Passing the checkpointThe Tulkarem team’s work has changed slightly now that the checkpoints out of town are manned only intermittently. The focus has shifted to the agricultural gates where the problem of getting enough gate permits has worsened. Getting the olive harvest in from land on the Israeli side is proving harder and harder. I heard that last year the village of Qaffin to the north (which lost a lot of land beyond the Barrier and closed three of its four olive presses when I was there) had been helped with the harvest by Kibbutz Metzer on the Israeli side. It sounded unique, I wanted to visit these unusual kibbutzim but there was no time. I don’t know if it happened this year, it would be an amazing act of solidarity.

There was good news from the village of Jbarah south of Tulkarem. It is one of the many Palestinian villages stuck in no man’s land between the Barrier and the Green Line. Villagers need permits to cross a manned checkpoint into the West Bank, yet will be arrested if found in Israel even though no barrier prevents them. They can get to Tulkarem but no one can visit them. Our team goes to a little school there, and as foreigners we do not usually have a problem. I went to say hello to the teacher, and all was well on the way in. But the soldiers had changed shift by the time we walked back. This ridiculous red-haired American boy barred the way and told us to do the hour’s journey round by the vehicle checkpoint. Luckily his commander saw the absurdity of us having been let in but not out. The good news is that Jbarah has finally won a battle in the Israeli High Court to re-route the Barrier behind the village so that it becomes Palestinian again. However, many High Court re-routing decisions are still pending after three or four years, so it may be time before Jbarah residents can return to normal.

I so enjoyed being back in Tulkarem. Making friends and contacts is much easier in the countryside than in Jerusalem. And from a personal point of view, walking through olive groves to monitor the agricultural gate as the sun comes up and joking with the farmers, beats standing in the dreary concrete and razor wire of Qalandya at five in the morning watching workers fight to get through the cages.

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