Monday, June 25, 2018

Part 3: Exploring Israelís Apartheid Wall


By George Mandarin - July 12, 2012
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [the Wall] [Tulkarem] [IDF] [Bir Nabala] [Al-Taiba Checkpoint]

At the beginning of June, Dylan Collins and R.G. rented a car and spent several days meandering through occupied West Bank. Their mission was to follow the Apartheid Wall’s northern route, from Jerusalem up to Qalqiliya, through Tulkarem and into Jenin. Below is the third account of a three part series documenting their journey, written by Dylan.

Part 1: Exploring Israel’s Apartheid Wall

Part 2: Exploring Israel’s Apartheid Wall

After a surprising and rather unpleasant experience in Qalqilya (which can be read about in the previous segment here), my colleague R. Guendelman and I spent about an hour and a half cruising windy pitch-black roads, in and out of small pastoral villages, up towards the city of Tulkarem.

Arriving to the center of the city around midnight, we were lucky enough to be hosted by Stop the Wall’s Tulkarem district coordinator, Suheil. Despite our late arrival, within minutes we had managed to meet every member of Suheil’s family, including several cousins, aunts and uncles, and were given huge plates of food accompanied by generously poured glasses of Arak.

We spent the next several hours getting to know Suheil’s extended family, drinking, and nearly suffocating in Tulkarem’s sweltering midnight heat.

With about one hour of sleep under our belts, we were up at four AM and off to Al-Taiba checkpoint. On the outskirts of Tulkarem, the Israeli army’s Al-Taiba checkpoint serves as one of the main crossing points through which Palestinian laborers in the northern West Bank (Jenin, Tulkarem, and Qalandia) enter into Israel.


Al-Taiba Checkpoint

Suhail informed us that over 7,000 West Bank Palestinian laborers cross through Al-Taiba everyday in order to reach their jobs on the other side of the Green Line. Sundays see even more workers (approximately 10,000) pass through the checkpoint, with about 3,000 of them staying in Israel illegally until their work week finishes on Thursday night. The workers begin filtering into the maze like cages leading to the Al-Taiba checkpoint around 4 AM every morning. Propping themselves up on cardboard maps, sipping coffee, they drearily settle in to wait out the three hours left until the checkpoint opens at 7 AM.

Some of the more lax workers choose to casually gather around the growing cluster within the cages, observing and commentating on what seems to be something similar to a spectator sport as those in the cramped cages jockey for a better position in line.

Crossing through Al-Taiba usually adds on another five to six hours of travel time to each worker’s eight-hour-plus workday.

I was curious as to why so many West Bank laborers choose to endure such a prolonged and tedious daily journey instead of finding work locally. When asked, almost every one of the workers responded alike: Palestinian workers generally receive at least twice their normal salary when working the same job inside the Green Line.

With approximately 47.9% of West Bank families living under the poverty line (stats via UNDP 2009), the opportunity to receive double pay makes the decision of whether or not to work in Israel an easy one for almost anyone struggling to support a family, regardless of their political ideals.

As the minutes got closer to the seven o’clock opening of the checkpoint, the situation inside the cattle-herding-like series of cages became strained. People began surging forward, refusing to realize the fact that there was no place for them to push forward to. There was yelling, cursing, and several instances of fisticuffs.

I can’t come close to imaging what it must be like go through such an ordeal every day one goes to work. Dehumanizing comes only mildly close.

The checkpoint opened at seven and within half an hour the cages were deserted.

R. Guendelman and I, along with two young fellows from Tulkarem’s Stop the Wall office, grabbed a quick breakfast from the make shift souq (Arabic for market), created outside the checkpoint in order to cater to the morning needs of the 7,000 laborers that pass through the spot on a daily basis. We went off to our next destination.


Continuing Northward

Upon Suhail’s recommendation, we continued north towards Jenin. Our destination was a small village that lies on the other (Israeli) side of the Wall called Barta’a a-Sharqiya.

Barta’a a-Sharqiya, along with six other Palestinian villages, is trapped in an enclave completely cut off from the neighboring West Bank city of Jenin. These seven Palestinian villages are sandwiched together, along with four Israeli settlements, in between the Wall and the Green Line – once again, another example of the over 350,000 Palestinians living within the Israeli authority created no man’s land (please see Part 2 for explanation of the Seem Zone).

Any movement to or from this small enclave is completely controlled by the Israeli army and the only Palestinian citizens allowed entrance are those with proof of residency therein.

The Wall has effectively annexed the Palestinian villages, along with the four neighboring Israeli settlements, into the state Israel. While the Jewish settlers enjoy full rights as Israeli citizens, the Palestinian villagers (who hold West Bank IDs) are essentially left stateless with no higher authority to bargain on their behalf. The enclave falls under the Area C demarcation of the 1995 Oslo Accords – designating it under full Israeli military and civil control. The Palestinian Authority has no jurisdiction in Area C despite that fact that it comprises over 60% of the West Bank.

Upon attempting to enter the enclave, R. Guendelman and I were stopped at a private Israeli checkpoint controlling entrance to the area. “Why are you coming from the West Bank? What were you doing there?” asked one soldier.

We replied that we had rented a car and had been touring through the country. The well-armed guard asked for our passports and let us sit there and collect our thoughts for about thirty minutes. Finally, we were directed to pull our car off into a separate area to have it thoroughly searched. Seeing as we had a car full of cameras, tripods and laptops, R. Gundelman and I politely declined, optioning to loop around the circle and head back towards the West Bank. We didn’t want to risk loosing any of the footage we had collected.

Both of us had felt a bit on tiptoe since our run-in in Qalqilya, so we decided to play it safe. So, it was off to our next destination—the city of Jenin. We took what looked on the map to be the most direct road to Jenin but within minutes we ran into yet another checkpoint, this time manned by the Israeli army on Palestinian roads.

In addition to the 99 permanently fixed checkpoints situated well within the West Bank manned by the Israeli army (a figure estimated in 2010 by OCHA, and one that has undoubtedly risen since), depending on the day and time, there is also a constantly fluctuating number of surprise 'flying checkpoints.’

Hey man,” I said, in my best hippy imitation, “we are all people. We’re not all that different from each other.”

From April 2009 through March 2010, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) counted a monthly average of 310 flying checkpoints within the West Bank. The Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, asserts that this number has grown appreciably as of late.

“Do you know where you are going,” asked the first soldier to approach the car. “Yes,” I said, “we are going to visit Jenin.” The soldier did a double take. “You know that this is a Palestinian area, right?!” he asked. “This is a very very dangerous area – there are a lot of terrorists around here.”

I looked him in the eye and smiled at him, attempting to appeal to the human inside him, hoping that it wasn’t buried beneath too much Israeli army brainwashing. “I’m not so sure about that. I’ve been to Jenin many times. It’s actually quite a beautiful place. Don’t worry – we are not afraid. We live here in the West Bank,” I said.

Another soldier who had been standing by listening into our conversation chimed in, “No – you don’t understand. They are all terrorists! You will get shot if you go this way.”

“Hey man,” I said, in my best hippy imitation, “we are all people. We’re not all that different from each other.”

“They are not people,” soldier number two responded, “They are dogs…. They are worse than dogs…”

I bit my tongue to prevent what would have been an unsavory response.

After further coaxing on our part, the lieutenant in charge called his supervisor in Tel Aviv. A phone was handed to me through the car window. A man with a very posh British accent was on the other end, reaffirming the lieutenant’s orders that we were not to be allowed to enter the Jenin area. When I asked why the man replied, “I’m not really sure. You’re just not. Sorry, but you’ll have to turn around.”

They are not people,” soldier number two responded, “They are dogs…. They are worse than dogs…”

With our plans halted for the second time in less than an hour, we turned south back to Ramallah. We had one more visit to make: Bir Nabala.


Bir Nabala

Only nine kilometers northwest of Jerusalem, Bir Nabala was once one of the major commercial centers linking northern West Bank cities such as Jenin and Tulkarem to the hub of Jerusalem. Before the creation of the Wall, Bir Nabala’s estimated 600 businesses and six tire factories allowed the area’s residents to thrive. This is no longer the case.

The Bir Nabala of today is almost unrecognizable. The once thriving city now bears more resemblance to a ghetto. 181 kilometers of eight-meter high concrete slabs now completely surround the Bir Nabala and several other neighboring Palestinian villages, completely separating them from Jerusalem. Residents who once had Jerusalem blue IDs have been effectively annexed into the West Bank with their access to Jerusalem revoked and their Jerusalem IDs discontinued.

Most houses seem to be empty, as many of Bir Nabala’s residents have been forced to leave the village to do lack of economic opportunity. As of 2007, less than 180 of what was once 600 stores were open for business—a number which is certainly even smaller now.

The Wall is Still Under Construction

Israel is still building the Wall. Al-Haq estimates that as of April 2012, approximately 61.8% (438 kilometers) had been completed. It is not expected to be finished until 2020.

This means that the Wall’s construction and its ever changing and increasingly invasive path will continue to affect more and more Palestinian communities, especially those in proximity to the Green Line.

An additional 8.2% (58 Kilometers) of the Wall is currently under construction and a further 30% (213 kilometers) of its route planned.

More importantly, the Wall’s continued planning and construction comes in direct contradiction to the International Court of Justice’s July 2004 ruling, which declared Israel’s Wall in the occupied Palestinian territories to be “contrary to international law,” obliging Israel to immediately halt all construction and dismantle the sections that had already been built. Obviously, Israel has done quite the opposite with impunity.

“For ten years,” says a recent short produced by Al-Haq, “Israeli authorities have been illegally constructing the Annexation Wall on Palestinian land, cutting through Palestinian villages, lands and communities, placing severe restrictions on freedom of movement, access to health and education, trade, and livelihood. Built under the guise of security, the Wall can be seen as a direct mechanism used by Israeli Authorities to annex territory, expand settlements and fragment Palestinian communities.”

 




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