at the checkpointI left Yanoun after three days and took a bus westwards across country, first to Nablus, then on to Tulkarem for a three day visit. The first thing to say about travelling on the West Bank now is that it is much quicker. When I lived in Tulkarem four years ago, it took 6-7 hours to Jerusalem, a distance of 100 miles. Now it doesn’t take more than three. The checkpoints are still there but are mostly unmanned. This is huge for the inhabitants of Nablus, which in my day was a completely closed city with Huwwara, the most odious checkpoint on the West Bank, at its entrance. Tulkarem too used to be ringed with checkpoints but this time when I arrived I sailed through the once dreaded Anapta. It doesn’t mean Palestinians are any more free, rather that the Occupation is more structured. The high-tech matrix of control is now in place and can be activated at the first signs of trouble. It seems to be more a question of pressing buttons now that deploying soldiers on a fulltime basis.

What has changed in Tulkarem? The town itself looks a tiny bit more prosperous. The huge piles of rubble of the bombed former PA buildings in the city centre are being cleared after lying there for five years and a smart new PA headquarters has gone up, all part of the plan to improve the Palestinian economy while keeping human rights to a minimum. The goods terminal through the Wall at Ephraim where we used to see off the prisoners’ families buses into Israel, now also serves as a conduit for workers going into Israel. The whole thing has been privatised, which makes the guards manning it even less accountable. The idea is to have as few employees as possible, especially not young conscripts. Serving in the Occupation for long periods is bound to affect teenage soldiers in one way or another, so privatisation possibly with foreign workers is one way out of the problem it creates for Israeli society. The agricultural gates are more sophisticated too. At Deir al Ghusun, a structure has been built with metal detector and biometric fingerprinting. Gone are the days when farmers lifted their shirts and did a little twirl in the middle of the buffer zone. They always found that humiliating, but this new system is worse because it stops them staying overnight with their extended families in Israel to give themselves more time in the fields.

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