Israel Israeli occupation Israeli settlements Palestinians West Bank checkpoints

Kafka, Rabbi Hillel and the Beit Furik checkpoint

“It’s clear that there is no life without freedom of movement. And when there’s no life, there is nothing to be lost. Despair and lack of hope can lead more and more Palestinians into terror — thus there will be no security for us either.”

So said Hannah Barag, one of the leaders of Machsom Watch, a group of remarkable Israeli women who have taken it upon themselves to witness precisely what happens at checkpoints and other obstacles to Palestinian movement within the West Bank. She spoke to a rapt audience at an event sponsored by Meretz USA in New York City on Tuesday evening.

The most compelling and disturbing aspect of her presentation was that it did not focus on overt brutality. It was about the relentless accumulation of one petty humiliation after another in the memories of Palestinians. These women only document what they themselves witness, not what other people tell them. And what they witness is often Kafkaesque. There is usually a bureaucratic banality to the suffering and indignities experienced by people who are just trying to move from village to village, or from the West Bank into East Jerusalem for medical care or family events or work.

“The harassment and arbitrariness at the checkpoints,” she said, “are characterized by an irrationality that is intentional and also typical of the whole system of procedures employed in the Occupied Territories….The system applies a never-ending creativity to tire out and aggravate those going through the checkpoints, crushing their patience and their honor to the bone.”

Machsom Watch focuses only on the elaborate restrictions of movement from one part of the West Bank to the other. The vast majority of these internal controls have no purpose other than to protect Jewish settlers, including the extremists who don’t recognize the authority of the Israeli govenment.

There is nothing new in any of the written accounts by Machsom Watch volunteers. One can find many other descriptions on the Web of what happens at the checkpoints. What makes them compelling is their matter-of-fact, laconic prose style, which reflects their determination to do nothing more than hold up a mirror and let Israelis see the high moral price of occupation.

Consider the following, lightly edited excerpts from the regular alerts posted on the Machsom Watch website. They are both accounts from the Beit Furik checkpoint, east of Nablus. It is at the junction of two roads, one of which leads to the Jewish settlements of Itamar and Elon Moreh. Both of those settlements are home to some of the most fiery religious settlers, including those who constantly set up illegal outposts. Beit Furik is one of the three permanent checkpoints that serve to close off Nablus. Their ONLY function is to serve the residents of those Jewish settlements:

There was a young woman escorted by five girls that were of 12 years old or less and a small baby. They were all dressed nicely as they were making their way to a wedding. The woman was from Beit Dajan and…two of the little girls were hers and the other four belonged to her husband’s other wife. They were all from Beit Dajan. The other woman [the “husband’s other wife”] had already passed through Nablus and the husband was to come from Tulkarm. The roadblock commander wouldn’t let the woman pass since [the names of] four of the girls weren’t written under her ID and she didn’t have their birth certificates (at the Nablus district, children can’t pass without their escorting parents and they must have their birth certificates).

G’ from the army’s humanitarian center was able to give us, after making some inquiries, the names of all of the four girls that belonged to the other woman and confirmed that they were in fact from Beit Dajan. He asked that we wait for an answer.

After recurring calls to the humanitarian center on this case, we received an answer that “they got an order to let the woman pass”. We waited for the order to reach the commander, the wedding was to begin at 17:00 and the girls were already sleepy. The woman was completely desperate and at 18:00 the commander got a phone call and told us that the woman and the girls couldn’t pass. (Beit Furik, May 31, 2007)

What do the events just described have to do with security?

(Dan F, here): Next, the story of the cheese man. It is like some kind of unbearable parable, or the first draft of a black comedy by a college satirist that, at a certain point, gets out of control and becomes a bit too absurd. You may need a bit of patience to follow the twists and turns that this poor shepherd had to take in order to make his meager living [Note: “knafe” is a pastry]:

“What can I do with all this cheese in the sun? Come on soldier, let me pass [through with] the cheese. Look, it’s getting ruined.”

“You can’t take your car into Nablus,” said the soldier. “You don’t have a permit for the car.”

“I don’t have a permit for the car? But, you can see for yourself, I have a permit from the office of seeding, how do you call it, the ministry of agriculture, I am allowed to pass [through with] my cheese, I have sheep, I make cheese from them and sell it in Ramallah where they use it for knafe. Every week I transfer the cheese in my car to Nablus, from Nablus I go to Huwwara checkpoint and then I head to Ramallah. And now you, a bunch of new soldiers, tell me that I need a permit to enter with my car into Nablus. If you would let me I would bypass it, I don’t even want to enter Nablus, I just want to get to Ramallah. How do you want me to pass [through] with all this cheese? On my back?” asked the cheese man, and pointed at the buckets that were full of hard salty cheese.

“I don’t care how you pass [through] with it, get into your car and drive away, I don’t want to see you here again without a permit for your car.”

The cheese man sighed in desperation and turned around to look for a car that had a permit to enter Nablus.

After half an hour, the cheese man found a car with a permit to enter Nablus. It took another thirty minutes to transfer the buckets from one car to the other, and another thirty minutes waiting in line. The soldier inspected the car for five minutes and sent [the man] back to Beit Furik.

“What’s the matter?” we asked the soldier, “This car has a permit to enter Nablus.”

“Yes it does,” the solider said, “but the permit allows the car to enter empty; it hasn’t got a permit to transfer merchandise.”

After twenty minutes, he found a car with a permit to enter Nablus and to transfer merchandise. It took twenty minutes to move the buckets from one car to the other…and thank God the car passed the checkpoint and entered Nablus.

After an hour, we left to [go to] the Huwwara checkpoint [another one at the edge of Nablus]. We parked at the faraway parking lot and walked to the checkpoint. From afar, we saw buckets of cheese being moved from one car to the other.

“What is it with them and cheese today?” Inbal, my partner at the checkpoint, asked. Was everyone transferring cheese from one car to the other on that day?

We came closer. It was the same man that was at Beit Furik. He had passed the checkpoint into Nablus, but the car he was in didn’t have a permit to exit Nablus through Huwwara and head to Ramallah.

So, at the exit from Nablus, he started moving the cheese to another car that had a permit to transfer merchandise from Nablus through Huwwara. He got out of Nablus, and then had to move the cheese again from one car to the other.

“What’s the matter?” we asked, “doesn’t this car have a permit to transfer merchandise?”

“Yes it has,” said the cheese man, “it has a permit to transfer merchandise.”

“So why are you moving the cheese from one car to the other all over again?” we asked.

“It doesn’t have a permit to pass through Za’atara [another checkpoint]. I’m swapping it for a car that has a permit to pass through Za’atara, in the direction of Ramallah.”

(Dan F, here): If Rabbi Hillel were still with us, he would say, “Do something about this. All the rest is commentary.”

21 thoughts on “Kafka, Rabbi Hillel and the Beit Furik checkpoint

  1. There have been attacks against settlers on the roads near Itamar and Elon Moreh. Until a political solution is found, they should be protected. My impression is that the Israelis are trying to modernize the checkpoints and make the procedures more efficient, and more humane. But you seem to be against the checkpoints per se…Do you want Israel to just let these settlers be murdered?

  2. Teddy,

    I don’t happen to agree with your solution. But even if I did, isn’t Israel obligated to protect its citizens in Judea and Samaria? The government has not ordered people in Itamar and Elon Moreh to leave. If they remain, and if terrorists want to shoot them on the roads, would you just want Israel to wash its hands of them, and say, “tough luck!” That does not seem like the spirit of Rabbi Hillel, either…

  3. Dan wrote:
    The vast majority of these internal controls have no purpose other than to protect Jewish settlers, including the extremists who don’t recognize the authority of the Israeli govenment.
    This is untrue. The checkpoints are in place because of the regime Israel foolishly put in power in the Palestinian territories under Arafat’s terror gangs as a result of Oslo in 1993. Before that, under the period of full Israeli occupation, there were almost no checkpoints and there was free movement for Palestinians throughout Judea/Samaria AND between the Gaza Strip and Judea/Samaria. The checkpoints are in place because of the terror that emenates from the Palestinian territories, under the active encouragement of the Palestinian Authority, starting with Arafat’s arrival in the territories. If there was no terror, there would be no checkpoints. If the Palestinians feel “humiliated” at the checkpoints, then they should direct their complaints to their Palestinian Authority gov’t, who are the ones responsible. Removing the settlers would not change the situation, because the checkpoints are an important part of the overall security effort to prevent the suicide bombers from reaching the pre-67 Israeli territory. The claim that the 3 checkpoints around Shechem (Nablus) “only” serve the settlements is untrue since that town was one of the principal exporters of suicide bombers. However, it must be remembered that security can not be “divided”, i.e. the gov’t can’t say “we will provide security for some citizens but not for others”. For example, Professor Sternhell some years ago said the Palestinians would receive more “understanding” by “progressive” Israelis if they would limit their terror attacks to the Jews of Judea/Samaria (he recently admitted that he made a “mistake” in writing that because he now says he didn’t mean it , but that is they way it came out), but, in any case, when one runs away from terror, terror pursues him. A good example was how President Clinton more or less overlooked the Al-Qaida terror attacks in East Africa and on the USS Cole, which then, a short time later, led to the 9/11 attacks on US soil. Same in Israel, terror must be fought everywhere, and everyone would suffer if security was relaxed anywhere without a corresponding end to the generation of terror in the Palestinian Authority territories.(One should note a recent article in the Jerusalem Post where Itamar Marcus of the Palestine Media Watch says the official media of the FATAH-controlled Palestinian Authority has become much more violently antisemitic and anti-Israel since the “Annapolis process” was launched a year ago and is now indistinguishable from HAMAS propaganda, so there is no effort by the PA to end the motivation for terrorist activity in the territories they control).
    I know “progressives” love working themselves into a rage about the “settlers”, but this is really an attempt to transfer guilt feelings they themselves have onto someone else. The Palestinians over and over point out the problem is NOT “1967”, but “1948”. A well-known Jewish/Israeli “progressive” blogger, who is one of these settler-bashers himself admits he is living in a house that was owned by an Arab before 1948 and that Arab is now a “refugee”. I have repeatedly pointed out his hypocrisy in the matter, but he can not face it, feeling his role in the supposed “disposession” of the Palestinians is made up for by his attacks on the Jews of Judea/Samaria and some sort of abstract demand that Israel recognize the so-called “Palestinian Right of Return” including a “symbolic” return of a “few” refugees, but I presume he figures the odds are that the ones who owned his house won’t be among them. (BTW-I do not believe Israel has ANY responsibility for the refugees since it was the Arabs who started the war-see Benny Morris’ book “1948”).
    I have debated with myself for a long time about whether I should push the ultimate logic about the equation “If Jews have a right to live in Tel Aviv then they have a right to live in Hevron, and if they don’t have a right to live in Hevron then they don’t have a right to live in Tel Aviv”. I feared that pushing this might push “progressives” Jews into the anti-Zionist camp. However, my following the blogs of the Jewish “progressives”, (i.e. people like Richard Silverstein, Bernard Avishai, MJ Rosenberg, Tony Karon, Phil Weiss, etc) shows that this is happening anyway, to one degree or another. However, I am confident that most Jews do intinctively understand the Jewish eternal bond with Eretz Israel (certainly most Israelis do) and so I feel justified in forcing “progressive” Zionists to face the ultimate logic of the situation, something they have been trying to avoid for over 60 years. It is important to realize that Labor Zionism was born with an internal contradition-one the one hand, a belief in Socialism and universalism, on the other hand, support for Jewish nationalism. When taking into consideration that the “socialism” was long ago thrown out it was only a matter of time until the Zionism would also come under question. Avraham Burg is the most outspoken of those who have drawn the logical conclusion and turned his back on Zionism. However, my observation of Israeli society shows this is a minority. I can only give an anecdotal example which is that my place of employment organized tour of the Western Wall Tunnel and Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem in Elul and the vast majority of the employees went on the tour (something like 400 people-75% of whom are not religious) and I saw with my own eyes the enthusiasm of the people on the tour and their comments that dividing Jerusalem is unthinkable. So this is the wave of future of the majority, not Burg’s anti-Zionism

  4. And still Palestinians are human beings, and the majority that are not terrorist are forced to live extremely compromised lives, in compromised legal status.

    That Israelis, and religious Jews, could not construct a means to achieve residence in Hebron or elsewhere legally and peaceably, without oppressing others, is a cause of shame.

    Why did God give us imagination and consideration, if we were to abdicate using it?

  5. What I find amazing, Mr. Ben-David, is that you cannot bring yourself to express –and I assume, feel–the slightest bit of sympathy for ordinary Palestinians who live under the heel of the occupiers. Doesn’t what Dan described sadden you?

  6. I have a lot more sympathy for the Palestinians than does those so-called “progressives” who encouraged Israel to bring Arafat in to the Palestinian territories in order tyrannize and rob them. They are “living under the heel” of the corrupt, repressive Palestinian Authority, or the equally corrupt and tyrannical HAMAS regime in Gaza.
    Isn’t said that every people get the leadership they deserve? In the 1920’s, according the Benny Morris’ book “1948”, the British cajoled the Arabs to set up a parallel “Arab Agency”, like the “Jewish Agency” to run an autonomous regime for the Arabs in the Palestine Mandate, just like the Jews had done. They adamantly refused, for several reasons. One was that the Arab community was split into various clans that had often murderous hatred for each other (e.g. the Husseini’s and Nashashibi’s). Secondly, the Arab Agency would have been expected to begin providing services to the Arab community. This would have meant implementing a taxation system. The Arabs said, why should be pay for our services when we can get the British to pay for it, which they did, in the absence of an Arab civil authority. The same thing is happening today…both the FATAH-controlled Palestinian Authority and HAMAS regime in Gaza depend on international handouts to finance the majority of their financial outlays (the US and EU for Judea/Samaria, the Iranians and Saudis for Gaza).

    Before 1967, Judea/Samaria was under Jordanian rule. In 1966 there was a mass uprising against the Jordanians and the gov’t there lost control of the city of Shechem (Nablus). The city had to be reconquered by military force and many were killed. Numerous public hangings were carried out. Thus, again, as under the British rule, there was no real civil society set up. In this case it was imposed on them by the Jordanians. Under Israeli rule after 1967, again, the Israelis tried to get the now-named Palestinians to set up a civil society. Free elections were held in 1976 for the Mayors of the cities and all the “moderate” forces were defeated by the pro-FATAH extremist groups. They decided to play politics instead of setting up their own civil society, at least on the municipal level.
    Arafat arrives in 1994, and again, has no interest in setting up a civil society, instead he promises the Palestinians full mobilization for a war to the death with Israel in which he was sure Israel is going to collapse. It must be noted that Arafat was honest when he came in and imposed his regime on the Palestinians. He did NOT promise them a “good life”, he promised war unto victory and he delivered in a big way starting in September 2000. However, it was the Palestinians who lost the war, but of course, Israel’s defeatist, corrupt leadership decided to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and handed the most extremist elements a gigantic victory with the destruction of Gush Katif and then the failed Lebanon II war.
    Thus, the extremist elements feel they are winning the war of attrition with Israel. They tell their population “keep up the pressure, and eventually Israel will go under”. Abbas and the “moderate” FATAH people say the same thing, the only difference being that Abbas’ people will tell Western reporters things like “terrorism at the momemnt doesn’t serve our interest”. But they never prepare their people for peace. Their official goverment-controlled media still demonizes Jews and Israel and promises ultimate victory, NOT PEACE AND COEXISTENCE. (this was reported in the Jerusalem Post recently in an article by Itamar Marcus of Palestine Media Watch who says there is no difference in the belligerency and antisemitism of the FATAH and HAMAS official propaganda).

    So the bottom line is that is why there are roadblocks, and the Palestinians have to wait in line at them. Their regime has brougth them to this situation and it will continue as long as Palestinian society believes they are in a war situation with Israel and that they are winning it. (I don’t believe they are winning it, they and the rest of the Arab world are falling further and further behind Israel, but Israel’s failed leadership has failed to take advantage of this and continues appeasing the terrorists which simply strengthens them and encourages them)

  7. Y Ben-David,
    How do you propose REALIZING that sympathy that you feel? Actually acting in ways that others lives are improved, beyond just one’s own?

    The Palestinians have a mix of very legitimate and some illegitimate grievances. Some of the grievances are rationally directed at their own leaders. Some are rationally directed at Israel, AND some opportunism and excess of settlers.

    I was inspired by your earlier comments that orthodox were actually reaching out to reconcile and be of actual help.

    I don’t hear about it very much though. I wish it happened more, so that I could experience pride in the moral courage and imagination of spiritual people, my people.

    I have some ideas.

    I attended a lecture by some friends of individuals in my local community, career IDF officers, that had gotten impatient with the pace of change in the way Palestinians were treated at checkpoints. He started a small group to transport ill Palestinians from clinics in the West Bank through the checkpoints to Israeli hospitals.

    Of course there is some risk that a sick child or elderly man could be a terrorist. The mitvah of saving a life superceded that risk in his mind.

    “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and might, and thy neighbor as thyself.”

  8. The aspects of shared need include:

    1. Care for the land (ecological collaboration)
    2. Care and optimal uses of scarce resources (water, energy)
    3. Public health
    4. Peace
    5. Spirituality
    6. Healthy food
    7. Exercise
    8. Music/culture
    9. Language
    10. Trade

  9. You gotta love Y-Ben David’s twisted logic:

    “Isn’t said that every people get the leadership they deserve?”

    Is that why the German Jews got the Nazis?


  10. Mr. Ben-David,

    It has been a truism of counterinsurgency warfare that collective punishment rarely works because it merely serves to enforce the common bonds among those who suffer from it. While the intended goal of the checkpoints may be security, there effect is punishment thus serving to antagonize the population and actually lower the security. Responses to terrorism to be effective must be pinpoint targeted and based on good intelligence. The intelligence will dry up if the population as a whole suffers.

    If collective punishment against the Palestinians is justified in the name of security, shouldn’t collective punishment against Jewish settlers also be justified in the name of security? Thus, the evacuation of Gush Katif could be justified on security grounds.

    The problem is that both Arab and Israeli leaders lie to their respective populations that time is on their side. In fact, time is actually working against both peoples. Time without a settlement allows the Arab world to gradually reduce the gap between it and Israel, while time increases the suffering of the Palestinians for little concrete gain.

    People only get the government that they deserve in a democracy; the Arab world is not a democracy. Increasingly though, Israel seems to be getting the government that the Ben-Davids deserve.

  11. Mr Mitchell-
    I recall that after the first big oil price increase in 1973-4, people in Israel feared that the Arabs would invest their new wealth in industrial infrastructure and education and this would close the gap between the Arab world and the West, particularly Israel. In fact that opposite has happened…in spite of the inflow of money, the Arab world has continued to stagnate while Israel and the West have continued to charge ahead and thus the gap has INCREASED. There was a good article in the New York Times explaining this, using Algeria as an example. The influx of money was used to increase Islamic studies in both the Universities and regular education up to high school level. Most students major in Quranic studies and the drop out before graduating 12 th grade. There is little academic education and in order to get a good job, you have to be related to someone with connections, so a “good education” is really of little value without those connections. Thus, in spite of the oil wealth, most people are undereducated and become laborers or petty tradesmen.\

    Similary, in the wealthy Gulf States, much of the educational infrastructure is oriented to Islamic studies. Many of the trained professionals are foreign workers. Most of the labor is done by foreigners……citizens (who are a minority of the population in many of the Gulf States) are given jobs as government functionaries where they really have nothing to do all day but drink coffee and talk on the telephone, or they are businessmen. Outside of the wealthy oil states, the economies are generallly stagnant, in Egypt, for example, dependent on handouts from the West, or remittances from workers who are out of the country, or from tourism. Few workers receive technical educations and even if they do, jobs are scarce. Iran, an oil rich country, has to import refined gasoline, lacking the refineries and the workers to man them.
    Thus, Israel is pulling further and further ahead of the Arab countries, contrary to the predictions of 30 years ago.

  12. Like Jews, some Arabs seek religious studies, others seek more worldly.

    In Palestinian communities, the opportunities to study and work are severely limited.

    In the US, when a large corporation moves a plant with actual career paths to a low-income area, some local residents get that opportunity. It doesn’t happen when Israeli companies locate in Israel or in the settlement towns. Palestinians can’t get the jobs, and the few that do, can’t keep the jobs as they can’t get to work with roadblocks and such.

    It creates a self-fulfilling dynamic. Its entirely contrary to the Jewish virtue of helping the disadvantaged get on their feet.

    I definitely hear what you are saying about the false prosperity of oil riches, and where the proceeds are not invested in the community, but instead consumed or invested in New York and London.

  13. Richard-what you are saying about Israeli companies not providing Arabs with jobs, both inside pre-67 Israel and in Judea/Samaria is simply untrue.
    Christian Arabs average income in Israel is equal to that of the Jews. For Muslim’s it is lower, primarily because the number of Muslim women who work is far below that of the Jews and Christians, for cultural reasons.
    Jewish companies do hire Arabs. There is a problem for Arabs to get jobs that require security clearances (e.g. defense industries) but other than that there is no discrimination.

  14. In my company, if a person cannot get to work consistently (even for objective transportation reasons), they are fired.

    In the occupied territories, Palestinians are functionally prohibited from peer employment prospects.

    I’m aware that companies like Intel do hire Palestinians (Israeli citizens though), and at professional positions.

    You are presenting contradictory statements. One is that Arabs don’t work, don’t seek education that enables them to prosper as communities or within communities. Then in the next statement, you state that they do.

    You’ve got to pick one thesis or another.

    The setting is NOT one of no discrimmination. That would be an embellishment.

    Its the difference between “looking good” and actually “being good”. Substance over form.

    One thing that I’ve learned from the limited Jewish study that I’ve done, is that actually “being good” is the name of the game, and if one and one’s community actually are good, that that will be seen (as it includes how one treats one’s neighbors and they see when they are treated respectfully vs disrespectfully).

  15. Richard stated:
    You are presenting contradictory statements. One is that Arabs don’t work, don’t seek education that enables them to prosper as communities or within communities. Then in the next statement, you state that they do.


    I said Arab women are underrepresented in the Israeli work force. I did not say Israeli Arabs don’t get educated. I was talking about the Gulf States, Algeria and others with oil money.

  16. Mr. Ben-David,

    Since you insist on grouping Iran with the Arabs, I’ll go along with that. Israel seems terrified–or at least Israeli politicians make a pretence of being terrified–of the prospect of Israel getting nuclear weapons or at least a military nuclear potential. This is a very significant technical and military advancement that could have the effect of neutralizing Israel’s military advancement. Also the human smart bomb–whose technology is basically one of rapid brainwashing of susceptible people–is an import from Iran to Palestine that has given the Palestinians a terrible new terror potential. Israeli casualty figures from terrorism are much higher now than they were in the 1970s when I lived in Israel. So while the economic gap may be widening the military gap, which is the critical one when there is no political solution, is closing.

  17. Thank G-d, the security forces have learned to cope with the terror threats. This is done by going after the organizers…they are not just simple operations where someone decides to blow himself (or herself) up and then going out and doing it. In reality, many of the bombers were coerced into doing it, so it is much more complex than many people think. This is why Israel is not going to give up security control of Judea/Samaria as long as the Palestinian aren’t going to do the job.
    Regarding the nuclear threat….I know that former Labor Party MK and Miniser Efraim Sneh said (being a member of Israel’s declining secular Ashkenazic elite which has been in a bad mood for some time now) that he believes Israelis would flee the country if Iran got the bomb. Maybe a few would, but most wouldn’t. Israel supposedly has the bomb, did that frighten HAMAS or FATAH? No. If, G-d forbid, Iran did get the bomb, we will just have to live with it, just as the US and USSR did with “MAD” (Mutually Assured Destruction) during the peak of the Cold War period.

  18. Mr. Ben-David,

    I’m glad to hear an Israeli say that Israel might just have to learn to live with Iran having the bomb and that deterrence works.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.