Palestinian “Freedom” of Movement?

22 September 2006

Tarqumia checkpoint in the West Bank

Six hours. This is how long Palestinians have to wait and submit to control before they can pass the terminal at in the West Bank, which leads either into Israel or further on to the Gaza Strip. The soldiers at the terminal deny this. “All they need is a permission from the District Coordination Office (DCO) and ID-papers and they’ll get through in one minute,” says Schlomo, who is the commander at the terminal.

By three o’clock in the morning the Palestinian workers have already arrived at the terminal. In the best conditions they can pass at nine into Israel with their goods, or on to Gaza via Erez or Karni, the two possible crossings into the Strip.

Those who want to visit family members who are imprisoned in Israel also come to the terminal. Most of Israel’s prisons are in the south and no matter where you live in the West Bank, you have to pass through the terminal in Tarqumia to reach them. At five in the morning the visitors arrive. It is not until twelve midday that they can continue to visit their loved ones after submitting to humiliating security procedures and routine strip searches.

Schlomo, one of the soldiers, says, “All that’s necessary is permission from DCO and ID-papers and they’ll get through in one minute.” “It’s a lie,” says Hasan, another soldier, but changes his mind as soon as he sees us writing. Symbolically he holds his hand in front of his mouth and then says that it’s not a lie at all, and that he cannot speak about this matter.

Permission is needed from the DCO, to be able to visit the prisons. The families have to wait several months before permission is granted. The information given to us by Palestinians about their experience at the terminal conflicts with the soldiers version.

“Two days ago I saw a man who had been handcuffed, both hands and feet. They forced him to lay with his head on the ground and with his mouth open and then forced a gun in his mouth,” says Asam, who owns a car repair shop nearby.

The terminal was built ten years ago and was at that point a checkpoint. It was expanded two years ago and now Israel has new ideas for how the terminal should function, which in practice means Palestinians will have to wait at the terminal for three days before they can go through. Because this terminal is used (in theory) to transport produce from farmers in the south to the markets in Israel, a system like this would be devastating for the Palestinian economy, which already is almost non-existent.