One Day, Many Years from Now, people will ask how come we were bystanders

I was debating myself about the last photo. I thought I might choose one of my “checkpoint pornography” photos: violence, shooting, children crying, bleeding wounds. Or photos of sick people, sometimes in a critical condition, arriving at the checkpoint with life-supporting systems, transferred from one ambulance to another, a technique known as “back to back”. There are many of those which I’ve never published. Or perhaps it is time for the “waiting project” – photos I took of Palestinians waiting, for the checkpoint to open, for their turn to arrive. At the checkpoint I began thinking about the body language of a person who is used to waiting, and there is not a nation more used to waiting than the Palestinians.

But climactic moments, such as a woman giving birth behind concrete blocks for some privacy have become quite rare. Colonialism, apparently, is a learnable practice, and Israelis have learned it well. Our occupation is becoming more and more efficient and planned, and therefore more aesthetic and photogenic. Less soldiers with helmets and camouflage paint and M-16s, more security guards dressed as civilians, and an elegant pistol tuck under their shirt. Less harassment in checkpoints within the West Bank, more in the terminals into Israel, coming into work.

Palestinian workers are completely dependent on their Israeli employers. They work in Israel (either in Israel proper or in the settlements, but it is one and the same), Israeli goods are sold in the PA territories, and the Israeli manufacturer enjoys a consumer market with limited options. This is the colonial patent. The British did it long before us.

This point is important because Israelis, especially those who consider themselves to be leftists, make more and more distinctions between them and the settlers, until sometimes it seems to me like there’s really a hatred of settlers. They are there, and we’re here. But whoever thinks that only the settlers benefit from the occupation, has not learned anything. The same goes for anyone who thinks the colonial project began in 1967. The next time you walk on a pavement in Tel Aviv, or drive on a road in Israel, try and think who is really doing the planting and the building and the paving. Who is profiting from cheap workers, and who is manufacturing goods to sell in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. The occupation is much more than the real-estate deal of the settlers.

The photos show a banal routine of a successful colonial project.

Top photo: Tayasir checkpoint, Jordan Rift Valley, May 3rd, 5:30am. Workers from the Jordan valley work in Israeli settlements in the valley and in Israel. Palestinian residents of the valley heading for Israel will go through one of the checkpoints (Tayasir or Hamra), then again in Ma’aleh Ephraim (unmanned early in the morning, except for a guard in watchtower), another in Anbatta, in the entrance to Tul Karm (usually unmanned in those hours), and then the hell of Irtah, which has been my focus in the past few weeks. On their way home all these checkpoints will be manned.

Middle photo: Palestinian workers coming out of the inspection facility, Eyal terminal, in the outskirts of Qalqilya. May 9th, shortly after 6am.

Bottom photo: workers at the Irtah checkpoint, outskirts of Tul Karm. May 21st, 4am. The number of workers in the area between the turnstile and the facility is monitored. After thirty workers have passed through, the turnstiles lock.

I am taking a break from blogging. Perhaps we’ll meet again in the winter.



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The Strawberrypickers – part 2





A very crowded queue. It’s hard to estimate the number of people in line. Galila and I make it to be above one thousand, standing here on the track entering the facility, towards the turnstiles, a track marked by hedges higher than people. They’re practically standing one on top of the other. Here and there you can see someone climbing on the fence because he doesn’t have where to stand. When that happens, his friends shove those beside them to make some room. The women have their own place by a side-gate near the turnstiles. Some of them are sitting on the ground. The photo, from 5:30am, after it was light, shows a later queue, when it is a little less crowded.

The facility opened at 5:03am. The turnstiles turn and turn until some thirty people fill the space between them and the metal detector at the entrance to the facility. Then they lock. Some people are trapped in the turnstile (second photo). When the turnstiles move again, those who were trapped are virtually spewed out of them (third photo). The examiner calls on the PA system: “Wahad, Wahad” (one [by] one).  And also “Everything, take everything out. Tuna, Humus, Olives, everything.”

One woman tells me: she’s from Irtah, 67 (!) years old, works in agriculture. This week she picked mainly strawberries and peppers. She goes through here every day. She arrives about an hour before the facility is opened to get a good place in the queue. I remember her from previous visits of mine, she has a fixed place, by the turnstile nearest to the hedge where we stand. She always sits a little bent, leaning on the steel, and gets up only when the PA announces that the facility is about to be opened. You’ve seen her photo here already. Today she got out of the facility with blood on both of her hands. She said that because it was crowded she was pressed against the fence.

Two workers wait by the entrance gate to the facility from the other direction. They arrived shortly before 5am (we met them at 5:10am). They were working all night, laying sewage pipes in some of Netanya’s main streets, and now they want to go home. But in these hours the facility only operates in the opposite direction, towards Israel. So they wait. Patiently and in incredible silence, at this time of dawn, and having worked all night. I turned to a security guard at the parking lot to make sure they were aware these workers were there (the answer was positive). Galila noticed an open window, and tried to communicate with the face she saw through it. This was a rare moment in the Irtah facility, and the window was quickly closed. The taxi driver who was waiting for them on the other side, gave up and went. Only at 6:10am they were allowed to go through. But why – surely these are not the first Palestinians (and definitely not the last), who return to the West Bank in the early morning because they work in those jobs that are done at night, lest they disturb the Israeli daytime.


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The Strawberry-Pickers



Do you manage to see the woman in the left-hand corner of the photo, sitting behind the turnstile? She is somewhat identifiable, because she is wearing white, against the background of steel. She is sitting, because this way she won’t be pushed and shoved, and can keep her place in line.

The line. At the head of the line there’s a small shed in Tulkarm. It’s hard to notice in the dark, but the art of interweaving fences is quite remarkable here, perhaps the most remarkable of all the checkpoints I’ve seen. They are tall and are structured in such a way that they create a double snake trail, in order to slow the pace, of course.

The winding line is noticeable when the people waiting are moving. But I also know it because I’ve been here in the afternoon. Crowded men who were being crushed climbed above the fences. At the end of the line there is the yellow gate, another form of slowing down the line. The section between us and the turnstiles is the most crowded. The turnstile locks every few seconds, to maintain a controlled number of people between the turnstile and the metal detector. I could see the palms of those locked inside the turnstile. When the turnstiles move again, the are spewed out running to the metal detector at the entrance to the inspection facility. "All around the world people work in order to live, I work in order to die" – the exact words of a man, about fifty years old, a construction worker from Tul Karm.

The photo was taken on Friday, May 21, 2010, moments before the checkpoint at Irtah was opened, south of Tul Karm, 4:55am. On Fridays the terminal opens an hour later. Most of the women who passed through today work in Israel picking strawberries.

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Merely Following Procedures






The agricultural gate at Hableh opens at 5pm. The workers come in pairs,or triplets, a small group of people waiting gathers (first photo), they approach the examination in groups of four (second photo). A herd of sheep passes, by the time its shepherd is out of the inspection booth, the herd has scattered (third photo). A horse and a wagon are also checked and other agricultural vehicles (fourth).

A guy with no ID is not allowed to go through (fifth). The officer at the checkpoint explains to him that these are the rules, and that “I am only following procedures”. I ask him: “and if your neighborhood was surrounded by a fence, and the gate was opened only three hours a day, what would you do?” – “I would probably be really angry, but I am merely following procedures”. “We never merely follow procedures,” I replied.

The village of Hableh is surrounded by a fence. The opening times of the gate change every now and then. Right now they are between 7am to 8am, 12pm to 1pm and 5pm to 6pm.

See here on Hableh in the morning hours.


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The women’s line

Ertach blockage, south of Tul Karem, Palestinian female workers on their way for work in Israel, 03:50. The terminal opens at 4am. Top: monday 9.5.10, bottom: monday 7.4.10.

For Hebrew – here.

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Irtah (Sha’ar Ephraim), south of Tul Karm, workers on their way to Israel, 10.5.10, 3:55am, shortly before the gates are opened.

The terminal opens at 4am, so in order to get a good spot in the queue, some workers arrive here at 3am or even earlier, depending on where they live. I heard today of someone from Tubas in the Jordan Valley who has to go first through the Hamra checkpoint (you can read here about the mornings at Hamra). When 4am approaches, and the gates are about to be opened, the turnstiles become very crowded. When the turnstiles open and the bottleneck is released, the first in line run through them to the terminal. The sight of workers waiting in total darkness in the early morning hours is one of the most pitiful things I saw in the West Bank.

The Irtah terminal is less than an hour’s drive away from Tel Aviv. If you come in the afternoon, you will see the workers coming back from a day’s work.



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Total Darkness on a Deserted Road


A trip to see the workers’ terminals in the Jordan Rift Valley, Hamra and Tayasir. The workers are mainly residents of the northern West Bank, from Farun, Tamun, Tubas, and Tayasir. They work in the Jordan Valley settlements: Beka’ot, Ro’i, Tomer, Masu’a and Kalya.

The checkpoints open up for traffic at 4am, the workers wait here at least an hour before that (what kind of life is this, I think to myself, to wait every morning in the middle of the night on deserted roads. What kind of family life do they have?)

Total darkness. We ride along the Jordan Valley roads, (straight ahead at Za’atra junction, then left to Alon, all the way to Ma’aleh Ephraim, where at this time – 3:30am – is not manned except for a light at the inspection tower which probably attests for a guard, then left again to 508 and left on road 57, where the Hamra checkpoint is). At the roadblock we’re shocked at the ages of the workers. 17 to 20 year olds. Some even younger than that.

They get out of the vehicles (mainly buses or taxis), to be inspected separately at the vehicle inspection station, and cross the checkpoint by foot (first photo). All buckle their belts again after going through the inspection facility (second photo). Some stop at the side to pray. Then they go back on the cars on the other side of the checkpoint (third photo). Between 4:10am to 5am some 200 workers passed through.

Some workers brew coffee on the side of the road. They invite us to join them, happy to share it with us, but we’re worried we’ll arrive too late at Tayasir. When we got to Tayasir, at 5:30am the dawn was rising. Most of the workers had already gone through, we could see the taxis pass us by on road 5799, leading to the checkpoint. Here too, they get off the car, the vehicle is inspected separately, and they go through by foot (fourth photo). Hand bags are also inspected (fifth photo). In them, you’ll find breakfast and lunch for a day’s work.

By the time we returned to Hamra, around 6am, it was deserted again. Unbelievable that moments beforehand myriads of people went through.



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