Bethlehem, Wed 5.8.09, Morning

Natanya G., Hanna B. (reporting)
Seriously? Does this make us safer?

In recent weeks we have received many complaints about renewed difficulties in morning crossings at Bethlehem Checkpoint.

We arrived at 05:00, the hour of opening of the checkpoint. Immediately upon entering, we were verbally assaulted by the only soldier staffing the checking station that is open all night. He demanded that we leave the checkpoint, because "you are forbidden to be here!" When that didn't help he explained: "You are interfering with a representative of the public in his work!" When none of this helped, the mild obscenities began, but meanwhile his replacement appeared and he vanished into the doorway of what we know as "the mysterious cave."

Only at 05:00 did the soldiers of this shift emerge from the "cave" door to take their places at the checking posts. Now they began to take their places: here a chair was missing, there the chair wasn't comfortable, here a computer opened, there it didn't - and so 12 minutes passed until "we" were ready to work. The soldiers at the checking stations were new, and consequently inexperienced. The computerised system did its share in sabotaging the pace. Throughout the critical two hours there were hitches, in one computer or another, and not all the checking stations could function continuously and fast.. Lt. S., the officer in charge, was present all the time and did much to help his soldiers. We counted 2365 transients between 05:00 - 07:30. By comparison with the police data, there was a discrepancy of 350, which did not seem at all reasonable to us.

Throughout the shift we only saw two cases of refusal of passage on work permits. Apart from that one worker had his ID card confiscated at the entrance to the checkpoint on the ridiculous contention that "he knocked on the door." After our intervention, the card was returned. "Knocked on the door" -have you ever heard such a ridiculous reason for confiscation of ID - the thread running through all Palestinian life.. Anyone having problems with palm prints was sent to another station, and all passed through. A man with six fingers on each hand has held up a while, but with the intervention of Lt. S and the DCO officer, the man went through. In the early hours of morning few women pass, but the complaints about harassment by men continue. The humanitarian lane is also open to elderly men, and it did ease the situation but did not resolve the harassment problem completely.

On the Palestinian side there was great uproar and heavy pressure. The men who could allow themselves to come later to the checkpoint passed through in 20 minutes, but most needed to get to work by 07:00, and so had to come in the early hours. There are still many who sleep near the entrance to the checkpoint.

The blue police treat the Palestinians with respect, and their presence is helpful. We drew attention to the humiliating tourist posters hanging inside the checkpoint. The posters invite viewers to visit Nazareth, Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea - along the lines of "see the land to which you cannot come!" We asked/requested that they consider removing the posters and were astonished to learn that we were not the first to ask!

And now the continuation of the story of the mixed couple which we wrote about in yesterday afternoon's report. At 08:30 the couple came to the checkpoint, and the DCO representative. Who yesterday promised to clarify the matter, had indeed done so. It is difficult to describe in words the shock of all of us when it became clear that the woman is police blacklisted until March 2010. When it was clear that we could not help any more, we gave them Advc. Blank's phone number. Kafka would undoubtedly have felt comfortable in this tale - but we left mournfully and crestfallen...