July 5, 2007 Commuting to work

Dear friends and family,
This morning at about 9:30 am we received a call from our landlord that a young man from Kifl Haris (the village next to us to the east) was being detained and beaten at Zatara checkpoint, which is only about 15-20 minutes from where we live. Beth and I were out of the house in less than 3 minutes and luckily caught a service (shared taxi) right away. We arrived at the checkpoint before 10:00 am.

We had to go through the checkpoint before we got out of the service. While the soldier was checking IDs he looked up and saw me, smiled and yelled “Berkeley!” I had gone through the same checkpoint the previous day and this soldier had demanded that I get out of the service so he could question me.

“What are you doing here?”
(with a look of surprise) “Who are you visiting?”
“A former student who lives in Ramallah.” (Which was true. I was on my way to see Amjad who had first been my student in 1998 when he was 19 years old. I went to his wedding when I was here in 2005. Now he has a baby.)
“Don’t you have any Jewish friends?”
“Yes, and Arab friends.”
“Where are you from?”
“Berkeley! You know what I don’t like about Berkeley? They hate Israel!”
“25% of the population of Berkeley is Jewish. I am Jewish.” (Notice I didn’t really respond to his statement.)
“You are Jewish! That is very good. Be careful here.”

So anyway, we got out of the service after we went through the checkpoint but we didn’t see anything unusual and we couldn’t find anyone being detained. We called the Israeli Army Humanitarian Office to ask them to inquire about the incident but we didn’t really expect them to call us back, despite the fact that they promised to do so in just 5 minutes. So I had the bright idea to ask my soldier friend who didn’t like Berkeley for information. We walked over to the booth and I said to him, “Soldier who doesn’t like where I come from, I want to ask you a question.” I asked him where the man that was detained just a short while ago was taken. He started off denying that there had been any man that was detained or any problem at all. Beth and I continued to ask questions and finally he admitted that there was a man who had gotten very upset earlier when he was not allowed through the checkpoint. His partner joined in the conversation at some point to correct something that my soldier had said. It soon became clear to us that the incident not only had happened but we were actually talking to the two soldiers who had been involved. They claimed that although a gun was never pointed at the man, he grabbed the barrel. They admitted that the man was hit but just to teach him that it was absolutely forbidden to touch a soldier’s gun. Then they said that they gave him some chocolate milk and he went home.

During the conversation my soldier explained to me that the Israeli army is the most humane in the world. It also came out that he is a paratrooper and that they are planning to “go into” (invade) Jenin next week. I can’t believe that he would actually divulge such information to us, but chances are more that 50 – 50 that they will invade somewhere next week and Jenin is definitely a likely candidate. (By the way Nablus was reinvaded two days ago but ISM had enough support so they didn’t call us to come up again.)

On our way home from Zatara we called the Kifl Haris municipality and found out the name and phone number of the man who was “hit”. We called him and arranged to take his statement. We arrived at his house at about 11:30 am. Of course we were seated with half a dozen of his family and friends and served in sequence, juice, coffee, cookies and tea.

It turns out that the man, Osama, is a Civil Engineer and he told us that he had been travelling that morning on a bus to Salfit to go to work. Soldiers stopped the bus at Zatara checkpoint and everyone was ordered off. IDs were collected and most passengers were eventually allowed back onto the bus. However Osama was told that he could not proceed on the bus and must turn back. He told us that he tried to explain to the soldiers that he travels to Salfit daily for his job and insisted that they must be making a mistake in denying him passage. He told us that one soldier poked the barrel of his gun into his belly, which he pushed away. Again the soldier pressed the barrel into his belly, and once again he moved it aside. Then the soldier started to punch and hit him while a second soldier hit him from behind on his head. Osama said that the first soldier told him to kneel, and when he refused the soldier began to kick him. Blood started to run down his head and they stopped beating him. Then they gave him water to wash the wound and also to drink. When we asked if they gave him chocolate milk he said yes. (This must be the humanitarian part.) Then he said that they told him to go home, which he did.

Osama didn’t understand why he had been turned back because he had never had a problem with the army before and does not know why he was not allowed through the checkpoint when other men from his village were. He showed us wounds on his left arm, right shin, the back of his neck and the top of his head. He also showed a shirt which was covered in blood.

Then he invited us to lunch. Of course it was delicious. It was a traditional Palestinian dish called Moqlubah (means upside down) made of rice, chick peas, silvered almonds and spices that I couldn’t even begin to guess what they were. There was also delicious roasted chicken with potatoes and carrots. And yoghurt and soup. Then another round of coffee. We finally were able to leave at about 2:30 pm. We promised Osama that a womyn from IWPS would accompany him to work on Saturday. (Friday is the Muslim Sabbath and so no one works that day.) Hopefully, nothing will happen and he will be able to go to work without a problem. Inshallah.


1 comment:

Katrina said...

Wow. Somehow the combination of brutality on one hand and hospitality on the other leaves me breathless. Love you.