian town to another is difficult. Cars with Israeli plates are usually allowed through checkpoints - often they drive through without being checked. I was standing with some Palestinians at a checkpoint near a settlement, waiting for hours, and a settler car sped past us, spitting on us on the way.
Often taxis aren't allowed within a half a mile of either side of the checkpoint, forcing everyone to walk an additional mile for just one (of probably many) checkpoints on their journey. At one of the main checkpoints into Nablus, every day 6-15 taxis are detained by the soldiers for driving too near the checkpoint. Soldiers take the IDs and keys from the drivers and tell them to come back 3-7 days later.
Economically, the Israeli government is able to control the importing of goods into Palestine through checkpoints. Almost any truck you see entering a checkpoint is Israeli, carrying Israeli goods (also heavily taxed with VAT) that could have been gotten cheaper and easier from a neighboring village or city.
Although some checkpoints have a metal or canvas shelter, many do not.
The ones that do are usually too small to hold all of the Palestinians waiting. Also included in most waiting areas are: large barrier stones, impromptu razor wire barriers, barbed wire walls and soldier graffiti (usually saying something like, "welcome to Israel"). Many times soldiers pointing guns and pushing people back are also included in the waiting area.
The waiting time at checkpoints greatly varies depending on the day, the hour, the soldiers or the checkpoint. Soldiers have complete control over who passes and when they pass. Often the soldier's decisions appear to be completely arbitrary. At a small checkpoint, waiting times can be quite short or long. At larger checkpoints like Huwarra or Qalandiya, most people expect to wait at least a few hours.
During peak hours (morning and late afternoon) the number of people waiting can be as many as 400. 400 people waiting, and usually 2-4 soldiers checking them (at Huwarra specifically). The people are usually penned up like cattle in the waiting area for hours, many with heavy bags and/or children. The people are so incredibly crammed together that sometimes people spill out into the barbed wire siding, causing them to be trapped between the people and the wire, pushing into their skin. In this situation, tension is usually high. The Palestinians begin pushing each other, trying to move forward or save their place in line. The soldiers see the large group of distressed people, don't know how to deal with it, and react with violence. Almost every afternoon we have to intervene with a soldier who attacks the group of people - often by shoving a gun in their faces, shooting warning shots or tear-gassing them. It is not rare to find someone with a broken nose, or bashed head from soldier brutality at a checkpoint.
As shown above, most checkpoints divide one Palestinian area from another.
Thus, Palestinians must have the "proper papers" (DCO permission) to cross from one village to another. The permission is difficult to obtain and rarely granted.
To get to school, work or even the doctor, many Palestinians in the villages need to cross into the cities. They are rarely allowed. Every time I am at a checkpoint, groups of people approach me with medical papers or sick babies begging me to negotiate with the soldiers for them. Now, hospital papers are no longer valid to get people into Nablus.
For most people not living in a city, health care is unreachable.
Students at university are supposed to be allowed in and out daily for school. This, also, rarely happens. Every day the soldiers have a new order: no students allowed out, or no students allowed in, or no male students, etc. Students also risk being detained for hours, often causing them to miss a day of school or an important test. For these reasons, most students who live in the villages rent small flats in the city to stay for the week, only attempting to return home on the weekend.
A large percentage of the Palestinian community attempt to avoid checkpoints, as they have no other way to get through. This is the "crossing illegally" referred to in the BBC article. Often these involve difficult treks through the mountains, valleys and olive trees. However, soldiers often patrol these areas also. Earlier this summer a student At Najah University in Nablus (he was in his last week before graduation) was going to school through a steep valley, covered in jagged stones and slippery mud. Soldiers saw him, shot at him, missed but hit some ground he was standing on, and he plunged to his death.
Often people who sneak around to get into a city are detained at the checkpoint attempting to get out. This always involves confiscation of their IDs and holding them in a separate area, and often involves handcuffs, blindfolds and gags. Detainees are held for many hours - sometimes as many as 12 - in the hot sun without water. Legally, the soldiers are only allowed to detain people for 3 hours before releasing or arresting them. This practice is rarely followed. Many times I have observed detainees being taken to an area out of view of the others and beaten. The soldiers usually claim they are "punishing people" for not going through the checkpoint (even though they recognize that the people would not have been allowed through the checkpoint).
There are many reported incidents of ambulances not being allowed through checkpoints, even in times of emergencies. If they are allowed through, they usually are delayed and thoroughly searched. You can find many stories about ambulance emergencies at checkpoints. Last week in Beit Furik a 10-year old boy was shot dead and the ambulance was not allowed through to get him. There are countless stories of women being forced to give birth at a checkpoint because they or their ambulance are not allowed through. Read more at:
Settlements, settler roads, by-pass roads and military roads all tear through the lands of Palestine. Olive trees are destroyed, homes and villages are chased out and countless lives are lost. This infrastructure divides, isolates and steals from Palestine. Settlers and Israelis are allowed free passage on these roads, while Palestinians are forced to trek miles in another direction just to avoid them. Often Palestinians risk being shot by running across a settler road to get their olive trees on the other side.
Read about Jeff Halper's matrix of control:
Many checkpoints are in place solely to control people crossing settler roads (cutting off their passage to and from villages). At times, there are checkpoints on both sides of the road. Men under 35 are strictly forbidden passage. Usually most people are denied passage. While hundreds of Palestinians line up, waiting to pass to their homes, settlers walk past them freely. Clashes can also erupt at these checkpoints. Many cases of brutal settler violence occur near checkpoints, often left unchecked by the soldiers watching. Palestinians are then left unsafe from both soldier and settler harassment.
One aspect of everyday lives for Palestinians not mentioned in the BBC article is that of roaming checkpoints. The IOF often randomly erects a checkpoint in arbitrary locations along roads between cities and within villages, closing off all traffic. These checkpoints usually consist of a jeep and four soldiers. These checkpoints are often the most dangerous. These checkpoints seem to be governed by even less rules permanent checkpoints; that soldiers can stop anyone for no reason and no one is there to see what they are doing. Many friends of mine have been beaten at these roaming checkpoints.
A Palestinian friend once told me that it is at checkpoints that he feels most degraded, de-humanized and angry. He said that it is standing in line at Huwarra that makes him understand the mental reasoning behind suicide attacks. David Grossman, in The Yellow Wind, describes the enormous amount of time in one's life taken away by checkpoints. Every minute is valuable, and every minute stolen is an injustice.
It is at checkpoints that I see some of the most significant human rights violations, and violations of people's dignities. Watching a 75-year old man forced to beg a 19 year-old soldier for permission to reach his family's olive trees is a common sight. Checkpoints do very little for Israeli security, as most people can go around any checkpoint.
Logically, people planning an attack will not pass through checkpoints anyway.
Checkpoints, as they function now, serve simply to control and humiliate Palestinians on a daily basis. Attempts to make checkpoints "better," such as providing water, having a regular DCO (District Coordinating Office) presence or even providing checkpoint watch cannot be looked upon as a step towards a solution. The very existence of checkpoints does enough damage upon a person's soul and will that nothing, other than their obliteration, will ever begin to be able to solve.
INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT
"It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." Robert F. Kennedy