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צדים את מחפשי העבודה

hunting the work seekers

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Hunting Palestinian work seekers.
Or how the armed forces serving the "Jewish and Democratic" State of Israel prevent people from earning their daily bread

On Sundays, usually before dawn, around two-three o'clock in the morning, when it is still dark, workers try to enter Israel to look for employment.
Since the 1967 Occupation Israel has diminished and prohibited almost completely the creation of autonomous sources of livelihood in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, at the same time opening its own gates to the Palestinian labor force, intentionally making Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories dependent wholly and almost solely on Israel for work.
Now for the past several years the State of Israel has sweepingly prevented all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip to enter its area.


Cheap Palestinian labor has been replaced by new migrant-slave-workers such as Thais, while the Palestinians whose livelihood was found exclusively in work inside Israel have lost their almost single sustenance.
Prevention of entering Israel is not a function of some suspicion or other of those kept out (even by the Occupation's 'rationale' that, like any oppressive regime in history, perceives resistance against persecution and state-terror as a crime).
The prevention is general, a-priori. Everyone is prevented but for special cases. Whose numbers are also diminishing. In many cases, the possibility of working in Israel, like all other basic rights, is conditioned by their betraying their own people. Those people who 'infiltrate' Israel are mostly heads of families, fathers of young children who used to work in Israel until it closed its gates, and usually have no other option to work.
Therefore, although they are hunted and shot and beaten and pursued and incarcerated and harassed and robbed, they return time after time, trying to look for work in Israel.
For they have no other choice.

Near Ni'lin Checkpoint, on the road following the future Separation Wall route, deep inside occupied Palestinian territory, down the slope towards an untended olive grove, several Palestinian men stood, detained.

We greeted them, they asked if we speak Hebrew, we said we do, and introduced ourselves. So did they and we talked a little.

We left out village at three o'clock in the morning, A. tells us. Walked through the olive groves. Takes us an hour to get here. At Shilat service station (on road 443), Border Patrol soldiers caught us, took our IDs and told us to walk back to Ni'lin Checkpoint. That's a seven kilometer walk. They don't mind our walking on the road to the Checkpoint. Normally we're not allowed to step on this road. (It's an apartheid road, only for Israelis). But this time, because they took our IDs, it's allowed.

Now we're waiting for our IDs so we can home. The IDs are in the jeep that caught us. We don't know when they'll bring them. The soldiers here at the checkpoint said it's not their job. They don't know the guys who took them. Nor do they care.

This guy got beaten up. They point at a tall man in his late twenties, wearing a balaklava, has a bike. At six in the morning soldiers caught him and beat him up. He's been here since morning. The soldiers said, what are you doing here? He said, I have two children, I can't just sit at home. Got to work. They said, you can't work here, and hit him in the belly and face.

We go back home once a week, says M. We don't see the kids all week. Or the sun. All week we work in Ashdod, in Rehovot. Leave home on Sunday, come back on Thursday. Sometimes they catch us there, too. Inside. That's how it was this week. We got to Ashdod on Suday, two days ago. At night they came to the flat where we stay. Took us to Hebron. Didn't bring us back here.
We came back through Ramallah all the way to our village.
We slept the night, and left again, this morning, 2:30 a.m. And here we are again. Same thing.

A week ago we were caught, too, here at Shilat. They brought a big bus, put us on it – and we live closely, ten minutes from here. But they took us to Hebron, to Tarqumiya checkpoint, threw us out there so we'd have a harder time getting home. We got back at four in the morning.

If we are caught here in Ni'lin, they tell us to come get back our IDs not here but at Beit Sira. Because we were caught here. So we'll walk a lot. Then we have to ride to Ramallah, and from there, to Beit Sira. Half an hour on a special van. Costs 150 shekel. Or wait all day until a service van fills up. And so you go to Beit Sira.

Last week a soldier caught me as I was trying to get in, took my ID and told me to go to Beit Sira, H. tells us. So I went there. Then the soldier there said it's not here, at Beit Sira. Go get your ID at Modi'in town center. I told him I am not allowed into Modi'in. I have no permit. You caught because I have no permit. But he says, what do I care.

We looked at the soldiers on the hill. Heard their giggles from faraway, the giggles that sound especially hollow in the sight of men twice their age seeking work to feed their children, who are required to stand here and wait, persecuted and beaten, while young free men chase them like prey, rifles swinging like silly cockscombs.

On Thursday, when they know that workers come back, they hide among the olive trees, M. says. They sit under that tree, he points to a large tree in the middle of the field. Workers come, get caught. Or on Sundays, when we leave. Because we walk. Can't see a thing. Sometimes they hide behind the trees. Then they go boom boom boom, to scare us. Yell. Shake their guns.

A month ago a worker was run over. He was running from them and a car hit him. Afraid of the army. Of the soldiers. He didn't look in time and a car ran him over. We come in the dark. Don't see the soldiers. They like to scare us. He ran away, poor guy. Crashed on the asphalt and died on the spot. Then the soldier came to pick him up, help him, but he was already dead.

They don't always come. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. Sometimes even when there are no soldiers, the bus driver says he won't take anyone without a permit. Other times, they don't ask because they just want to fill up the bus. The bus ride costs eleven shekel. That's good. If you take a service van it's 150 shekel a person because they take a risk. The driver risks himself. I haven't got 150 shekel. So I take the bus. That's what the workers all do.

What happens, they explain, is that on Thursdays the soldiers and policemen stop buses coming to the Modi'in area because the Wall is not yet completed here. They know that the workers come back from their work week inside Israel and try to get back home from this area. So they board the buses and look for whoever has no permit. When they find them, they punish them. Or beat them up. Detain them for hours. Sometimes, not always, if it's the police, they get a ticket. Usually after sitting for hours, they're driven in punishment to the spot furthest from their place of residence. And there they're released.

We don’t have our own state, so obviously we work in Israel. Had we our own state, we'd work there and not go to another state, A. says. Obvious, isn't it? He is thirty years old. Has three children. In the cities there is a little work, he says. In our villages there isn't. We're farmers, do you know what that means? No school, nothing. At the age of twelve we're done with studies and go to work. That's how it is. We have no other choice. If we get caught, we go again. Got to bring bread home. We're only workers.

They give you a ticket every time they catch you? we ask.
No, only if it's the police. And even then – sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. Say we were caught in Tel Aviv, they do. As soon as we get three of those complaints, we go to jail. Last week a friend of ours got out. He was sentenced to six months for working in Israel. Sat in jail for three, then paid two thousand shekels fine instead of the remaining three months and got out. And there's probation. But he has nothing to do with all this. He is just a worker. Today he stayed home, but tomorrow he'll be back. What can he do?

The fellow with the bicycle lies down on the ground, resting. Perhaps because you're here, M. tells us, he can do this. Usually it's forbidden to sit, don't smoke, don't lie down… Today's good.

Even in the rain, you know. They tell us to stand still, don't move.  Happened once, a while back. We were caught and made to stand at the checkpoint. It was raining. We were ordered not to move, stay put in the rain. And the IDs were in a jeep, not here. So guys thought they'd go home and come back. Then everyone who went home and came back – soldiers burnt their IDs.
It costs five hundred shekels to get a new ID.

Today they (the soldiers) are good, don't know what happened, says a pale-looking young man. We're smoking, we're looking at the checkpoint, and not forbidden to nap. The officer is okay today, I think it's because of you.

Another fellow sits down on the ground, stretches his legs and smokes. He'll smoke four packs now, the others joke, because they (the soldiers) are not saying anything.

The worst are the religious (settlers), someone adds. Worse than the soldiers and policemen. The police knows the law. These guys don't. The law doesn't exist for them. Not even yours.

All those we talked with had no permits. But they tell us that here too, as in Makabim/Beit Sira, permit holders come here at four o'clock in the morning to Ni'lin checkpoint on their way to their 'legal' workplace in Israel, and stand in line to wait for the checkpoint to open at five o'clock. Hundreds of men standing in line pre-dawn. And when the soldiers start checking IDs, they do it very slowly, on purpose. The soldier picks up the ID, looks up at the sky, takes him five minutes. And so they stand sometimes for two hours, more or less, and in the rain. And if someone dares to ask why so slow, they place him at the end of the line, and anyone talking gets put at the end of the line. Or no one is let through, and sometimes it goes on like this until nine, and by then the boss is already gone and no more work.
These are the 'lucky ones'.

Under the tree with us are the detained who do not hold permits. Who will not come to Ni'lin checkpoint before dawn to stand for hours humiliated and depending on the callous whimsy of the Occupation soldiers who do their job. Even if they do eventually get through. These here, the less fortunate, move only at night, through the fields, on the sly, to get through or not, and mostly not, and then again for they have no other choice.

A's eyes are soft and kind. And he is a charming man. It's simply obvious. He is withdrawn and gentle under the heavy clothes he wears, his calloused hands, beautiful hands, full of work and toil. He has three children. He is thirty years old.
A year ago a jeep with soldiers came into our village, he says. Little children threw stones at the jeep. The jeep drove back and capsized. At the side of the road. The whole village came, a tractor was brought, the soldiers were taken out, they were given water, the tractor pulled the jeep, they mounted it and went home.
Some months went by, another child threw stones, a ten-year old. The soldier came, went into the child's home, shot his head with a rubber-coated bullet and fired many bullets in the house. It happened in our village. We were yelling, the child was taken to the hospital, and he died.
He died.
And that's it, he said. And fell silent. It was then that I noticed how beautiful his eyes are. And his heart. Even though this has nothing to do with anything. I realized then that he can't understand how this could happen.
For how could one possibly understand.
Later they came and gave money. The officer came and gave money. Said it was a mistake. Gave him something. This A. tells us quickly, by the way, as if saying something shameful that has to be blurted out, not to be said at all.

We said goodbye, we did not stay there until they got their IDs back, but we exchanged phone numbers so we knew later when they did. We went from there to where we were told about a hole in the fence where the Palestinian workers sometimes try to make their way back from work in Israel. If by some chance they were not caught on the buses coming to the Modi'in area.
We were told that there is usually a jeep parked opposite the hole in the fence. But not always. So we went there and there was a jeep. The soldiers were smoking and waiting for the poor workers to get home from their work, in order to catch and brutalize them. We did not stay to watch.

We left and came back some days later to the hole in the fence. This time – no jeep. And some Palestinians got in, and we were happy, and one Palestinian woman came out, shaking off the sand, and young colonist boys and girls were hitching rides, or praying at the side of the road, until a colonist-security vehicle stopped. And we went to Ni'lin checkpoint again.

Once more, several young Palestinian men were detained under the olive tree by the checkpoint, a soldier on the hill was just calling out the name of one of the men, who approached, and the soldier sifted through the IDs, looking through the dark glasses he wears although there is no sun, an released the man, who waved his hand and said: Even with a permit, it's forbidden. His voice was bitter, speaking to anyone and no one in particular, and left.

We got out and introduced ourselves, and talked a bit. We're just workers, one of them said. We're not involved in the state of the world. I have two children. He's got two children. Another has four. That one has six children.

Today we got up as usual at 2:30 a.m., they said. Had coffee and left. Suddenly we saw someone shaking. In the olives over there. We asked what happened? He said, we were five men before you. There have just been shots a moment ago. We said we heard nothing, and went on. As soon as we got up there, one of us went first, we followed. Suddenly the soldiers came out from behind the tree. They had been hiding. So the soldier put his hand on the guy's mouth to keep him from shouting, and threw him on the ground and stepped on him and started shooting so we wouldn't run away, to make us stand. That we'd be afraid of the shots and stop. I don't know, we ran, and suddenly he began to shoot at us, I felt shots between my legs. They chased us all the way to the sewage over there. Down in the hills.

We were twenty, and four men got caught, so I told them after they caught us that some people got away. They said never mind, four of you are enough for me.
We're like animals.
Did the soldiers hit anyone this morning? No, no. Just hit men with the rifles, and shot at the air, at stones, scaring the workers.

Anywhere we go we hear the same stories. How soldiers make them stand in the rain intentionally, with their backs to the checkpoint, and don't give back IDs although they're there, and forbid talking, or smoking, or using their cell phones, one variation or another on the same theme, generation after generation of soldiers, at different locations, in different units, different skin-colors. Is this because these are the instructions, to abuse? To make their lives as unbearable as possible? Or is it the racism inherent in the way they have been brought up? Or the general spirit of things? Or the legacy of norms? Or because Occupation corrupts and that's what happens when someone is given power over someone else to such an extent? Or because that's what they have been sent to do, because this is the Occupation?

A fiery young man, F. who – as we later found out – had been an active resistant to the Occupation, adds, trying to clarify something he feels is essential.
When the soldier caught us he said, why did you go in? (to Israel).
Why did you open the fence? I answered. You know very well there's a hole here. You opened it. Close it. If you don't close it, it's here for me to come and try to get in. That's why.
This hole is for us not to work. For us to be caught. If he didn't want us to go work he'd close it. It's there to exhaust us.

They want us all to be collaborators, he added. To become informers. If you don't turn informer, you don't get a magnetic card (police clean-slate enabling Palestinians to apply for permits), nor a work permit. They pressure your food. Your livelihood.
Say they catch you a few times, then they say work for us and we'll close your file. Things like that. Whoever sells himself is not a worthy human being. Not worth raising a family, even.

See that white room over there? The new shack. That, I think, is the office of the 'captain'. (Commonly used appellation for General Security Service agents, the Shabak). He starts summoning people. We'll help you if you'll help us. Stuff like that. People's blood is being sucked here day and night. This is a military state. Everything here is army. The wife and the child and the son and the daughter and the soldier. Everyone is soldier. This we've already learned. Sixty years they've been here. Since 1948. And even before. We mustn't shut an eye for even a moment. Watch out for what they'll do to us. If I shut an eye for a second, I get beaten up. So I sleep with one eye open. It's not our problem that we have parties, organizations. Parties are necessary. Organizations are necessary. Because we have to live. If we had no parties I don't know what they'd have done to us already.
There has to be a political party. A power. Power to face power.
Luckily we have people willing to do this. Each in his turn. I was in jail for a year-and-a-half in 1985; in 88 I was in administrative detention for six months. In 89 administrative detention once again. In 90. And in 92 they took me in for a whole month of interrogations and finally let me alone. All these years. Finally I was finished. Don't want to live any more when our land has no state… So I married at the age of 35. Now I seek food. For my family. Now I hand over the flag to others… Nothing came out of all this, you see… All this time being active for my people. And then the big shots come along, and sell Jerusalem, sell everything. They built the wall. With their concrete. They received 24,000 tons of concrete. For the Palestinian people. So the big shots said, let's turn this into money. Divide it up. So who did they sell it to? The Wall.

There's my brother-in-law, F. says about someone who just got there with another group. A jeep just brought them over. A man relatively older than the rest, or so he seems. Look elegant, not a laborer. His hands are fragile. He was sentenced for life, F. tells us. Sat in jail. He's from George Habash, the Popular Front (for the Liberation of Palestine). That's what he served his sentence for. Now he's a worker. Like everyone else. Looking for work. His hair is white. Snow flakes on his head.

F.'s brother-in-law approaches and we talk. He says, all this is punishment. Workers here seek livelihood, nothing more. They (the army) know it, that's why they come at them. And we agree with him. That this is the reason. That there is no suspicion or concern about security. That hurting the workers is not the symptom, it is the goal.

Again and again everyone tells us that because of us today they are allowed to smoke, and sit down, and were it not for us, all this would be forbidden, and that if we go perhaps the soldiers will take some cell phones, or say it's forbidden, or keep your hands up in the air, or sit only with your back to the checkpoint, but we're here and it's good. And that usually it is much worse. So now it's better because of us.

Who are we? Nothing. The soldiers do not know us by name, they have no idea where we're from, and whether we represent an organization or not. They don't like us because they conclude, and rightly so, that we're against them, that we judge them, but they know one thing. Not who, but what we are. We are the daughters of the occupying people. The right race. This is our strength. This is our crime. Because we are 'worthy' and visible, and they want to please us. The Palestinian victims are allowed to smoke and sit on the ground. This 'privilege' is the equal – not the inverse – of their nightly hunt, because those are Palestinians. The equal side to that racism that empties them of humanity, and imposes it on us.

That one is the father of a shaheed, F. points to a thin, older-looking man, introverted and quiet who has not yet said a word. His older son was killed in 93, he says. Murdered. We asked and he answered and told us. It was the end of the First Intifada. His son was fifteen-years old.
We were all in the village, the bereaved father tells us. His face is withdrawn, gray. We held our breath. Soldiers came to the village. They were horsing around, you know, looking for us. And the 'stone intifada' was on… They were fifteen-year olds… The soldiers shot five-six bullets. And he pointed to the face, the child's, who was hit in his face, in his cheek. They shot his whole body. And that's it. The child was gone.

In the meantime evening came, and it got dark. A soldier came and told us to stop filming because it's his checkpoint and it's not allowed. We said that if the checkpoint is anyone's, it's the Palestinians' whom he is trampling, and that even according to his law we are allowed to film, and he can go ahead and inquire, and we'll complain about him, so we ignored him and he left. Then a policeman came and said we're disrupting the soldiers' work. And we said that at the most we're disrupting their abuse, and if he wishes to be an enforcer of any kind of law he should go and release the detainees because even according to the army's illegal laws punishment is not allowed, and this is punishment. So he left too. And our hearts cringe at how, while the various Occupation forces took the trouble to chide us we stood flagrantly fearless for we were in no danger whatsoever, nothing would happen to us despite our protest, for we belong to the worthy race. The occupying race. And those next to us, the victims, only bent their bodies further and sealed inside all the words, and the rage, and kept silent. They have not the time and the immunity to waste their precious moments on principles and justice, lest their young abusers heap more injury over the obvious, inherent one, and the time they spend waiting would stretch even further, or something else would happen, so they did not protest, nor breathed a word.

First I was in Jordan in '78, he says. I was in Fatah. I came here to Palestine in '85. Then the head of our party became an informer, with the GSS, so I left Fatah and went to the Communist party. 22 years in the Communist party.
He went up the ranks, F. tells us. Until he became one of the leaders. Now he crosses the fence to look for work. To get bread. Stuck at the checkpoint.

For whoever ask themselves what do Israeli soldiers do besides 'targetedly exterminating' the bad guys in Gaza and 'accidentally' hitting all the rest, and demolishing their homes, and starving them, and shooting children who throw stones (and if they didn't throw stones, saying they did because that is a capital crime according to official Israeli policy), and abusing and harassing at checkpoints – one must come to this space between the 'green line' and the route of the Wall near Ni'lin, and Mattityahu colony, and the olive trees that have grown so meager because the soldiers do not allow the owners to tend them, or to any of the other locations where the landgrab, apartheid wall has not yet been completed, and see how hard-working laborers try to 'infiltrate' Israel in order to work for a pittance and the soldiers hunt them down – lawfully and normatively – so they will not work.
They are not suspected of anything, they are arrested merely for illegal presence, nothing else. They are just prevented from earning their daily bread.

To all the parents who do not try to prevent their sons and daughters from enlisting, who think that this is what should be done, know that this is what they do.
With permission, and by the book.
Make sure that people will not have food to eat.
And this is no metaphor.

Aya Kaniuk and Tamar Goldschmidt, Wednesday 6.2.2008, Sunday 10.2.2008. Translated by Tal Haran.

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