In Canada, we usually talk of roadblocks symbolically.  When we are trying to do something and for whatever reason it doesn’t happen, we refer to the problem as a roadblock.

Not so here in the West Bank.  A roadblock really is a roadblock.  It comes in different forms, but it actively and effectively blocks the road.

On Thursday, after going to Khirbet Shuweika where the olive grove destruction had occurred, we hurried away to get to the checkpoint at Beit Yatir.  Twice a week (and more often if time permits), we accompany school children through the Beit Yatir checkpoint.  These children attend a Palestinian school within easy walking distance of their home but live in what is called the “seam zone.” This is an area of Palestinian territory that exists between the “Green Line,” the Israel/Palestine border that was put in place in 1949 after the war that followed the formation of the state of Israel, and a border that the Israeli’s have single handedly chosen to make inside Palestinian territory.  An equivalent “seam zone” would exist in our part of southern Manitoba if the Americans were to unilaterally decide that the international border should be along #3 Highway.  Any land between #3 Highway and the current Canada/US border would be the “seam zone”  and would be subject to American jurisdiction.  Those of us living there would be forced to live under American law against our will.  Every time we left that area for any reason (and returned)….trips for groceries, medical care, other services or visits with family and friends living outside the seam zone, we would need to pass through an American checkpoint and be subject to whatever demands the American authorities placed upon us.

These Palestinian children (ranging in age from approximately 6-17) must pass through the Israeli checkpoint going to and from school.  On their return trip they are subjected to having their ID checked.  If they do not have it with them or if it is inadequate in any way, they can be denied access to return home.  All school bags and anything else they are carrying are run through an x-ray machine and each child must walk through a metal detector.  This happens every school day.  There have been reports of significant harassment and abuse towards these children as they go through the checkpoint and their families have asked for our protective presence to accompany them.  This is one of our priority tasks.  We left the olive grove incident intent on arriving at Beit Yatir in time to accompany them through the checkpoint.

As we arrived at the main road we noticed our first roadblock of the day – Israeli army vehicles and Israeli police.  Sure enough, they pulled us over.  Our 4 international passports took only a few minutes to check  but they spent several minutes checking our Palestinian driver’s ID.

Israel army and Israeli police vehicles

We carried on, determined to arrive at the school before the children were dismissed for the day.  It was not to be.  In order to get to the school we needed to travel on another main road.   We tried 5 different roads to access the main road, but EACH access point was blocked by either rocks or a 30 inch pile of shale and gravel, or a combination of the two. Finally, on the sixth road we found a way through, only to arrive late at the school and find the children gone.  We drove up to the checkpoint and could not see any sign of the children.  There was nothing more we could do and so we left.

Friday we went out to the nearby village of Susiya to spend the night.  The village has had difficulty with settler harassment, particularly on Friday nights (the Jewish Sabbath), and have found that an EAPPI protective presence is helpful. As we left Yatta we were shocked to find that the Israeli army had locked the gate to the road we needed to turn onto. This necessitated a return to Yatta and the taking of an alternate route across almost impassable roads.  A trip that normally takes 15-20 minutes now took over an hour.  The gate was still closed when we returned home on Saturday, requiring yet another slow and bumpy trip to bypass the roadblock.

locked gate between Yatta and Susiya, Sept 30, 2011

Roadblocks in the occupied Palestinian Territory are anything but a figure of speech.  Frequently utilized by the occupation forces  under the guise of “security,”  they instead serve as a tool utilized to intimidate, to harass, and to wear down the Palestinian people.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom,

6 responses

  1. HI Jan……..sorry to ask a basic question but it sounds to me like the Israelis occupy all of the west bank ……..the seam area plus all the other as well……… I don’t get what purpose the seam area is. Aren’t all Palestinians subjected to checks at random?

    • Hi Joan,

      Yes, you are correct. The Israeli’s occupy all of the West Bank and they can and do check Palestinian people at random. The seam zones are areas where the Israeli’s have extended the border inside of Palestinian territory. The people are then caged between the officlal border and the border that has been moved onto their land. The purpose of this “closed area” or “buffer zone” or “seam zone” , according to the Israeli seam zone authority, is” to enable command and control through the usage of observation systems as well as the provision of space for pursuit of suspects.” (taken from “A Basic Background Resource to the Current Context of Israel and Palestine), an EAPPI resource. Since 2003, residents of the seam zone, as well as visitors and humanitarian staff, are required to obtain a special type of permit, usually referred to as a “green permit” that allows them to move in and out of the closed area through specific gates (checkpoints) which do not operate regularly and appropriately. It effectively serves to make movement for the people living there very difficult and as a result they are quite isolated. When you meet with the families of the school children I mentioned, you can clearly see the effects of the social isolation. Other Palestinians cannot come to visit them because they don’t have the proper paperwork. We are often the only visitors they ever get. As of 2006, 60,500 Palestinians live in these seam zones areas.
      I hope this helps explain it better. This is all very complex and hard to understand, so don’t hesitate to ask more questions. It takes awhile to get your head around all of this.

  2. Jan: I can’t imagine all the emotions you must feel at times like this. Does anyone else accompany the student. Our gospel in church today ” the parable of the vinyard and the dishonest tenents” made me keep wandering to your story about the destruction in the olive grove. Keep safe. Love you Carol

  3. Hi, Jan. I think this would make a good “Letter from Overseas” for the UCC website. So would other postings here. Could we ask you to select one for posting as a Letter from Overseas and send the link to me? If it’s longer than our website folks prefer, I’ll try to edit to a suitable length and check back with you before posting. I hope all’s going well. I’d like to try calling you this week. Let me know what times of day are best for you. Strength and courage to you and all your team!

  4. Thank you for such a detailed observation. Short of being there, I feel that I can see and sense your experiences. Please continue to write about the school life of the children. Are you permitted to join them in school and take pictures? It would be very interesting to learn about their daily routines at school. Take care.

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