At the Jenin checkpoint, Checkpoint 250, a few days ago. This is the barrier that blocks the entrance to the city. The place is deserted and derelict. Hardly anyone is allowed to leave or enter the "city of the suicide bombers." Nor is anyone trying to approach the checkpoint, which is made of spikes and concrete blocks. Next to it is a small army base in which soldiers man observation posts. The checkpoint itself is generally not manned - the soldiers come down from their positions only when a car pulls up.
At four in the afternoon, on the sandy road, in front of the first group of concrete cubes, far from the soldiers' position, stands an ambulance of the Red Crescent organization, the flashing of its red lights visible from afar. In the ambulance are two Palestinian paramedics and a woman volunteer from the United States. The ambulance was summoned from Jenin in order to take a woman in labor from the village of Jalma to the hospital in Jenin. It's a 10-minute trip in normal times. The ambulance driver says that the woman tried to become pregnant for six years. It's not difficult to imagine what she and her family are feeling as they wait for the ambulance.
We are behind the ambulance. Waiting. A quarter of an hour passes. No soldier approaches the vehicle. Another half-hour goes by. Still nothing. The ambulance driver, Mahmoud Karmi, does not lose his cool. He always waits here between an hour and two hours before the soldiers come over. So far, an hour and a quarter has passed since he arrived at the checkpoint.
Following a phone call to the office of the IDF Spokesperson and a further wait, two soldiers descend from their position. In a lordly manner, they gesture for the ambulance to approach. The driver says he is afraid the soldiers will get back at him because we phoned the IDF Spokesperson. A brief check by the soldiers and the ambulance is allowed to proceed. It's worth keeping in mind that this is the road between Jenin and Jalma, not a road to Israel (between Jenin and Israel there is another checkpoint, at Jalma). The soldiers, of course, did not know the destination of the waiting ambulance or who it was carrying - an injured child, a dying man, a woman in labor.
One of the soldiers afterward told us that this was the order they had been given: to delay ambulances. The endless complaints about ambulances being delayed are more than confirmed by an eyewitness account. A few days later, the IDF Spokesperson stated in response, "The ambulance was held up needlessly. The checkpoint commander was admonished by his superiors. The debriefing of the event and its conclusions were conveyed to all the commanding officers in the brigade so that the proper lessons can be learned."
Red Crescent drivers in Jenin related at week's end that the situation at this checkpoint was now in fact better. However, last Thursday, the same driver, Karmi, was delayed for about 20 minutes at another checkpoint, near the settlement of Shavei Shomron, and then told by the soldiers to turn around and go back; there were two patients in the ambulance, who were being taken from Rafidiyeh Hospital in Nablus to Jenin. Karmi had to make the trip to Jenin through Tul Karm via dirt roads.
In some cases, tanks chase off ambulances without the ambulance drivers managing to explain their mission to the soldiers. Delaying paramedics on the way to give first aid to people who have been hurt has also become a widespread phenomenon. In one recent case, about three weeks ago, journalist Imad Abu Zahra bled to death after being shot by soldiers in Jenin, who then kept firing, preventing his evacuation for about half an hour. Similar events are described in the United Nations report about the Jenin refugee camp that was released last week.
In a period of targeted liquidations and mass terrorist attacks, the delay of an ambulance seems an almost marginal phenomenon. The woman in labor from Jalma made it to the hospital in time, unlike other cases. Still, the story should not be ignored, precisely because of its almost banal appearance. Whether an explicit order was given to delay ambulances or not, this behavior is an ordinary phenomenon, not an exception, and it has nothing to do with security risks, as no one questions the need to check the ambulances.
This ugly and inhumane phenomenon of hazing and harassing ambulances stems from a deeper source: from the soldiers' basic attitude toward the Palestinian population. It's doubtful that the soldiers at the Jenin checkpoint delayed the ambulance because they were ordered to do so by their commanders. It's more likely that they thought this was the way Palestinian ambulances should be treated.
In the perception of the soldiers at the checkpoint, a Palestinian is not a person like them, he is part "human dust" and part potential enemy, so they have the right to do with him almost anything that strikes their fancy. It is likely that none of the soldiers tried to imagine a similar situation in which an ambulance carrying his mother or his father was being delayed. Nor, by the same token, did any of them consider how he would feel toward whoever was responsible for the delay.
We have regressed to dark days. If, after the Oslo Accords, the IDF started to become aware that the Palestinian population should be treated differently and did not consist entirely of "troublemakers," we have now returned to the old and bad conceptions - that a good Palestinian is one who is humiliated, harassed and ground into the dirt.
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