machsom - David Bachar - February 15 2011
Lourenco in her Jaffa home. “The soldiers treated everyone as if they were terrorists. In effect, they reflect the Israeli view of the Palestinians.” Photo by David Bachar
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Susan Lourenco has volunteered for the Machsom Watch organization for seven years, so she is familiar with virtually every Israeli army checkpoint in the West Bank. She is extremely well-acquainted with the Hawara crossing near Nablus - one of the symbols of the occupation and its control over the Palestinian civilian population - having spent many long hours there together with other women active in the organization.

Last Friday, Haaretz reported that the army would withdraw its forces from Hawara and dismantle the checkpoint. At Machsom Watch, the report was received with satisfaction. But group also warned that there is nothing dramatic about this step, as it will ultimately not reduce Israel's control over the civilian population in the West Bank. In the final analysis, Machsom Watch's aim is not to remove a few scattered checkpoints, but to end the occupation.

Let's begin on a personal note. At 75, you're still active in the organization?

"Yes, I'm still active and I still go to checkpoints, both those in the central [West Bank], like Hawara, and in the northern West Bank, in the area of Jenin, and sometimes also in the south, near Mount Hebron. You know, I'm not alone; there are many other volunteer activists who, like me, station themselves at checkpoints practically every day."

Would you say the Hawara checkpoint was one of the worst in the West Bank?

"Yes, it was a very bad checkpoint, where many Palestinians suffered. We stood there and saw how everyone was treated, men and women alike. The wait lasted for hours upon hours, in the rains of winter and in the terrible heat of summer.

"You saw men, women and children standing there waiting for body searches, and car searches carried out in a humiliating fashion, by putting dogs inside them. We've seen [the humiliation] in peoples' eyes. Putting dogs in the cars is insulting."

Can you recall a specific incident?

"Yes. In one case a very sick woman arrived at the checkpoint with her husband and waited a very long time. They did not allow the husband to enter Israel with his sick wife. It was horrible to see. I'm not saying such terrible things happen every day."

How did the soldiers behave toward the Palestinians?

"The soldiers treated everyone as if they were terrorists. In effect, they reflect the Israeli view of the Palestinians. Everyone is suspected of being involved in terror. This is expressed in the way people are treated: Everyone is a suspect, so this is how they act.

"I am not saying the soldiers are responsible for everything that happens. In the end, we are talking about an occupation, and the checkpoint is one of its symbols. It should be noted that there were always settlers standing near the soldiers who cursed and humiliated the Palestinians."

Did the soldiers collaborate with the settlers?

"I am not saying the soldiers collaborated with the settlers, but [settlers] always stood there and were not prevented from picking on the Palestinians and humiliating them. It had nothing to do with whether [the Palestinians] were suspected of anything or not. They humiliated everyone."

How did the soldiers react to your presence?

"They didn't always like us being there - as if we disturbed them in carrying out their work and the process of the security checks. From their point of view, they are doing their job, carrying out orders to maintain Israeli security, and they see everything from a security standpoint."

So the removal of the Hawara checkpoint will make things easier for the Palestinian population and allow freedom of movement between Nablus and Ramallah?

"That's true, but it isn't enough. It is impossible to say that removing checkpoints is a solution to the Palestinian problem in the West Bank. In other places where checkpoints have been removed, it,has not changed the overall picture significantly.

"The Palestinians' problem now is not only the checkpoints. There are other things, such as the refusal to grant permits to move from place to place, or to enter Jerusalem or leave the West Bank. Everything requires an Israeli permit, and sometimes this takes a lot of time.

"This is a very painful matter, but it isn't sexy and doesn't make for photo ops like the checkpoints do, so people hardly talk about it. There are many people who cannot leave the West Bank because of some security prohibition or another. In the end, the checkpoint is just another symbol of the occupation. Removing them does not remove the occupation."

Do you think Machsom Watch is responsible for the removal of the Hawara checkpoint?

"I don't know whether the army is influenced by our activities. What is certain is that the army knows we are active on the ground and will see to it that what happens is made public. But most of our activity is not against the army. We work to explain to the Israeli public what happens at the checkpoints, which are one of the symbols of the occupation, and that the checkpoints are not meant to protect Israeli citizens, but rather the settlers, so that they can continue to control the land."

Do you see the removal of the checkpoint as your victory?

"If so, only partly. The occupation remains the same occupation both before and after the Hawara checkpoint, so it is impossible to call it a victory."

Do you think the decision to remove it marks a coming change in policy?

"Not at all. As we read it, this is a kind of situation assessment by the army and makes no significant statement about the future. Tomorrow or in two weeks, they can bring the checkpoint back to Hawara or to someplace else, and the occupation still exists."

Will you continue to demonstrate a presence at other checkpoints?

"Definitely. We will continue our activities at the checkpoints, with an emphasis on the ones at the entrances to Jerusalem and in the vicinity of Qalqilyah, Jenin and Tul Karm. But as I said, our main goal is to remove the occupation, not just the checkpoints."