Jayyous, Occupied West Bank
On December 6, Palestinian farmers returning from their fields at 4:30 p.m. found no Israeli soldiers present at the â€œsecurity gateâ€ to allow them back to their homes. Because the so-called security wall (more accurately, called the annexation wall) has divided the residents of Jayyous from their fields, they must pass through, what the Israeli military has named, â€œgate 25â€. The farmers waited, patiently, as hour after hour passed. They called the â€œemergency numberâ€ listed on the sign to be called â€œif the gate is not opened during the specified times listedâ€. The person who picked up the phone took the message but couldnâ€™t promise anything. Around 8:00 pm the soldiers arrived, in a bad mood, and ordered the people to quickly pass through the gates. They said things like, â€œThe gate is open – now RUN!â€ â€œHurry up or we will close the gate!â€ while physically pushing people through, and â€œMove, Move, MOVE!â€ Of course, no apology was forthcoming from the soldiers who left some 100 people, including children, left to ponder whether they were going to have to find someplace to sleep on the fields. The farmers told me that they were really frightened of being left out in their fields all night in the cold. Such is the daily anxiety of passing through such â€œsecurity gatesâ€.
Last year the village of Jayyous invited ISM volunteers to monitor and document reports of violence at the newly installed â€œgate 25â€ along the â€œsecurity/annexation wallâ€. It was discovered that ordinary farmers previously had been and continued to be beaten, intimidated, and even â€œarrestedâ€ by Israeli civilians. These were civilians who merely worked as security guards for the construction company. While employed to guard equipment and supplies for the building of the wall, these civilians acted as if they were military guarding against a hostile enemy.
Two gates, numbered 25 and 26, were installed for the 3,500 residents of Jayyous to use to pass through the fence (the majority of whom could only use number 25). The goal of the gates was to funnel and monitor the farmers as they came and went to their fields. The guards not only forced Palestinian farmers to show them their identification cards, but actually “arrested” people by locking them in a storage facility. What was amazing to me was the fact that these people were not even police or military, but ordinary civilians who were performing civilian jobs for a private company.
Now, one year later, even though the security company has left, little has changed in the village. The wall has been completed and the gates are no longer patrolled by civilian security forces, but by both the Israeli military and the Israeli border police. Over the past few days, I have witnessed and documented numerous cases of violence against Palestinians at these very same gates. The â€œnon-civilianâ€ representatives of Israel committed this time the violence. It is the same violence by Israelis, but with different professions performing it.
Originally the gates were to be permanently open to allow free access to the fields. The military court governing Palestinians agreed with the villagers that the land on the other side of the wall must remain theirs, even with a fence separating them from their land. A few months later, however, the gates were permanently locked, to be opened only three times a day under heavy military supervision. Now, these Palestinians also need an Israeli work permit to work their fields – nearly impossible to get unless one is over fifty or under fifteen years of age or the primary owner of land. The gates are only open between 6 am to 7:30 am; 12:30 to 1:30 pm; and 4:30 to 6:00 pm. That is what the sign says and which people – in planning their day – assume to be the case. Farmers are suffering major setbacks this year because so few people from the village received permits that would allow them to work their lands. The man I was working with just today has adult sons who would normally help him harvest, but because they couldnâ€™t get permits, it was left to he and his wife – both in their sixties – to do all the work. While he had passed through the gate around 6:15 am, I approached it at 6:40 and found the soldiers locking the gate. The sign on the gate says that it is open until 7:30, so I wondered why should they be locking it and getting into their jeep. I called to them, but they just stared back and drove away without responding.
Other farmers began to arrive. They said that sometimes the soldiers left and came back later. Within about 15 minutes, some dozen or so donkey-pulled carts, tractors, and trucks began lining up. Some would stay in their vehicles, while others sat outside in a â€œwaiting areaâ€ that the military built. The waiting area was a strange gateway looking object made out of concrete benches and a tin roof. It is gives the appearance that Israeli soldiers are concerned about the well being of people who have to sit and wait for them to open the gates. People sat quietly and waited patiently for the soldiers to return. Palestinians rarely show anger or disgust in front of the soldiers or police, for they are well aware that it could lead to harsh punishment – such as refusal to allow them to pass (even if they have the proper papers), beatings, and even imprisonment. A few of them came over and sat next to me and said, â€œDo you see what they do?â€ and â€œWhat can we do? This is our lifeâ€. Around 7:30 a Palestinian man approached me and introduced himself. He had been a teacher in the village for over 40 years, but is now retired. Over the years, he took all his savings and purchased land (over $100,000 was spent) for his family. All of these lands are on the new â€œIsraelâ€ side of the wall. With the new settlement currently being built there, he has no idea how he or his children will survive.
At 7:40 a.m., an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) pulled up to the gate, followed by the Border police. Not only was the gate being opened up again after an hour had passed, but according to the sign, it shouldnâ€™t even be opened at this time. The farmers got into their vehicles and slowly approached the soldiers one by one. The police had an armored vehicle in which one stayed in the driverâ€™s seat, one questioned the Palestinians, and one sat on top of the roof with his automatic weapon aimed toward the people, including children. They had to get out of their vehicles, show their proper papers, have their cars and personal belongings searched, and then allowed through. The police questioned some people harder than others, and there was an incident where the officer grabbed a Palestinian man by the collar and put his face within inches of it. I couldnâ€™t see clearly from where I was standing but it appeared to be to intimidate the man. A moment later he pushed the man back a bit.
I wasnâ€™t sure whether I would have luck getting through the gate since a group of internationals were prevented from doing so yesterday. I did really want to get through as I had promised a friend in need to help him today. As I approached the police they looked searchingly at me and said, in an obnoxious tone, â€œWhat do you wantâ€? I motioned that I was going to go to the fields and he responded, â€œGo awayâ€ and flicked his hand to reinforce his comment. I repeated that it was my intention to go into the fields and he said, â€œThis area is closedâ€. I repeated that I would be going to the fields today and he grudgingly took my passport and made some phone calls. About 20 minutes later I was given permission to pass.
On the way back from the fields the soldiers also interrogated the farmers, searched their belongings, and demanded identification papers. The soldier asked me â€œWhy are you going to this Palestinian village, donâ€™t you know that they are all terroristsâ€? When I responded that I had friends there and have been here many times, he looked at me in disgust and said, â€œGet away from meâ€.
I also found out that certain men in there twenties are routinely detained for hours on end by the military. One man had been detained every day for 2 weeks for 3 hours a night. No explanation was ever given as to why he was being detained. This man often chooses to sleep in the fields at night to avoid the hassle of being detained. I asked a Palestinian farmer why he thought that the military acts this way and why would they need to search and interrogate people who are returning to a Palestinian village. He threw his hands up in the air and simply said: â€œIt is their way of reminding us who is in controlâ€.
Later in the evening, I was speaking to a farmer named Yosef. Yosef, a mild-mannered man in his mid-40s has three sons in there 20s who now refuse to pass through gate 25. The reasons that they donâ€™t want to go through the gate anymore has to do with many incidents, but one event stands out in his mind as being the reason. A few weeks ago, when he and his sons were returning from the fields with a truck-load full of citrus, the soldiers guarding the gate made them unload the entire truck. Over 100 large boxes of oranges were unloaded on the side of the road and then reloaded back onto the truck. It took over an hour to complete the task and when it was completed, the soldiers ordered them to do it again. The sons protested. The soldiers then, at gunpoint, put a noose around one of his sonâ€™s necks and tied the other end to a military Jeep. Another one of his sonâ€™s was repeatedly hit and pushed by another soldier. Yosef obliged the soldiers and unloaded and reloaded the truck once again. The humiliation that Yosef experienced in front of his sonâ€™s and at the hands of the teenage Israeli soldiers in unimaginable. Not surprisingly his sons want to avoid passing through the gate.
These events, when they happen to Palestinians, are evidently not â€œnews worthyâ€ to most media outlets. While beatings as mentioned above are not daily occurrences, the constant threat of violence is evident by the composure of the soldiers and police, not to mention their history. They illustrate the intimidation and humiliation that every Palestinian must endure silently, or face serious consequences if they do not. The soldiers and police simply despise the Palestinians collectively. It is not that some Palestinians are considered bad by the Israeli soldiers, but that they are all, as members of a specific ethnic group, despised.
As the situation in Palestine deteriorates every week with more land confiscation, more intimidation and violence, and thus more hopelessness, I have come to the conclusion that the famous saying that activists decry: â€œThe whole world is watchingâ€, is unfortunately untrue or irrelevant in preventing the numerous untold daily abuses of Palestinians.