Mel Frykberg
Middle East Times
June 3, 2008 - 5:09pm

"Get back, get away, move, move," shouted the Israeli soldier as he and two female soldiers aimed their weapons at us threateningly. 

"What is the problem?" I asked as the young, blonde, blue-eyed and red-faced Israeli soldier looked on the crowd in a state of panic. 

"There is a bomb and you must move away for your own protection," he answered. 

Last Sunday this Middle East Times reporter spent the afternoon at the notorious Huwara checkpoint, just south of Nablus in the northern Palestinian West Bank. 

A checkpoint at which numerous abuses of Palestinians by the Israeli military have been reported in addition to a number of shootings of alleged suicide bombers, under circumstances that are hotly disputed between the Israeli soldiers who man the checkpoints and the Palestinians who pass through them. 

The Middle East Times was invited to observe the checkpoint in action and to interview Machsom (Hebrew for "checkpoint") Watch, a group of mostly middle-aged Israeli women who monitor Israeli checkpoints throughout the Palestinian territories, in an endeavor to reduce the mistreatment of Palestinian civilians trying to go about their daily business. 

As it turned out there was no bomb, but the soldiers were clearly spooked by the episode. The Huwara checkpoint is one of a number of military roadblocks that encircle the city of Nablus, a city regarded by the Israelis as a nest of militancy. 

Following a wave of suicide bombings, carried out by Palestinian militants in Israel in 2002 during the Al-Aqsa Intifada or uprising, with some of the suicide bombers emanating from the city, the Israeli military tightened its siege on the city, enforcing a strict permit system that allows only Palestinians with special security clearance permits to leave the city. 

Israel has argued that this is essential for its security, while Palestinians and human rights organizations have countered that this is collective punishment, as even Palestinians without a security record are refused the requisite permits. 

However, although this particular episode ended peacefully it seemed lost on the soldiers, who had chased bystanders away by aiming their weapons at them, and that shooting or threatening to shoot people for their own protection was an apparent contradiction in terms. 

Last week a female soldier shot dead a 15-year-old boy, Fahmi Abdel Jawaad al-Darduk, whom she suspected of concealing a bomb after she spotted a wire from a headphone hanging out from under his shirt. When asked to lift his shirt she spotted two mobile phones clipped to his belt and proceeded to open fire. 

After the boy was shot a total of about six times he was left to bleed to death, then lay there dead for nearly three hours before a Palestinian ambulance was permitted to remove the body. 

The Israeli military at first claimed that they had found three pipe bombs on the boy, but later changed that to five. They also informed the media that they had prevented a "terror attack." 

However, there was no explosion following his shooting which would have occurred under normal circumstances had there been explosives attached to the body. Eyewitnesses also disputed that a bomb was on the boy. 

"I doubt very much that he had a bomb on him," Yehudit Bloch, 63, an Israeli woman from Tel Aviv and member of Machsom Watch, told The Middle East Times. "I have been coming to Huwara once a week for years and the Palestinians have never tried to smuggle a bomb through this checkpoint. 

"They have taken bombs through other ways where it is less easy for them to be spotted," she explained. Eyewitnesses said that Fahmi had already passed through the metal detector machine without incident. 

"This is why I am here," explained Bloch, a mother of four children, and "so that we can never say we never knew what is happening in our name." 

Machsom Watch, which comprises about 400 women, was founded in 2001 by Ronnee Jaeger, previously a human-rights worker in Guatemala and Mexico, Adi Kuntsman who arrived in Israel from the Soviet Union in 1990, and Yehudit Keshet, a former Orthodox Jew and scholar of Talmudic ethics. 

Dana Olmert, the daughter of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is also a member of the organization. 

According to its Web site, the group's aims are to monitor the behavior of soldiers and police at checkpoints; ensure that the human and civil rights of Palestinians attempting to enter Israel are protected; and record and report the results of their observations to the widest possible audience, from decision makers to the general public. Some members also see their role as protesting against the existence of the checkpoints. 

"I have seen how Palestinians are forced to stand for hours in the searing heat or very cold weather for hours waiting to pass through the checkpoint even to carry out everyday activities, such as going to the doctor or going to visit family," said Bloch. 

Although incensed by what she sees as the injustices perpetrated on an innocent civilian population, Bloch has sympathy for the young Israeli men and women in uniform controlling the checkpoints as she sees them as victims of the occupation too and simply following government orders. 

"It is the Israeli government and the continuing occupation that we have a problem with," Bloch told the Middle East Times. "Some of the soldiers resent our presence here, but some of them understand why we are here and even think we are doing something good." 

"But Israeli settlers are very abusive and aggressive toward us, as they regard us as traitors. However, we are here because these checkpoints cause more hatred and threaten the security of our country further. The occupation is damaging to both Israel and the Palestinians," Bloch said.


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