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Från israeliska tidningen "Haaretz"     februari 2004

Twilight Zone / Drawing the line

By Gideon Levy
The intercity road between Tul Karm and Nablus is cut off by a locked iron gate. In front of the gate there is a blurred yellow line. Whoever crosses the line has his car confiscated immediately. Why?

A yellow line on black asphalt. The line is already blurred and faded, barely visible. It is located at a distance of several dozen meters from the yellow iron gate. One line in front of the gate, and one line on the other side. There are no signs or traffic signals. The gate, closed with a heavy iron lock, cuts off the Tul Karm-Nablus road and turns it into a dead end, in both directions. On both sides of the yellow gate, behind the yellow lines, yellow taxis await travelers who will go around the gate on foot. None of the drivers dares to cross the yellow line. We inadvertently pass it by a few meters, and the drivers are frightened, although there isn't a single soldier in the area. What are they afraid of?
It turns out that Big Brother sees everything. And in fact, a few moments later a jeep turns up and soldiers jump out. "Does anyone have a knife? I'm taking the air out of their tires," says one of the soldiers. A new cab driver, who is not yet familiar with the procedures, had dared to let a passenger off beyond the yellow line. He loses his livelihood on the spot. He crossed the line, and the soldiers confiscate the keys to his cab. By what right? By what authority? And for what reason?
Questions that have no answer on the occupation roads, questions that nobody even bothers to ask any more. That's what the soldier decided, and that's that. And when will the unfortunate driver get the keys to his cab back? Nobody knows. Maybe on Wednesday. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the next time the jeep makes its rounds. Whenever the soldier decides, if he remembers.

A white city: On Sunday, Nablus was covered in snow. Snow on Mt. Gerizim and snow on Mt. Ebal, and in the middle, the battered city looked like an Alpine landscape. Even the Balata refugee camp looked for a moment like St. Moritz.
The ambulance driver walks from work in the city to his home in the village of Beit Fourik. The separation and blocking ditches dug by Israel on the sides of the roads, to ensure the imprisonment of the residents, were filled with water. The village children roll up their pants and enter the large puddle at the outskirts of Beit Fourik. Now, in the freezing wind, they have a unique opportunity to splash in the water. "Don't despair," it says in Hebrew on a van that is stuck there.
The memorial to the fallen at the entrance to Beit Fourik. An Israeli flag is painted in black on the wall of the site, and all the tombstones are broken. The names of dozens of fallen from Beit Fourik are scattered like gravel on the floor.
If anyone has any doubt as to who desecrated their holy place, here is the evidence: a sooty tin can among the fragments of the tombstones: "30 cardboard boxes, 6 rolls of rubber in a box." The defense forces. In the village, they say that about three months ago, the soldiers came to Beit Fourik and smashed the memorial wall.
The roads of the West Bank are completely deserted. The Palestinians, it seems, have relinquished the right of movement. Three cars are waiting in line at the Shavei Shomron checkpoint. The settlers bypass, as usual. Three Palestinian cars have 25 minutes' wait. The driver of the cab in front of us smokes three cigarettes before his turn comes. The soldiers do what they want. They're in no hurry.
The cab driver drove a few meters backward from time to time, a few meters forward, as though to flex his muscles, to pretend to himself that he is a free driver in his country. But in fact he waited with exemplary obedience for the soldier to signal to him. Scattered showers slowly began. "As the desert longs for rain," sings the band on the radio. There are already 10 cars in the line.
The yellow gate suddenly appears. You drive unaware on the Nablus-Tul Karm road, the main highway, and suddenly - the locked gate on the road. Permanently. In the middle of nowhere. Without soldiers. Shortly before reaching Anabta. But every cloud has a silver lining: On the other side of the gate there is already a checkpoint marketplace, stalls selling coffee for a shekel and kebab for five shekels. The seller of coffee-for-a-shekel worked for 10 years at the Sabrina plant in Ramat Hahayal. Now he's here, at the Arcaffe of the locked gate, and his coffee is excellent.
The row of taxis is parked on either side of the gate; some are headed toward Tul Karm and its satellite towns, and others toward Nablus and its satellites. The row of cabs begins at a distance of several dozen meters from the gate. We park the car closer to the gate. When we ask, we understand why we're the only ones: the blurred line on the road. It's forbidden to cross it. There must be order, and the order here is maintained very carefully. With soldiers, and without soldiers, too. Has self-discipline developed here? It turns out that it's not only that. One of the drivers points toward the high mountain that towers above us, as though hiding a secret. A watchtower can be seen on the distant summit. There sit the soldiers watching, day and night, to see whether anyone has crossed the yellow line in front of the gate. The drivers say that if someone crosses the line, ajeep comes immediately and confiscates the keys to the car, or slashes the four tires, or both.
The coffee is steaming. Children run quickly to and fro, pushing iron carts to transport the baggage of the harassed passengers from one yellow line to the other, from one yellow cab to the other, for a few agorot. They assail every approaching cab, competing with one another for the baggage. Here they are transporting two car engines - they're having a good day today. A man on crutches hobbles with difficulty alongside the gate, leaning on the iron for support, almost falling into the abyss next to him. An acquaintance from the Tul Karm refugee camp arrives as well: He left Bethlehem at 10 A.M. on his way home. Now it's already 3 P.M. "In that time one could get to France." A passerby says that on Friday it took him longer: He left here at 10 A.M. and reached Ramallah only at 6 P.M.
Suddenly an IDF jeep arrives. Immediately there is great tension at the gate. The passengers and the drivers are nervous; they rush to get away, to avoid getting into trouble. From the jeep emerge three reserve soldiers, husky types wearing black stocking caps, carrying rifles, assailing the passengers and the drivers who want to get home safely. The bearded one begins to shout. He roars in his unique way at the people who try to get away from him quickly. One of the soldiers shouts in Arabic, in accordance with the new policy of humanitarian gestures at the checkpoints. "Get your car out of here, fucking Israelis," says the bearded soldier, the huskiest of the three: "Go on, get a move on."
"You want us to break your camera?" the Arabic speaker asks politely.
Suddenly the unbelievable happens, and attention is diverted from our car, which is not properly parked, to a much more severe violation. A yellow cab approaches the gate; it drives slowly, stops, and lets off a passenger next to the gate, to the amazement of the soldiers. They can't believe their eyes. Letting off a passenger beyond the line? The Arabic speaker loses no time, quickly jumps up from his place, runs in the direction of the cab with his rifle cocked, shouting: "Pull up at the side and get out, pull up immediately and get out."
From the cab emerges an embarrassed young man, wearing jeans, an attractive sweater, a kaffiyeh around his neck, still not understanding what the fuss is about, but already aware that he's in big trouble. The soldier takes his ID card from his hand, indicates that he should park his cab at the side and bring his keys. "That's it, I'm confiscating his cab," reports the soldier proudly to his friends. "What, is there a wedding here? You can go, the bride has already given birth," he says, scattering the curious onlookers.
"If my picture is in the paper, they don't remain alive," continues the Arabic-speaking soldier in Hebrew to his friend. "What did you write down?" he asks me. "Soon we'll see if it's any of my business." His friend tries to explain calmly: "You interfered with checkpoint procedures."
The taxi driver stands at the side, his eyes downcast, waiting for orders from the soldier. Submissive, he hands his cab keys to the soldier. The soldier shoves them into his pocket. Where in civilian life could he run things like this? But does the IDF instruct its soldiers to confiscate cars that are illegally parked or that stop in a place that is off limits?
The IDF spokesman:
"There is no IDF instruction to confiscate keys. The complaints regarding the incident described will be investigated."
The driver's face is pale. Samar Abdullah from Safarin. Until recently he worked in construction in Israel. He has a permit, but because he slipped a disc in his back he stopped working. Three months ago he bought this taxi, an old Mercedes. Usually he travels on the Beit Lid-Safarin route. Today is the first time he arrived at this gate. He has no idea when he'll get his taxi back, and how he'll get home now. Five children are waiting at home.

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