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.
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.
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,