Huwara CP. One of the checkpoints which blocks
Nablus. Saturday afternoon 10.11.07.
From afar we notice a soldier pushing A., one of
the men who have been working as a porter at the checkpoint for several
years now – pushing him with his hand and ramming him with his chest.
The porter retreats as he is pushed backward, tripping. Tamar begins to
photograph and runs over there. As the soldier notices her holding the
camera, he lets go of the young man, turns to Tamar and approaches her
quickly, his hand reaching out for her camera. He hits the camera,
moving violently, yelling at her. His hand shoots out trying to grab and
twist the camera. You're breaking my camera, she cries. He continues.
You are harassing me. I'll file a complaint against you for harassment.
He jumps back a meter, the camera is rescued. Later A. told us that
today the soldiers won't let them do their porter-cart work. They don't
want us to earn money today, he says. I have to.
He also said that because he came to argue with the soldiers to let them
work, the soldiers – as a way of punishing him – told other porters
working next to him that he is a collaborator. That he said things about
the others, slandering them. When he happened to see him was when he had
gone to the soldier to plead with him not to say such things about him.
Why should he say such things about him.
He told us that when the soldier saw Tamar photographing him, he stopped
attacking him and said, go away now and come back when she's done
An unclear noise, like a hundred caged animals, rises from inside the
checkpoint. In waves. A kind of unlimited, compressed roar. A strange
sound, unsettling and haunting.
Don't stand here! A woman soldier approaches and waves away a group of
women leaning on the fence, waiting for their husbands, brothers, sons
who have not yet been allowed through. They move, retreat. The woman
soldier wears her trousers belted down the middle of her buttocks, in
latest male style, her legs splayed, her hand fingering her rifle
trigger. Having made her rounds, she goes back inside the checkpoint to
join her fellow-oppressors. And the women return to where they had stood
before, looking at the men slowly trickling out of the checking posts.
Listen, you can't stand here, you're in the middle of nowhere, says
soldier Karin to Tamar who stands photographing. She touches the camera.
Don't you touch me. I'll file a harassment complaint against you.
-You can file a thousand complaints, as far as I'm concerned.
So give me your name, please.
-Hey, I'm talking to you like a human being.
No you're not. You're sticking your hands in my face.
-You're sticking your camera in my face.
If you wouldn't come up so close to me, I wouldn’t photograph you so
Are you serious? You're not some Arab or something. I'm talking to
you as to a human being. I’m not pointing a gun at you or anything.
Some people tell us they've been waiting in line for an hour, others two
and three. And some have waited over four hours.
When we tried to time how long it took those standing in line to cross,
it was just unbearable to spot them an hour and more later and realize
that the person we had chosen to trace seemed to be standing exactly at
the same spot. We stopped timing.
A young man approached us. Did you photograph today? He sees Tamar's
camera. Go ahead and film, he says. And so she did.
Again and again we hear people saying it is no wonder some want to blow
up like that. One man said that little children are crushed inside the
waiting lines. That it's dangerous. That while he waited in line, that
was all he worried about. That luckily his kids were home. That it's
terrible. And why is it like this? Why here?
The male and female soldiers project domination and violence. They take
turns making the rounds of peacock-like power display, and what seems to
be plain mean fun, pushing people still waiting for others here and
there, and then over there, and then over this line, and then beyond the
next. The definitions of painted or imaginary lines on the ground change
from one soldier to the next. The main point is move on. Away from where
you have chosen to stand. Elsewhere. To a spot that is essentially no
different from the one you have chosen already, but for the fact that
you didn't choose this new one, so get over there.
Many university students on their way home. Holding their notebooks.
Get going!!! a soldier yells at one of them who looked back after
crossing. And she immediately turned to look ahead and sped along.
What's going on here? someone calls out angrily. Children on their way
to hospital are waiting for two hours already.
Three waiting lines, two being checked. A soldier holding a sniper
rifle, fingering the trigger, points it at the people being checked. Men
are required to open their bags. A male or female soldier rummage in
them. Sometimes the men have to take out the contents. Sometimes not.
The checking soldiers look mostly distracted. They don't show any
special attention to what they're doing. And then the head gestures to
start the usual ritual. And it mostly starts without needing any
explanation. The Palestinian lifts up his shirt, turns around, lifts up
one pant leg, looks at the soldier, gets a silent confirmation, lifts
the other pant leg, looks again, offers his pockets or not, the soldier
hands him back his ID, and the man exits, usually with his belt and
wallet in his hands. Some immediately put on their belts and tuck their
shirts in their pants. Others walk on as they are, unbelted, fast,
usually cursing quietly or silently, their faces drawn, beaten, sullen,
young man after young man after young man.
I don't understand, someone says. What's wrong with them? Questions and
more questions. Why? Just for laughs, he says. To keep us waiting.
A young man comes out saying it's not right that women soldiers do the
An ambulance carrying a wounded Gaza resident is waiting to enter Nablus.
Proceeds after several minutes.
A conversation with a soldier:
Who are you?
-My name is Aya, what's yours?
You're not allowed to be here.
-Yes I am.
You're not, it's a military area.
-It's not, even by your rules.
First of all, according to universal and international law, what you're
enforcing as law here is not law. But even according to your illegal
system, this is not a military area. Palestinians pass through here too.
And if it is a closed military zone, you must show documents.
-Go away, you're not allowed here.
I am. You go away.
-If I weren't here, there would be terrorists.
No, the fact that you're here is all the more reason for terrorists.
Here is Palestine, go stand at the border.
-I am defending my country.
Not only are you not defending, on the contrary, you're jeopardizing it
by adding misery and hopelessness to the lives of the people you're
And you with your guns in a land that is not yours, facing people who
have not harmed you in any way, don't you look like a terrorist?
-No, I'm a soldier. I defend my country.
Then he saw a large group of women, those still waiting for their men
who are being kept inside. Who have already retreated from the last
soldier who chased them several meters further along. So this soldier
said to me, wait a minute. He went over to them and stood with his foot
marking the soil. Over there, he signaled. Showing them the way with his
foot. His hands in his pockets. Over there,, he signaled with his chin
in the general direction behind them, and they started to move back. A
clump of human beings waiting for their family members. Mothers worried
about their teenage sons. Among them was a young woman holding three
plastic bags. The soldier approached her and kicked her bags. She
looked. Waiting for him to say something. To signal.
Over there, he said, or perhaps didn't even talk, and anyway, when he
talked it was only in Hebrew, but she go the point and retreated with
her bags beyond the line he had marked.
A line that represents nothing but the true purpose of the checkpoint,
deeper even than protecting the Jewish colonies in the area – harassment
for its own sake. All the rest are clichés that the fictive history one
learns here, the brainwashing and the ever-hovering racism offer, for
harassing without the slightest movement of a butterfly's wing another
people, merely for being the other.
This fellow, incidentally, was one of the most
'cordial' at the checkpoint. He shoved his boot quietly. His voice was
soft. He did not yell. He only said what he was told to say. Did what he
was sent to do. Denied others their freedom only because of their
otherness. Because that is the norm. That is what everyone does.
Without getting into the issue of his even being there, and I think he
should not no matter what, or the sake of the record – should a criminal
be described as 'cordial'. I think not. I believe none of them should be
described as cordial or polite. This is like describing a rapist who
rapes politely. And never mind where the 'regular' rapist is located on
the evil coordinate. This is his act. Even if it is rooted in causes
that have a context. True, when a crime is committed, its perpetrator
may be described as committing it with an illumined or somber gaze,
loudly or softly, but these are merely variations of wrong-doing, not of
right. And regardless of the inherent harassment. As far as I am
concerned, since the act is not undone if it is done this way or that,
then describing the doer as having positive traits is merely helping to
conceal reality and do it a disservice. And is this cordiality, at all?
When soldiers prevented Mahmood Abu Taha - the cancer patient about whom
Amira Hass has written – from crossing the Erez Crossing, and arrested
his father because that's what they were ordered to do – was it because
he would not collaborate? was it because what if he were a terrorist?
Does it matter how they prevented him? Does it matter to whoever dies as
a result of being prevented passage at a checkpoint whether he moved to
his death to the sound of a softly- or harshly expressed order?
The one who obeys orders at his own time and age, and "only" denies
people studies and work and nourishment and health and freedom of
movement, and kills if necessary – let him not be called 'cordial'. Even
if his harassment is carried out in a so-called cordial tone of voice.
Or by law. Let us not – we who document the Occupation (as I see it) –
help him blur the deed in a cordiality devoid of morality, of humanity.
After all, we don't describe everything about him – not the soldier's
eye color, not his taste in clothes. These are not relevant to the
description of the act of Occupation. So his 'cordiality' is not
relevant information. Not only is it not relevant as information, on the
contrary. It is another means of blurring and concealing.
And if it is difficult for some to call a soldier criminal even when he
perpetrates crime because he perpetrates the Occupation, because he is a
potential or real son, then this is a normal, human difficulty. However
should be overcome and one should call things in their right names
despite the difficulty. But regardless of that, calling him the occupier
'cordial' is doing a disservice to reality and helping to blur it.
A young man who lives in Balata Refugee Camp tells us: until two years
ago I worked in Israel, I had a permit. I came to renew my permit and
was told: if you work for us you'll get your new permit. You know, the
Captain. (the Security Services man at the Civil Administration). I
refused. Since then, every time I cross the checkpoint I am detained.
They have me on their list and they make me wait for hours.
He said there are still employers who want him to work for them but he
How do they do such a thing? he asks.
We hope for him that he hangs on. In spite of the terrible economic
hardship. That he won't walk the path for a magnetic card, the path that
people walk alone, and at the end of which their lives are split in two,
rewarded only by illusion. The path to the 'Captain'.
The waiting lines today are not separate for men and women, normal and
"humanitarian". (A misnomer that represents none of the deeds done here.
Letting an ill person or the elderly cross the checkpoint without
waiting too long is not a privilege or an act of charity. It only
emphasizes the fact that fundamental human rights and dignity are not
obvious when it comes to Palestinians. That a deed that should be
self-evident is seen in exceptional proportions. It is still no
humanitarian act, and the special line for women children and the
elderly and ailing is no humanitarian line). Only closer up to the
revolving barriers the usual separation takes place. Men on one side,
women and the elderly on the other. Only then everyone stands in line.
At the sides and on the ground sit women with their tiny children.
People seem to be overflowing out of the shed. By the hundreds. I don't
know how many. A woman coming out of what is called the humanitarian
line after standing over an hour with her bags that have just been
rummaged, stands over them and sorts out her contents that have been
spilled all over. She looks weary. Then she gets up, and begins to walk.
Not a young woman. As she passed I saw her crying.
A woman with a baby girl who looks newborn, with some more children and
women, tries to pass into Nablus on the vehicle lane. She must have been
afraid to enter the revolving barrier with her infant. No, says the
soldier, his arm jutting out at a right angle as though saluting the
idol of another era. Go around, his body language says, wordlessly.
I ask myself why. Why around. She is not checked,
neither her nor on the path around. She is not taking the place of
anyone else. She is not approaching the soldiers. It is only herself and
her newborn child who want to cross here where it's safer. So why
around? Because it's possible to order her there. Because she is not a
person in the full sense of the word. Because these are the
instructions. Because why should she suddenly walk where she wants to?
Because I the soldier set the rules.
A soldier climbs up on the revolving barrier
facing the hundreds standing crushed in the waiting lines. Shut up! he
says in broken Arabic. Speak Arabic, they yell at him. He points his
rifle threateningly at the crowded faces and says, no one dare shout
Then for a moment – silence.
Girl soldier Ma'yan passes by, chasing away all the men children and
women waiting besides the checkpoint. Another soldier joins her. Orders
them away too.
People don't really know where they are supposed to go and wait. The
soldiers' gestures are fast. Menacing. Fingering their triggers
constantly. Move. Get away! Back! Their round finished, they get
swallowed up inside the checkpoint again. The people resume their
leaning against the fence. Until the soldiers' next round.
Don't film my face! girl-soldier Ma'ayan yells at Tamar.
A soldier who said his name was Shalom, older than the others, says
photographing is not allowed on the Sabbath. He too nearly breaks
Tamar's camera. This is my checkpoint, he says. It's the Palestinians',
Tension runs high. Soldiers yell incessantly. A nervous soldier takes
off his helmet and struts around angrily. Something happened among them.
But because of his anger, he sticks his face and hand into an ambulance
that happened to be waiting there, and yells at the driver, leaving in
A girl student tells us she and her classmates left the university at
twelve noon. Now it's quarter past four and she's crossing the
An elegantly dressed young man crosses on his way out of Nablus,
holding a bag with new shoes, pairs upon pairs of women's glittery
high-heeled pumps. Brand new. While the girl-soldier rummages in his
bag, one shoe fell over to the area where the soldiers stand, separated
from the Palestinians by a low concrete wall. He asks her to hand him
back his she but she tells him she wouldn't touch it. Disgustedly. And
must have signaled him to pick it up himself. So he climbed across into
the soldiers' checking post, next to them, with all their computers and
equipment, picked up the shoe 'in his own hand' and climbed back. And
Yells are heard. Lumps of shouting. Men's. Eyes glittering and crushed
together behind the battery of revolving barriers, and evening falls.
Ma'ayan the girl-soldier yells at the people clinging to the revolving
barriers. Not clear what she's yelling. Waves her hands. Then in an act
of existential fury of sorts she goes out on another power display round
of the territory, pushing away any person she happens to see. Get away!
to women who retreat, another soldier joins her, his hand up in the air,
ordering: Give me your ID! in Arabic. He probably meant Get back! Either
way, everyone retreated and the soldiers disappeared and everyone came
back to their waiting spots.
As usual the venders are not allowed to work. They are cleared away so
as not to earn money. That's the rule, and the norm. One or the other
soldier, one or the other shift, all the units, at all the checkpoints,
constantly prevent people who hardly make a living from earning a few
pennies. They chase them away. And the venders return. Some manage to
flea before their wares are dashed to the ground or they are beaten,
others don't quite make it. Still they return. Today they were 'only'
removed. Of all people, these were the children about whose family we
have written several times. These are extremely poor people who came
from elsewhere in the hope that at Huwara Checkpoint they would manage
better. At 2 p.m., 12-year old Mu'atassem came back with his father.
Since then they've been selling coffee and tea. Sometimes they're in
luck and the new soldiers don't chase them off. And sometimes they do.
And perhaps it will be a while until the soldiers will notice them.
Perhaps this time they'll be busy with something else. Other
harassments. Besides, what choice has this family got…
A young woman was on her way back from Nablus with her 13-year old
younger sister, home to Marda village. She was allowed through, but her
younger sister was not. For she has no ID yet. So what if she doesn't?
Did they not see that she is not yet 16-year old? Did they suspect her?
Did they think she was lying? Why did they not let her through?
Because they can.
Because she is only a Palestinian.
They said she has to have her father or mother come to the checkpoint.
They said she cannot get through. The older sister begged them to let
her sister through, but they would not. The younger girl stayed behind,
and her older sister went on pleading with one or the other soldier to
listen, to let the little one pass.
Girl-soldier Ma'ayan was on one of her harassment rounds when the young
woman appealed to her. Ma'ayan stopped to listen, which was strange in
itself. She went on listening, or so it seemed. The woman was through,
and looked at Ma'ayan. Waiting. Get back!! Ma'ayan roared and signaled
the woman to split. And went on.
Another soldier passed by, almost immediately, and again the young woman
turned to him to tell her story, and he stopped. He listened to the
pleading woman. And finally said he would look into it. Ma'ayan saw him
talking to the woman, approached and told him, don't. And ordered the
woman to get back. And then ordered away other women. The poor sister
stayed standing. And the soldier left.
More time went by. Vivi and Tamar try to persuade the soldiers to help
the woman and her sister. Telling them that you just cannot leave a
young girl unfamiliar with the place or the people, alone back there
among everyone. With nowhere to go to.
Finally the soldiers agreed to go look for her on the other side of the
waiting line. The older sister accompanied the soldier but could not
find her. There were hundreds of people standing in the dark.
Other women tell her that there is a girl with a kerchief in line who is
sobbing and yelling. But in the crush, one cannot really see. Her voice
is swallowed up in the general mayhem.
Again and again soldiers chase away all the people waiting beside the
checkpoint for others who are yet to come through. To some undefined
dark line in back.
Then yells are heard. Closed! Military area! or something. And everyone
Vivi won't move. You're not allowed to stand here, the soldier says to
Vivi. Now this is a closed military area. I am not leaving, said Vivi. I
don't care. She wouldn't leave until the lost girl is found.
But you should know that if Palestinians
cross this line they will be arrested.
More time passes. Again the people who were ordered away earlier return.
Most lean on the fence. Waiting.
The girl's mother arrives from Marda. Goes back to the lines. Finds her
frightened daughter, and they leave.
Suddenly young men are not allowed through at all. For a while. The
shouts get louder. Shriller. And then the men cross. God take her, said
one of them after he got out, about one of the girl-soldiers.
A soldier gives someone a body search in the blue
A man comes out, furious, says he feels as though they'd been beaten up.
He'd stood for hours. Doesn't know how many.
Two photographers of AFP, a French news agency – one has arrived from
Jenin through Ramallah to Huwara and is waiting at the checkpoint for
his friend to come out of Nablus. They arranged to meet outside the
checkpoint. The one coming from Nablus had been waiting in the long line
carrying his two cameras. After standing inline for an hour, he began to
photograph. Not even the soldiers. A soldier approached him, pushing him
with his rifle towards the concrete detention cubicle. He's detained,
we're told. The other photographer called up his agency to report what
has just happened. Ask help for the detained photographer. He found out
his friend's ID number and managed to pass it on without the soldiers'
noticing. The agency called the army. Who told them it had spoken to the
officer on the spot who said they must detain him. The agency asked why.
The army said because they have to.
Two hours after being detained he was allowed to sit down. He sat on the
ground outside the cubicle. Later he was forbidden again to sit outside
the cubicle. Perhaps because he talked to his friend outside. Perhaps
because the soldiers just felt like it.
Everybody split! Go on, go on. I don't want to see anyone here! Shouts
the soldier with the antenna in the direction of the parking lot. I
think he is the checkpoint commander. Go on! Move it! Get back, you! Go
One man stands in the general line that was not divided up into
separates. Later he realized the line he was standing in is the one
called 'humanitarian'. He got to the head of the line. You're not
allowed here, he was told. You're under fifty. Get back to the end of
the other line.
I came here with a friend, someone tells us. They left Nablus by car.
The friend who drove was detained. The man talking to us went through
the pedestrian line. Now he's waiting for his driver friend. Because he
is still detained.
In the waiting line children are crushed, he says. Again and again I had
to pick a child up for air. I am an Israeli citizen. I have Jewish
friends. When I tell them about such things they don't believe me.
A quarter to six. We're leaving. There are still crowds in line. That
takes hours. The French news agency photographer is still inside the
People say to us, what are you doing, and in my heart I say it's not we,
it's not i.
We meet Nizar's mother.
On Thursday, ten days ago, soldiers picked up 16-years old Nizar, the
disabled boy who works with his younger brothers selling coffee and tea,
and took him in back of a bus at the parking lot near the checkpoint.
And they beat him up. The soldier's name, said witnesses, may have been
Nizar's mother tells us people called her up to tell her that her son
was being beaten up. She ran out and came herself. She managed to sea a
soldier hitting Nizar on the head. With his hand. And then gripping him
by his shirt and dashing him against the car, again and again. She tried
to intervene and make him stop hitting the boy. And the soldier pushed
her too. He put his rifle across her forehead and said that if
continues, he'll shoot.
Nizar has to work, she says. He's the eldest. They have no food at home.
And his medication costs a fortune. Just now she paid 200 shekels for
They do all of this in the back, so no one will see and take pictures,
They came from Jabba Jenin to live at Huwara. Because the father once
had a stall in the area. I just bought bread, she says. There is no food
The soldier overturned everything. The stall. And broke the glasses.
Some DCO officers came and intervened and asked, why are you beating up
And then she wept.
Were there: Vivi Suri, Tamar Goldschmidt, Michal Zupan, Aya Kaniuk
Translated by Tal Haran