As I said in the previous post, the agricultural gate near the village of Qaffin, gave us some problems that are unique to the occupation. The thousands of workers and land owners who have land, or work on the land, in the Seam Zone, cannot just walk up to the gate that leads to their land and cross over and get to work. In order to be allowed to cross, one needs a permit for that particular gate.
Gaining a permit can be extremely difficult , if not impossible, for many who need to go through the gates and into the Seam Zone. The bureaucracy that the Israeli government has created to handle the permit system is completely invisible to the Palestinian people. All in all there are some 110 different types of permits that Palestinians may, or may not need, at some time to live their lives in anything like a normal fashion.
When a Palestinian worker obtains a permit to cross over into Israel via one of the checkpoints that go into the Zionist state, he/she does not actually own that permit. Their employer does. As such, the employer can cancel the permit at any time they feel like, and the worker will suddenly find themselves not being allowed to pass through the checkpoint the next day with no explanation. This happens on a regular basis.
Many Palestinians, (over 300,000 of them) find themselves on the so called “blacklist”. A person can be on this list without the slightest idea why. Sometimes it can be because a relative has been arrested during a demonstration or was caught working illegally in Israel, even if that was many years ago. Sometimes it is simply stated that you have security issues and that is that. Many Palestinians hire lawyers to try to get themselves off the “blacklist” and end up spending large amounts of money for no result. A huge black market in forged permits also exists with people on both sides of the conflict acting illegally and making large profits in the process.
Permits to agricultural gates can be hard to obtain because they require proof of ownership of the land and this can be difficult due to the fact that this part of the world has been occupied by foreign powers many times in the past. Having exactly the right paperwork to prove ownership of the land can be very difficult and can, as we shall see later, cause enormous problems when people want to build houses or extensions to their house to accommodate a growing family unit on what is their own land.
Even if a person is able to get a valid permit for the right gate, the story is not over, as we discovered when we visited the Qaffin gate on the 14th of November. We had heard that a number of people were not being allowed to pass through this gate, with no good reason given, and we went to investigate to see if anything could be done.
When we got to the gate, we did in fact see a number of people not being allowed to pass due to the rather belligerent behavior of one particular female soldier who seemed to be in charge. This is part of the difficulty that Palestinians face at checkpoints and agricultural gates. Being allowed to pass, or not allowed to pass, can depend on the mood of the soldiers manning the gate. In this case, after asking one of the young soldiers, who spoke English, why the people had been sent back, he told me that it was because their clothes had been either too dirty or too clean. One person could not pass through because they had three packs of cigarettes on him and this was deemed enough of a reason to not allow the man through, depriving him of a day’s work and the money he would earn for his family. Another man was not allowed to pass through because he was wearing two pairs of pants! Believe me, it gets cold at these gates at 6:00am during a Palestinian winter, but this was no excuse according to this Israeli soldier.
Soliders at Qaffin Gate.
A heated argument started between the soldiers and the mayor of the village who came down to the gate to see what could be done. A few of the soldiers started raising their weapons in an aggressive manner, though I doubt whether they had any real intent to shoot. We made phone calls to various people in the Israeli civil administration to see if they could help and we took the details of the men and sent them to an Israeli organization called Machsom Watch (see Machsomwatch.org). This is a group of Israeli women who specialize in dealing with the huge Israeli bureaucracy that handles the permit system. They advocate and fight for the rights of Palestinian farmers and agricultural workers. A courageous group of women, some of whom are married to the very men who administer the permit system itself! Good people to have on your side if you ever need them.
A couple of days later the female soldier was removed from the gate, but within a week we found another soldier giving ordinary Palestinian workers a hard time. Apparently the security needs of Israel mean that every Palestinian is considered a terrorist. International Law demands that these agricultural workers be treated as protected persons but the only thing that the occupation protects is the real or imagined security needs of settlers and soldiers in the occupied territories. This, I have now witnessed with my own eyes.
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