The Truth About Checkpoints: Sentiments & Article by Shlomo Lahat
Below Shlomo Lahat writes about the disasters that are known as check points. There are a number of additional kinds of disasters in the West Bank and Gaza; they not only will not contribute to anyone's security, least of all Israel's, but as a result of this are also likely to keep Jews and tourists away from Israel's doors and encourage many residents and citizens here to leave for happier and safer grounds.
Let me tell you about a typical day in which we confront some of these disasters. My and my spouse's day today began at 5:00 AM, when we got up so as to leave the house at 5:45 so as reach Mas'ha by 7:00 AM. The drive should take 40 minutes from our house to Mas'ha. But now that the main gate to the village is closed we not only have to drive about 30 miles out of the way further east, but also have to leave our car there, take a taxi back almost the same distance, but on a different road, till we reach the road block, then take another taxi the other side of the road block, and finally reach Mas'ha. That's the daily diet for anyone that wants to go to Mas'ha these days.
Why did we have to be in Mas'ha so early in the AM? Because inhabitants informed us (as also 2 weeks ago) that the gate remains closed; consequently, they are denied access to their fields and olive-tree groves. Today we had better luck than we'd had 2 weeks ago. The jeep came just a few minutes after we'd arrived, and came without anyone having touched the electronic fence. The soldiers appear to have been on a routine check. They got out of the jeep, rather surprised to see Israelis there. They opened the gate and began to let the few farmers there--or at least the ones who had permits--to cross the security road (for soldiers only) to their fields. The Palestinians insisted that when we were not present the gates remained closed, but the soldiers insisted that the gates were opened daily, except when there are security alerts, which seem to occur quite frequently. Hence while theoretically the gates are open, in actuality they remain closed. My spouse and I conversed with the soldiers. One of them exclaimed to me, "They (the Palestinians) lost the war; they should accept that gracefully?" I didn't argue, only asked if that's what he'd do in their place. He did not respond. Our conversation with the soldiers was civilized enough and fairly relaxed, but they and we disagreed on how to achieve security. One soldier's eyes seemed to signal agreement with us, but he stood quietly on the sidelines; the others obviously did not care much for Palestinians, believed in the Greater Israel, and in the use of force. Unable to convince us that the use of force was the way to attain security, they tried to convince us 3 Israelis that it was dangerous for us to be in Mas'ha. When that didn't work, they tried other tactics to get us out. Apparently our being in the area of the gate made them nervous. So the soldiers after driving off 3 times and returning each time within 2-3 minutes, finally declared the area a closed military area, and off limits to Israelis; they demanded that we Israelis come on the other side of the fence--the Israeli side! Israeli, indeed. This is in the West Bank; the paved road (the 'security' road) half a year ago was filled with olive-tree orchards that belonged to Mas'han residents; they still have some trees and agricultural property on the other side. But apparently not for long. The settlements are greedy for their lands. We of course did not obey and go to the other side of the fence. Instead we just walked off and away from the fence. I don't know what worried the soldiers. We were obviously unarmed, obviously not saboteurs, obviously not intending to damage their precious fence. But we had Palestinian friends. That apparently was our crime.
Later in the morning, I learned that the Hani Amer home had been attacked with stones by residents of the neighboring settlement, Elkahna. Later, in the evening, Hani affirmed that Friday evening stones were thrown at his windows, that this happened again Saturday from 1:30 AM to about 3:00 AM, and that last night the stone throwing damaged his solar heater. He believes that it was done by youth 15-20 years old from Elkahna. Tomorrow I'll drive him to the Ariel police station to make a formal complaint. Need I relate, by the way, that 3 soldiers sit out in front of his house to make certain (apparently) that he and his young children and wife don't attack the settlement!!! Maybe that's why the soldiers did not interfere or otherwise do something to stop the attack on the Amer's house.
At about 11:00 AM, spouse and I left Mas'ha and returned the same way as we'd come to where we'd left the car. At the roadblock we met Palestinian friends and while talking to them munched on rolls fresh dipped in zatar which were sold at the roadblock for 1 sheckel a piece. A feast fit for the hungry, and in the still fresh morning air.
On the way home we stopped on the road above the tunnel to Az Zawyia. The check point below has been making life miserable for the local residents of 3 villages. We stood watching for about 15 minutes. Some 15 or so cars were lined up waiting on the northern side of the tunnel. Cars approached individually and were checked, as were the drivers and passengers. The process took between 2-5 minutes per car. Pedestrians also had to wait. But 2 young boys on bikes seemed to have been let through without being checked.
We returned home at about 1:00 PM and went to work in the garden spreading compost, since it's supposed to rain tomorrow. Then the phone started ringing. The Az Zawyia check point, which when we'd stood looking at it, seemed relatively quiet, now (we were told) had on each side of the tunnel some 50-70 pedestrians and 30 or 40 cars waiting, and the soldiers were letting nary a person through. Why? Good question. The tunnel connects Palestinian villages, not Israeli ones. No, we did not go to check things out. Someone else did. I stayed home and made phone calls. Eventually Knesseth member Roman Bronfman and his aide came to see for themselves. They managed to get things moving. But even so it took a long time to get all the pedestrians and cars on either side through the tunnel and on their way home, even though it was already dark, being after 6:00 PM.
I am once again asking you to protest. Palestinians in the area never know when they will be allowed through the checkpoint, when not. Please phone and write to numbers below.
So it goes. Another day in the Territories, and at home plenty of phone calls over various problems in the Territories. A full and sometimes depressing day, but I nevertheless return home to no checkpoints, no blockades, no walls, no fences. Palestinians have all those daily and more. Please protest; write letters and/or phone the following.
1.Prime Minister Ariel Sharon firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
The Office of the Prime Minister, Kiryat Ben-Gurion, Jerusalem, Israel; Office
2. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz firstname.lastname@example.org (am not sure this works)
Fax: +972 2 649 6545
3. US President George W. Bush email@example.com
3. "Secretary of State, Colin Powell" < firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Ha'aretz Monday, January 05, 2004
Breeding grounds for hatred
By Shlomo Lahat
Two weeks ago, together with my friend Brigadier General (res.) Yitzhak Elron, I visited 13 Israel Defense Forces checkpoints in Judea and Samaria, near the cities of Nablus, Tul Karm and Qalqilyah.
The visit was conducted at the initiative of B'Tselem, and I must point out that the two people from B'Tselem who accompanied us throughout the visit did not try to influence us in any way. We saw and we formed impressions. And the impressions were very harsh.
The Palestinians arrive at one checkpoint by car, and there they have to get out in order to cross over by foot to the next checkpoint on the road. The distances are not small, sometimes several kilometers.
At one checkpoint we met four mothers with eight blind children aged 4-5 who were walking to Nablus for medical treatment. It was a hair-raising sight to see the little blind children marching along led by the women.
Some of the drivers of trucks or taxis commit crimes such as the attempt to bypass a route or a path. They are punished by the commander of the checkpoint, some 18-year-old soldier, who decides for how long to delay the vehicle. The wait can continue from four to 24 hours, or more. It's up to the checkpoint commander.
We came across a convoy of 10 trucks driven by Israeli Arabs, who were bringing food to Nablus. A few kilometers before Nablus they were suddenly stopped, and told that entry into the city was forbidden. From the opposite direction came 10 trucks from Nablus in order to receive the food. They were stopped about 200 meters from the convoy coming from Israel. The local commander prohibited the transfer of the food. How long would the two convoys remain there - unknown.
One of the drivers told us that he had been waiting near the checkpoint for over 24 hours. The situation repeated itself with the taxi drivers. Suddenly, without any explanation, they were forbidden to continue on their way, and were not told when they would be allowed to do so. In addition, they were forbidden to park in the place where they had been stopped, and were instructed to leave, without any explanation.
At most of the checkpoints there are no Arabic-speaking soldiers. As we know, a substantial percentage of Palestinians don't speak Hebrew, and of course the lack of communication creates problems. The connection between our soldiers and the population is expressed mainly in the giving of orders. There is no personal and human relationship, the soldiers don't talk to them and of course don't smile.
We must change the treatment of the Palestinian population. We must invest as much as possible in briefing the soldiers. They also look sloppy, dressed in overalls without insignia and wearing shoes that haven't been polished for a long time.
At the same time, I had the impression that the soldiers have no protection in the area of the checkpoint. Although they wear flak jackets, they can be fired on without being able to defend themselves. The checkpoints are dominated by the surrounding hills, which are not held by IDF soldiers.
I have no doubt that our soldiers are wonderful young people and excellent fighters. However, I am convinced that we are doing them an injustice by placing them in a difficult and sometimes impossible situation. They are liable to be discharged from their military service with difficult emotional baggage that may affect their personality development in the future.
In summary: I am doubtful whether the checkpoints have in fact prevented the passage of a terrorist or of weapons. Every checkpoint can be bypassed. I have the impression that the only purpose of the checkpoints is to make things hard for the Palestinian population. I am convinced that the checkpoints constitute a breeding ground for hatred for Israel, and harm an innocent population in an inhumane manner.
During the course of our tour of the checkpoints, we also saw the separation fence. In principle, I am in favor of a fence within the boundaries of the Green Line. The present route, which cuts Palestinian villages in half, is causing an additional injustice to the population and is intensifying the hatred towards us.
All in all, for the sake of the Palestinians, but mainly for our own sake, the faster we end the occupation and leave the territories, the better for us. I am writing this because it is impossible to stand by and remain silent.
The writer was a major general in the IDF and a mayor of Tel Aviv.
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