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Never a Day Off in Palestine

This past Sunday, 4 May, the MPT team in the west bank decided to spend their day off visiting some historical and religious sites. However, just because one is taking a short holiday in the West Bank doesn’t mean the Occupation and its effects take the day off, too, as the team soon experienced. The team was told the best and easiest way to reach our location was to travel via a once-a-day bus route, leaving at 7:00 am, so we awoke early and were on our way. Since Sunday is a school day in most communities of the West Bank, the bus encountered many children walking to school, and many college students boarded the bus on their way to a nearby university. Because of demand, all the seats were full and many people stood in the aisle.

At 7:30 am, the bus pulled into line at the checkpoint aptly named “Container Checkpoint,” Two border police soon boarded the bus and started asking the driver questions as the driver supplied various pieces of paperwork. One of the border police, after conversing with the driver, started, almost playfully, counting and recounting those standing in the aisle. Though no English was spoken, he appeared to be complaining about those standing and ordered everyone in the aisle, as well as the men who appeared to be between about 15 and 40 off the bus. The officer then walked through the bus, inspecting our passports while collecting all the Palestinians’ Israeli-issued ID cards.

Border Police board the bus to interrogate the driver.

A Border Policeman goes through ID cards.

These Israeli-issued ID cards are used by the Israeli military and government as a means of controlling the population and restricting their movement. In order to move across borders (for those who can actually leave the country) and checkpoints, the Palestinians must present their ID cards; thus confiscation of a Palestinian’s ID at a border or checkpoint is an easy way to detain someone. Different types of IDs exist which restrict or allow certain kind of movement; some residents are restricted to specific geographic areas whereas others may travel throughout the West Bank. On the other hand, almost all West Bank Palestinians are restricted from leaving their country (Palestine) and traveling to Israel (the occupier of Palestine). It is good to remember that many Palestinians are refugees that once owned land in what is now Israel.

Three months after the occupation of the West Bank and other areas by Israel began in 1967, a complete census was taken, and anyone who was in the Occupied Country of Palestine at that time was counted and given an ID and thus considered a resident of Palestine/Israel. If a Palestinian was living or visiting outside of the country for any reason – as many were – they were considered a non-resident.

Since 1967, Israel has controlled the population registry of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt). Every birth, death, and marriage must be registered through the Israeli system. Even in the Gaza Strip, which the Israeli government has ceased to have formal relations with since Hamas took control of the area, this must be accomplished, so a special system had to be established for this reason alone, meaning that even now there is some relationship between the two parties. Such a registry is legal for an occupying country to hold; however, with residency applied as broadly as possible, it cannot use arbitrary rules in such a registry. This, however, is not being done, as non-ID-holding family members of current ID holders have requested the Israeli government issue them IDs so they might live with their family members as citizens in this country (a large problem in recent years), but over 200,000 Palestinians still are waiting for their paperwork to go through. There has been some progress in recent years to alleviate the backup, but the rate of which the Israeli government has decided to release IDs is no where close to the rate which needs to happen to truly deal with the backlog. Some of those requesting IDs were even legally able to vote in the last Palestinian elections, thus accepted by the Palestinian Authority as residents even though they are not accepted by the Israeli government.

Israeli-issued Palestinian IDs are also used to enforce collective punishment on families. If a Palestinian has violated an Israeli issued visa or permit, a family member might be held or refused passage through a checkpoint or border crossing until the violation has been rectified

Border police "inspect" ID cards as passengers wait helplessly.

After about 15 minutes of waiting on the bus, the MPT team members decided to disembark and talk to some people outside of the bus. Martha approached a border policeman and asked him what was taking so long. He merely said they were, “checking IDs. It is routine procedure.” Eric began a conversation with two students on their way to university. One was a computer engineering student and the other studied TV and film. They seemed unconcerned and commented that this was a regular occurrence and the bus should be on its way in a few minutes. However, instead of arriving at his 8 o’clock physics class on time, as would be true without the checkpoint, the engineering student was instead waiting for his ID to be returned. Martha later commented that this bus was likely targeted as a way to deter students from continuing their education. Finally, at 8:05 – 35 minutes after the bus had pulled into the line – IDs were returned and the bus was on its way.

The MPT team used the same bus for their return trip and had a similar experience at the same checkpoint. The bus hit the checkpoint at 4:35 and unable to leave until IDS were returned at 5:20. MPTers sat in the front of the bus where no one was asked to show their passport or ID. However, the IDs of riders farther back were confiscated for inspection. This lack of consistency, even on the same bus, is just another example that illustrates how the roadblocks and checkpoints exist more as a hindrance to the movement of residents of (and visitors to) the West Bank rather than for security, especially since team members have been told that people can avoid checkpoints by taking circuitous routes that may add minutes or hours to their travel. Does it appear that Israel truly is security conscious or more interested in orchestrating more transfers of people outside of Palestine?

When the team went again through the same checkpoint Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon, the transportation vans in which they were riding were not stopped for any type of passport or ID inspection. It appears the only thing this is “routine procedure” here is that the Occupation continues to cause inconveniences for all who try to maintain some kind of normal life, and unfortunately, for all involved, there is really no way to avoid the consequences of living in under Occupation.

A Palestinian returns confiscated IDs to bus passengers.

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