Bethlehem, Fri 18.9.09, Morning
AM, Bethlehem, (The Palestinian Side): the town that shrunk. Many shops were still closed, and the atmosphere of Friday and a festival was perceptible. Although there was less traffic through the checkpoint than on Ramadan Fridays in the past, the “cages” were nevertheless full of people. However, the passage was quick, and entry to the site was smooth. It was difficult to view all those men and women who had been refused passage, and who were waiting there for a “miracle” to happen.
Young women, some of them very young mothers with babies in their arms, were standing in the hot sun and hoping that someone - either on Earth or in heaven, would come to their help, and enable them to enter Jerusalem pray there. The age factor was of course very prominent :
A man who in another two months would be 50 was refused entry, and it was very difficult for him to accept the verdict. Our ability to help was too limited to be able to rescue him, and it seems that decisions must be upheld at any price. A small crack in the dam will apparently lead to a Tsunami . . .it hurts to realize again and again how frustration that was perhaps hidden, bursts-out in a wave of hatred.
The arrangements of the crossing greatly eased the pressure. The very old women and men were led through the vehicle passageway, quickly and without a crush. The men crossed at the terminal where two inspection lines out of three were operating. At one of them the inspections were fast and smooth; at the other, sat an irritable and loud-mouthed female soldier whose behavior was extremely strident. We complained about this, but didn't manage to verify whether our complaint was successful. An elderly man, about 70 years old, came to us with “a complaint” : he took the trouble to get a permit to enter for prayer and now they don't even look at him . . .
An elderly man bent-down to pick-up a twenty-shekel bill from the ground, which had apparently fallen-out of someone's pocket. Suddenly a border-policeman appeared and jumped on him, at least as if he had broken-into the central treasury of The Bank of Israel and stole all its contents. The affair was especially shameful, and we asked ourselves what would have happened if we had found the bill - would this same “performance” have taken place ?!
During our shift we heard shouts over the loudspeakers : “ move back, move back ! get out of my sight !” It appeared that women who didn't succeed to pass through the (official) crossing, tried to bypass it through a side road which leads to the vehicle entrance. A border-police jeep “fought” this phenomenon - and with success. The jeep drove at high-speed towards the women, who of course ran away as fast as they could. This shameful spectacle repeated itself several times. One would have thought that the same result could have been achieved without this violent tactic. Photographers who were there commemorated the event, and it will be interesting to hear the reaction of “the most ethical army on earth” when these photographs appear around the world.
During the last two years, the entrance to the checkpoint has been moved beyond the parking-lot. Two separate passageways have been opened for women and for men, and as a result there is now no unbearable crush at the first entrance to the checkpoint. The policemen in blue (border-policemen and soldiers of the civil-defense force) behaved with respect towards those passing-through, although the rules were strictly obeyed.
The presence of senior officers greatly restrained their subordinates and, except for the case described above, we didn't observe any breakout of violence, either in words or behavior.
Another year, along with its invectives, has passed, and let us hope that this year it will be remembered that freedom of worship is a foundation-stone of the rights- of-man.
Permits to pray ??!!