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 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.

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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.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

On the morning of Friday 31st October, my EAPPI team mate Emmi, from Finland, and I travelled north of our home base in Jayyus with our driver and mentor, Abed, to monitor an agricultural gate near the small village of Zeita.

We got there at 7:00am,the rain was pouring down. We decided to stay in the car for a while, hoping that the rain might ease up. We looked down towards the gate and saw two women sitting in the pouring rain, one with a dirty plastic sheet pulled over her and the other just sitting in the rain getting saturated. The gate is meant to open at 7:00am to let these women get into the Seam Zone to pick olives or other vegetables from the many greenhouses just a few hundred metres from the gate.

But the gate wasn’t going to open at 7:00am today, nor had it done so for many months. For some reason the soldiers didn’t feel that this gate was a high priority and they had been turning up pretty much anytime they felt like from 7:00am to 8:30am. Anyone wanting to get through the gate just had to make sure they got there early just in case the soldiers actually came on time, opening and closing the gate before you got there. On this occasion it meant sitting in the rain while you got wet to your underwear. No shelter is provided and the women sit on old discarded plastic buckets and bottles to stop themselves from sitting directly in the mud.

Women at Zeita Gate (3) C.Nielsen 01.11.2014

A small group of Palestinian women waiting to get into the Seam Zone to do a days work.

Life is hard for these women and though their smiles to us and each other shone brightly, many of them looked much older than they probably were. My Arabic is very poor but my team mate Emmi can communicate reasonably well with most people here. We tried to speak to one lady who asked our names and where we were from.

I wanted to know if she had any children so I put my hand out parallel to the ground but at a very short height hoping that she would understand that I was referring to her children. As soon as I did this she started crying. Emmi was able to find out that this woman was married with one child but her husband had died a few years ago, leaving her to live with her 27 year old son. Our driver, Abed, was also able to discover that her son had gone to a demonstration in the refugee camp in the nearby town of Tulkarm, and had been shot dead by the Israeli military and now the woman lives alone. She wakes up in the night afraid and on her own and now only darkness seems to fill her life.

As Abed told us this, tears started to well up in Emmi’s eyes and when the woman saw this she immediately reached into her pocket and handed a chocolate bar to Emmi saying “ Al Ham du Lilah!”, “Al Ham du Lilah!” meaning “Thanks be to God! Thanks be to God!” in order to comfort her.

Before we knew it we were being served tea, coffee and chocolate by all the women who had gradually gathered to get through the gate. One of them said she liked my fishing hat that I wear all the time. It is a dark blue, broad brimmed hat with a logo showing Fowlers Bay Eco Park – my all-time favourite fishing spot back home! It was so funny that they liked it that I gave it to them and pretty soon everyone was cracking up with laughter as they passed it around trying it on!

And this is the picture I keep getting here in the West Bank. People being forced to live under sorrow and oppression but never failing to be hospitable and share in the funny side of life.

Eventually the soldiers arrived and opened the gate. About 15 women and a few young boys passed through in order to do a day’s work. Working in the Seam Zone is problematic at the best of times. Suhad Hashem, from the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), told us that getting medical help if you are in the Seam Zone is very difficult because ambulances are not allowed into the Seam Zone unless they go through the long process of the checkpoints. If you are in an emergency, then the ambulance must stop at the checkpoint and the person must be brought to the checkpoint from the other side where they have been injured, then go through the checkpoint and be loaded on to the ambulance and taken to hospital. A person injured or sick in the Seam Zone cannot be treated in Israel where better medical facilities are common.

There are stories of people dying in emergencies because they can’t get through the checkpoints quickly enough but a far greater problem is that people miss appointments and don’t get the medication they need in time to prevent their conditions getting worse, ultimately even leading to them dying prematurely of preventable causes.

If the state of Israel respected International Law, then these women would be better looked after, but as it is, vulnerable people like them are at the mercy of a system that is indifferent to their plight, just the opposite of what a nation that says it cares about human rights would be doing without having to have International monitors visit them to protect the people who need it most.

Life in the Seam Zone is tough, but that is just one part of the story of the Occupation.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.