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Otherwise Occupied / Erased already


On my way home from Tel Aviv last Wednesday, at midnight, I turned right on Route 443, just where a yellow sign warns: "Israeli, beware, if you've arrived here you made a mistake."

I hadn't made a mistake. That's where I was headed, to the road that squeezes its way through villages and unpopulated mountain peaks and leads to Ramallah, and is classified as a "fabric of life" road – one of several thin threads linking the Palestinian enclaves, whose access roads to the main highways of the West Bank have been blocked. It was paved as compensation for Route 443, which, for the Palestinians, evaporated along with the corridor created from east of Modiin to Jerusalem, and the funnel created by the settlements of Givat Ze'ev and Givon.

The Israel Defense Forces made a mockery of the High Court of Justice order to open the highway to Palestinian vehicles, in response to a petition by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. My writing talents are inadequate to describe how the mockery is translated on the ground, and how, in IDF Newspeak, "to open" means "to block." This can be understood only if you travel on the highway.

On the border between Route 443 and the "fabric of life" road, there are spikes: A vehicle that tries to leave the "fabric" to get onto 443 will find the teeth stuck in its tires. But I was in the right direction, in which the tires press down on the spikes. I turned right and got confused: A car was blocking the entrance to the road, on the way to the village of Kharbatha al Masbah. The car was not only blocking, it was blocked itself too: From the belly of the earth, several shiny metal columns emerged; one of them was stuck under the car.

A group of young men were standing nearby, conducting a lively conversation accompanied by gestures. A young man who spoke fluent Hebrew wanted to know whether I was aware where I was headed, and told me that the others were his friends. An older man, who spoke fluent Arabic, wanted to know if I was aware where I was headed and told me that the Hebrew-speaking guy was a friend of theirs. And I asked what a car was doing in the middle of the road.

Before the friends had time to reply, a military all-terrain vehicle appeared, spewing out four soldiers – three of them with helmets, and one with a camouflage net on his head similar to the headdress of a nanny or a cook in British films.

What's going on, they asked; and the skinny young man with the fluent Hebrew jumped up and said: "Those guys there are fooling around, bro – the soldiers in the situation room [who see what is going on on the road by means of the cameras installed on the pillars, make contact by means of shouts over the loudspeakers, and block access to the 'fabric.']

"They just decided to fool around. I was in the Border Police, bro. I know it's not serious; I heard them laughing and cursing, bro, just because the people here are Arabs." (At this point, he looked at me and stopped. I failed to convince him that I'm old enough to hear the curses. )

"It couldn't be," the soldiers told him. "You have to understand that they're watching out for your safety; they saw suspicious movement and that's why they closed the entrance [they brought up the metal pillars from the belly of the earth]."

"Yeah, bro," continued the skinny Israeli citizen. "I was in the Border Police; I know when the soldiers are just fooling around; I come here every night."

Then came the stage when the soldiers ask to check papers, in order to ensure the security of Israel's citizens, and I noticed a large tow truck standing on the side of Route 443, with two cars sans license plates on it. I slowly began to realize what was going on: The young man sells the Palestinians old Israeli cars; Palestinian Authority law forbids the purchase of Israeli cars that are over three years old; but the villagers are in the twilight zone of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian law does not exactly apply to them. And in general, what villager has money to pay for a 2009 model car?

The cars are defined as "mashtubeh" – canceled, erased; a license that has expired, nonexistent insurance, a test that will never be carried out. The buyers drive only inside Area B. The Palestinian police are not allowed to be there, the Israeli police are not enthusiastic about maintaining the traffic and safety laws there.

"The car costs NIS 1,800," one of the young men there told me. "The Israelis sell us their garbage, and we buy."

And that was not a metaphor for the Oslo Accords. He himself has a garage. He takes apart the car and then sells its parts as spare parts. And that's how I understood how on the edges of the villages, the piles of half and quarter cars keep getting higher.

The Israeli comes every night with the tow truck, takes off one car at a time, and drives them in reverse in the direction of the "fabric of life" road. Although he was in the Border Police and kept saying "Yeah, bro," the soldiers didn't believe that their friends in the situation room had blocked the road for no reason.

What was I doing on the border of the "fabric" so late at night?

I was coming back from a Breaking the Silence (a non-government organization that collects testimonies from Israeli soldiers who have served in the occupied territories ) symposium that had been held at Left Bank Club in Tel Aviv and had discussed the question of "Why testimony?"

Yehuda Shaul, on of the founders of Breaking the Silence, said there that there was nothing to be done, the Israeli public believes the information provided by a soldier and not the information provided by a Palestinian. That is why it is necessary to work so hard to collect testimony from soldiers about the military's conduct. I put it like this: It's true that in the not-too-distant past, the terribleness of an occupation-event was seen as terrible only if it was dribbled into awareness by a uniformed Israeli.

But very soon, yeah bro, the testimony of soldiers that confirms the testimony and versions of the Palestinians underwent a process of devaluation or merging with Palestinian testimony, when it contradicted the official narrative. In the hierarchy of the Israeli information industry, it is already erased – "mashtubeh."  

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