(This post was published in Hebrew on July 1st. Its translation was delayed due to technical problems – Aryeh)
I went today (June 30) on a tour following Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff’s report (Haaretz, June 24, 2009) that following international pressure “Israel Removes Dozens of West Bank Roadblocks” (Interestingly, the international pressure factor was placed in the headline only in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz – Aryeh). I wanted to examine the report, and especially look at the nature of the “random check” that is mentioned in the article regarding a few checkpoints. As we have learned, “random” can be a very deceiving epithet (one of every five vehicles, every thirty, every hundred? Who is examined, and who isn’t?).
The report claims that “The checkpoints surrounding Nablus, a city that had been under complete siege, have now all been lifted” – a claim that cannot be substantiated by the facts on the ground. The checkpoints are definitely active, although in a different format (I wrote about it here, for example)
Another issue at point, regarding a claim made in the headline itself, is that Israel “removed” checkpoints. One should distinguish between the removal of a checkpoint, and a checkpoint that is no longer manned or active. Burin Junction, for example, had a “flying checkpoint” (that is, a checkpoint that is not active every day) up to a year ago. But although the checkpoint is now unmanned and the traffic moves freely through it, the concrete blocks and posts are still there, and it will only take a minute to reactivate it. Thus is the case at Jit Junction as well – the concrete blocks are still left on the two sides of the junction, even though the checkpopint has not been activated for a long time.
Deserted Concrete blocks at the junctions:
Evidently, there have been many changes in the checkpoint of Nablus, Tul Karm and Qalqilya. But more than anything stands out the simplicity by which these decisions can be overturned once again. Palestinians I spoke with today also mentioned that.
We went through the checkpoints, from the west to the east:
2.50pm Eliyahu terminal, moving from Israel to Palestine.
2.55pm Qalqilya. The traffic is not obstructed, the army posts in the center of the road are empty. The concrete blocks are still there.
Soldiers standing in their post on the side of the road, pointing a gun to the road:
3.25pm Dir Sharaf checkpoint The report by Harel and Issacharoff told of the removal of the Beit Iba checkpoint, which indeed is not manned these days, but failed to mention Dir Sharaf, less than a mile down the road from Beit Iba, heading south. This checkpoint was set immedatly after Beit Iba was opened for traffic. The checkpoint is manned by three soldiers, and a fourth on a watchtower. The traffic through the checkpoint depends on a random check. We asked the officer of the roadblock what “random” means. “Whatever seems suspicious to me,” he replied. “What do you mean by suspicious?” we asked. “I don’t know, looks, whatever seems to me,” he replied.
We wanted to continue to Shavei Shomron checkpoint, which the article reported to have no checks at all anymore. The soldiers insisted that Israelis are not allowed beyond Dir Sharaf checkpoint (wrong. It’s not an A-region). Since we wanted to see as many checkpoints as possible today, and since we know from previous visits that Shave Shomron doesn’t include a check for a long time – we gave up.
3.50pm Antaba (called Einav in the article). According to the report, the checkpoint is open, the soldiers don’t stop Palestinian cars, only Israeli cars, in order to stop Israelis from entering the city. In practice, we were told by Roy, the officer of the checkpoint, Palestinian vehicles are inspected “selectively.” Again we asked for the meaning. Roy replied that he checks anything that seems “suspicious.” We asked what he means by suspicious. “Looks, for example, you didn’t seem too nice to begin with” (He is referring to me. When Roy tried to move me away from the checkpoint, I insisted that the checkpoint was a public area, and he should not limit my movement there). We also asked for the meaning of selective: “Do you stop one out of ten vehicles, out of thirty? Is there a procedural decision?” “There’s no decision, I decide,” said Roy. We could not help noticing that all selective inspections were made on the road to Tul Karm. In the opposite direction (leading to Israel), traffic continued undisturbed.
4.25pm Awarta (a checkpoint unmentioned in the Haaretz report): coming out of Nablus, one truck was stopped for inspection. On the road leading into Nablus, a private vehicle was inspected.
4.35pm Beit Furik. Haaretz reports the checkpoint was removed. In practice, in the short time we spent there, three out of four vehicles coming out of Nablus were stopped for inspection. Another driver, going in the opposite direction, waited patiently for his turn while the outbound vehicles were inspected, since the inspection is not done in both directions simultaneously. After that, he was inspected, and drove in.
4.50pm Huwwara checkpoint. The pedestrian area is almost empty. A taxi driver, an old friend by now, tells me that only villagers who live nearby pass through it on foot (from Huwwara, Burin, Awarta). In the vehicle area, the traffic going into Nablus flows undisturbed. Outboud traffic have a queue (about 10 to 15 cars the whole time). Some go through immediately, others are held for inspection.
5.50pm Za’tara Junction (Tapuah). A queue of 13 cars on the southbound lane, the eastbound lane is not manned at all. Haaretz reported that “This is the only roadblock in the northern West Bank where checks of Palestinian vehicles are still being carried out.” As we saw today, this is not true.
6.10pm Sha’ar Shomron – back to Israel.