At-Tuwani: What’s the Point?

by Eileen Hanson

Lately the Israeli army has set up ‘flying’ (temporary) checkpoints just outside at-Tuwani on Friday evenings. Each time the soldiers show up in their jeep and put a string of spikes across the road, CPTers go down to monitor what is happening. We document any searches that take place and prepare to respond in case of abuses.

Typically, these flying checkpoints last a few hours. Soldiers stop cars, check IDs, and search a few trunks. They also check people walking from villages around at-Tuwani to and from the nearby city of Yatta, including infants in their mothers’ arms. Aside from settler traffic, which does not have to stop, soldiers mostly see a lot of tractors and sheep trailers. I wondered one Friday if they were going to search the sheep!

Failing to see the point of these countless searches, I recently asked one young soldier on duty what they were doing. He said they were “looking for stolen cars or weapons.” Still curious, I followed up, “Do you find a lot of weapons this way?” “No,” he replied. “The people with the weapons see the checkpoint and make a U-turn. There’s nothing we can do.” I pressed a bit more and said, “So that makes this kind of pointless, huh?” Now we were both smiling, and he said, “Yes. If it were up to me, I’d be home in bed.”

Soldiers can’t possibly find anything using this method – not that I’m convinced there’s anything to find. The soldiers and jeeps are visible from a half mile away. Everyone, including the soldiers, knows that anyone who might be trying to move contraband could simply wait until the soldiers leave.

On Saturday, soldiers again set up a flying checkpoint. This group seemed dangerous. They were wrestling with one another and pointing their guns at objects in the darkness. They became more rude and rowdy as the evening wore on.

After waving a pickup truck through, one soldier pointed the laser guide of his automatic weapon at the abdomen of the young boy riding in the back of the truck. The boy said something, and then the laser point moved, appearing next on the child’s face.

It was then I thought I could see the point, tragic and awful as it is. It isn’t about finding weapons or stolen cars or “the bad guy”. It’s a display of power. Checkpoints are a way of reminding everyone, even the kids, who’s in charge.