THE TWILIGHT ZONE / BY THE BOOK

By Gideon Levy

Some people die at the checkpoint and some are born there: Wrapped in a woolen blanket, an electric heater warming her well-appointed room, lies the infant Raghad Hanani, 25 days old, in her bed. When she grows up, maybe her parents, Roba and Derar – he a Palestinian policeman and she a 25-year-old housewife – will tell her about her mother’s travails when she was about to give birth.

It was Roba’s first pregnancy. On Friday, December 7, she went into labor. An act of the devil – evening had already fallen on their village, Beit Furik, east of Nablus; an act of the devil – the IDF had locked the iron gate. The coordinator of ground operations of Rabbis for Human Rights, Zacharia Sadeh, says that for months this gate has been locked every night, from 7 P.M. to 6 A.M., imprisoning behind it the 16,000 residents of the two neighboring villages, Beit Furik and Beit Dajan.

It was 8:30 P.M., about an hour and a half after the gate had been locked; the couple ordered a taxi and drove toward the iron gate intending to reach the hospital in Nablus, a few minutes’ drive away. There are two roads to Nablus; one is short and is open to Jews only, and one is longer and passes through the Beit Furik checkpoint. Access to both roads passes first of all through the iron gate, and it was locked, as we have said.

The taxi driver, Mahmoud Melitat, approached the iron gate and began to flash his car lights in the direction of the IDF guard tower, which is located a few hundred meters from the gate. Derar says that it was cold and rainy outside. After about 10 minutes, a Hummer arrived. The driver, Melitat, tried to explain to the soldiers that there was a woman in labor in his taxi, but the soldiers insisted that she had to get out and cross the gate on foot.

The couple got out of the taxi, Roba was crying, holding her stomach, scared about her first birth, leaning on her husband’s shoulders. They walked from the gate in the direction of the checkpoint, a distance of several hundred meters, and there the soldiers ordered them to wait until a female soldier came to do a body check on Roba – maybe she was carrying a bomb on her way to Nablus. On the other side of the checkpoint a Palestinian ambulance that had been ordered by Derar was waiting, and the soldiers did not let its driver pass to the other side of the checkpoint, which is closed at night. Derar says that the soldiers did not even allow Roba to get into the ambulance and to wait inside. They said that these were the orders.

So they stood outside until the female soldier arrived, Roba was examined and the permit to go to the hospital was finally given. The IDF Spokesman responded that he was not familiar with this case.

In the end, Raghad was born in the hospital in Nablus. Mother and baby are doing well. Grandma and grandpa, Roba’s parents, have seen their granddaughter only once so far, in the hospital. The residents of their village of Salem, which can be seen on the opposite hill, are not allowed to enter Beit Furik.

And nevertheless the Hananis were lucky: Late in 2003 Rula Ashateya, who was also in labor, tried to cross that same accursed checkpoint. The soldiers prevented her from crossing at the time, and Rula crouched to give birth on the ground, hiding behind one of the cement blocks of the checkpoint, with her husband serving as midwife. The newborn apparently hit the rock and died. Her parents had intended to call her Mira, I wrote here at the time, since all their children’s names begin with M. Then, too, the IDF Spokesman said that “the soldiers are instructed to allow crossing at the checkpoint in humanitarian cases, at any time and in any situation.”

Here’s the article’s first part … about cancer-patient Taysir Kaisi, and his agonizing death at checkpoint Hawara!

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