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Up until October 9, the inhabitants of the village of Jabara thought that their main challenge now was the locked gate in the separation fence. The separation fence - two barbed wire fences and between them ditches, trackers' paths, an asphalt road and another electronic fence - passes to the east of their village and their lands and cuts them off from the very nearby villages to the south of Tul Karm.

The 88 children of the village, who attend schools on the other side of the fence, in Al Ras and Kfar Tsur, are supposed to pass through the fence's yellow gate. Nearly every one of the adults among the 300 inhabitants of this village, whose lands are adjacent to Taibeh and which is separated by a military roadblock from the path to Tul Karm, said during the past two weeks that the most important thing is that the children attend school as usual. According to military sources, the army is no less a partner to this interest than the parents. "The Israel Defense Forces are aware of the importance of the continuous activity of the Palestinian schools," according to the IDF spokesman's office.

On September 1, when the school year began and the gate was locked, the children held a demonstration. They all banded together and shook the gate and the fence on which there are various kinds of sensors, both visible and hidden. Every shake sends a warning straight to the vehicle on military patrol. Cameras positioned on high pillars along the fence broadcast live pictures to fence command posts. The inhabitants of the village firmly believe that it was the protest that forced the army to come to an arrangement with them, through the Israeli and Palestinian liaison mechanisms.

To the best of their knowledge, the arrangement is that the gate will be opened twice a day, in the morning and in the afternoon, for the students: not for farmers, not for the passage of goods, not for people who need medical treatment. Only for students. Between 6:30 A.M. and 8 A.M. in the morning and between 12:30 P.M. and 2 P.M. in the afternoon. Also on days when there is closure and encirclement. Also on Sabbaths and Jewish holidays.

Despite the agreements, sometimes the soldiers on patrol did not open the gate on time, and the children had to wait for an hour or more. Apart from the late arrival at school or back home, all the damage amounts to sunburn for most of the children. But what will happen in the rain? Won't the children get sick waiting in the rain, ask the worried parents. And how will the children manage in winter on the dirt road that will no doubt become a muddy morass, before they get past the blockades of boulders on the path and somehow get to the bus that will be waiting for them? The parents are still hoping that the army will let the bus go through the yellow gate to pick up the children in the rain.

Different versions

On Rosh Hashanah the gate was not opened and the Palestinians celebrated the Jewish New Year at home. Two weeks ago, the gate was not opened for five days, between October 4 and October 8. The closing of the gate for such a prolonged period was the talk of the day in the village. On the afternoon of October 4, the terror attack at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa took place, but according to inhabitants, that morning before the attack occurred, the gate did not open. The following day before Yom Kippur the gate did not open. Nor did it open on Yom Kippur, or on the Tuesday after it. On Wednesday the soldiers informed the children that they could walk to their school (located 700 meters to one kilometer from their homes) - through the roadblock on the main road, and then over the dirt tracks to the villages. The detour increases the distance to school by at least four or five kilometers.

According to the first reaction by military sources, the gate should not have been closed at all during those days. In additional conversations since then with military sources, they did not confirm that the gate was not opened. According to the army's information, as it came to the Civil Administration from the soldiers on patrol, the gate was opened as usual on Saturday and on the eve of Yom Kippur, while on Yom Kippur it was not opened "because this is a special day," and immediately afterward it was opened.

These are not the only differences in the versions. According to military sources, the gate is opened three times a day, and it is the inhabitants of Jabara who do not know that the gate is also opened in the evening. The military sources did not note the exact times at which the gate is opened. According to them, inquiries showed that the children who complained that the gate was not opened were simply not there on time. The parents, in response, note that not all the children begin and end their school days at the same times. Therefore the agreement was that the gate would remain open for a period of time long enough for all of them to go through, but the soldiers are in a hurry to close it.

The IDF spokesman's office promises that in order to allow the Palestinian inhabitants an orderly way of life, the soldiers are instructed to allow the orderly passage of students and teachers. But several times last week, four teachers who teach in Tul Karm were not allowed through. They waited for several hours at the roadblock, and then headed home. Two weeks ago, they were also forced to sleep in Tul Karm for four days because they were not allowed to cross the road on which the roadblock is located. Military sources suggested that the soldiers at the roadblock had misinterpreted the instruction to check the teachers' documents carefully. According to them, in Qalqilyah, a large number of teachers with documents attesting to their profession was discovered. It turned out that English teachers did not know English and science teachers did not know who Darwin was. The conclusion - the people had forged documents in order to leave Qalqilyah, which is surrounded on all sides.

But in Jabara they see this explanation as a feeble excuse: Since June, 2003, the soldiers have had a complete list of all the inhabitants of the village, their jobs and their professions. According to this list, they were allowed to go to Tul Karm. The list was prepared by the Civil Administration, whose representatives, as they defined it, recorded the names of the owners of each house and the number, names and occupations of the people living in it.

There are also differences in the versions for why most of the hothouses in the village are in ruins and the chicken coops - the main source of income in the village - are empty. Military sources say that the Civil Administration provides permits for any agricultural activity. The inhabitants relate that for almost a year now they have had difficulty bringing in feed and workers and marketing agricultural produce. A military source said that last week a garbage truck came twice. In the village they say: "It never happened." For several weeks now the soldiers at the roadblock have not allowed the garbage truck and the truck that pumps out cesspools to enter the village. Moreover, since the terror attack in Haifa, boulders have blocked the dirt tracks that connect the village of Al Ras (from which the trucks come) to the main road.

The IDF spokesman's office says that "the subject of the fabric of life of the inhabitants of the villages adjacent to the fence is in stages of arrangement and organization. Cases such as the prevention of the passage of students usually arise from local errors that are immediately rectified ... Following the complaints that were received an effort has been made in recent days to draw conclusions and improve the issue of continuous passage of students and teachers."

A `security' reason

A military source said that in Jabara there are no "humanitarian problems" because the inhabitants have open access to the Israeli town of Taibeh, where they can buy food. The military authorities, said the source, keep their eyes open for elements prone to terrorist activity. In response, the inhabitants of Jabara have begun to count all the cases in which they have tried to go to Taibeh and have been stopped by soldiers, police or Border Police. To be detained is also to get beaten so that they will forget any intention in the future to go into Taibeh, they say.

A senior military source in the area explained that sometimes there are reasons that are hidden not only from the Palestinians but also from Israelis: For example, a "hot" warning is received on the exit of a terrorist from Nablus, on his way to Tul Karm. All the patrols are alerted to locate the terrorist, including the patrol that was supposed to have opened the gate. The gate, the fence, the roadblocks - all of them are "emergency measures," in a period of adjusting to a new situation. As the barrier is completed, the army is learning how to maintain the fabric of Palestinians' lives, while distinguishing "between terror and the civilian population."

And this is the route of the fence in the area of Tul Karm, which will allow the separation between terror and the civilian population: The roadblock that was originally positioned on the Green Line on the Taibeh-Tul Karm road, has been split into two roadblocks at meeting points with the separation fence. The one is at the southern entrance to Tul Karm. The other is to the east of the Green Line, on the road that leads to the Jewish settlements of Anav and Avnei Hefetz, right at the entrance to Jabara. Thus, in effect, the Green Line has been upgraded and moved eastward. Traffic, according to a military source, will flow around two traffic circles, the construction of which will be completed in April to May 2004.

Inhabitants of Jabara will be able to travel straight to Tul Karm. A system more sophisticated than the one on the Trans-Israel toll road will be in operation that will identify the vehicle and the driver. In the more distant future, although the military source cannot determine exactly when, there is an intention to dig two tunnels under the east-west roads that link Israel and the Jewish settlements in the territories. One tunnel will link Tul Karm and the villages to the south of it and the other will run from Qalqilyah to the village of Habla. Thus Palestinian traffic will flow without roadblocks, from Tul Karm to Qalqilyah.

But in the meantime, for the inhabitants of Jabara to be able to travel freely to Tul Karm, they have to get authorization that they are indeed inhabitants of the "seam line zone" - in accordance with the instructions issued by the Civil Administration in the village on October 9, instructions that invented a new status for those trapped between the fence and Israel: "permanent resident." The certificates, according to the Civil Administration, are ready. Thus the inhabitants of Jabara have discovered that they are facing a challenge even more difficult than the passage of the students. They are opposed to carrying Israeli certificates that will allow them transit within the West Bank, within their own territory. This, they say, is the position of the Palestinian Authority. And more than that: This is our position.

They expressed their concern that the certificates will be an opening for expulsion from their lands on various excuses: If someone goes to study in Nablus, for example, or sleeps during the entire week in the city where he works, he will be told that he is not "permanent." And indeed, last Thursday they found out that the Civil Administration had not issued movement and transit permits for six of the inhabitants of the village, among them the principal of a school in Tul Karm. This, they were told, was for "security reasons," because in the past they had served jail terms in Israel for activities against the occupation. So if they want to "preserve a normal fabric of life," they have to leave Jabara. The inhabitants of Jabara were also told last weekend that if within four days they do not take their certificates, they will not be allowed to leave their village at all (or return to it).