It's noon on Thursday and Khaled, a lawyer, noticed immediately: The older soldier checking IDs at the Za'atra checkpoing - south of Nablus - is being nice to people. The soldier looked inside the car, saw the three children, smiled and gave them candy.
Khaled's first impulse was to refuse the sweets. Later he decided to give the soldier a break and not explain that the candy and the politeness do not alter the reality: this checkpoint, at the foothill of the sprawling settlement of Tapuah, is part of the whole complex of fences along roads, obstacles in side roads and dislocation of villages from their land and often isolating Palestinians living in the northern West Bank from the south.
The checkpoints in the West Bank are the focus of attention in Israel, especially when the army or the defense minister promises to lift a few. Indeed, compared to 2002 and 2004, the number of checkpoints has shrunk, but only after Israel achieved its objective: enforcing a separate system of transportation - the best quality roads for the Jews and the settlements, and the worst kind for the Palestinians.
As construction of the separate road network, the separation fence and the checkpoints (the large land bandits) is nearing completion, it is possible to lift a few checkpoints. It is not the amount that counts but Israel's success in shrinking the number of exits from every Palestinian district and redirecting Palestinian traffic to the few roads linking each enclave.
Guaranteed "free" movement is diverted away from the Jewish territorial contiguity created in the occupied West Bank over the past 17 years.
Saturday, three in the afternoon. Several hundred people are crowding at the Hawara checkpoint on their way out of Nablus. The rate of crossing is one person every three minutes. Estimated waiting time is at least two hours.
People are standing in the heat, most of them quiet but angry. Some whisper a prayer, others sigh. As always it seems that when the pressure is on, the soldiers move even slower.
The endless talk about "lifting checkpoints" makes redundant for most media and their consumers the debate over the role of the checkpoints. The stubborn work of Machsom Watch is sometimes effective, and occasionally one especially brutal confrontation with an Israel Defense Forces soldier is covered in the daily newspapers. But the routine of the checkpoints, which robs from the Palestinians hundreds of thousand of hours of life and energy every day, completely evades the Israeli media. This loss of time is a much more effective weapon than any artillery shell in draining the Palestinian people, until they agree to a solution of an enclave-state.
Saturday night, the Hawara checkpoint is closed. Nablus is under quarantine until the morning. But one car leaves Nablus for Ramallah, carrying senior Palestinian Authority officials, after they coordinated this with the IDF. The VIP passengers in the vehicle are returning from a special dinner. Leaving Nablus at night is a luxury that ordinary people do without. The leaders, who represent a ruling class that is party to the negotiations for an enclave-state, are happy to receive the candy that Israel distributes to them and still do not comprehend why their people despise them.
It is Saturday morning at the Beit El checkpoint for VIPs (PA senior officials, employees of international organizations, Israeli and foreign journalists). The young soldier chastises an Israeli journalist: "It is really unfortunate, the things that a Jewish woman does on the Sabbath in Ramallah, on the other side."
His cheek and paternalistic tone draw a response: "It is unfortunate that a young person like you is standing here, defending the occupation."
As expected the soldier is not convinced: "I am not defending the occupation. I am defending Beit El."
"Precisely, you are defending the excessive privileges of Jews."
"No," he responds, "My father fought in the war of independence. Serving here, I carry on what he started."
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