Bethlehem, Etzion DCL, Sun 25.4.10, Morning
Bethlehem, CP 300, 07:00: On our way to the checkpoint we hear from Hanna B, who checked on the Bethlehem side of the crossing earlier this morning, that complete chaos reigned this morning and the infringement on human rights was distressing. When we get there, we get gloomy reports from the Palestinians on the goings on this morning: A long line of people on the Bethlehem side and on the Israeli side as well. The exit hall is filled to the hilt, four windows are open on our side but it doesn't make anything easier, everyone gets checked with the utmost care. Very time-consuming. A group of north-bound Palestinian tourists, obviously with permits to visit Israel, their bus waiting outside for them, were taking off the bus for individual inspection. One by one, their documents are checked, while this could have been done on the bus itself, as is often the case. This would have eased the pressure on the terminal for the workers who have to undergo this procedure every day on their way to work.
One of the workers turns to Ofra with a request: one of his relatives bought a worker's permit for NIS 4500. Shortly after, the permit was revoked. What can be done? We have no comfort for him. The demand for permits on the one hand and the limited issue of permits on the other, create ideal conditions for such hanky-panky. The same worker already called us up once to ask for the name of an employer who would solve his problem.
Sylvia is taking on another case: An 18-year old young man and his father are trying to pass the checkpoint. Their documents are checked and the woman soldier refuses to let them pass and sends them back with a familiar waving of her hand. The young man has leukemia and underwent a bone marrow transplant at Hadassa Hospital. Now he has to go back there for a check-up. He is wearing a mask, looks extremely pale and weak; he can hardly stand on his feet and his father has to support him to keep him from collapsing. The father says his son's blood count is extremely low; the boy is on the point of fainting. Yet! There is a problem with his magnetic card, although the permit is in still valid until the 19th of May. The magnetic card doesn't match the handprint and therefore the two are waved away!
Then Sylvia starts a run on the telephone: to the humanitarian hotline, from there to the Etsion DCO where Vlady answers her and asks her to wait five minutes. After three minutes the boy's condition is deteriorating to such an extent that another emergency call is made to Vlady. The boy is now sitting on the floor, leaning with his back on the wall of the booth, the entrance to the Promised Land! The girl soldier is trying to get rid of him, but he won't budge. He can't stand. Sylvia tries again and again, she insists and warns them that the boy is in a life-threatening situation and time is of the essence.
During all these events one of the guards is screaming at the top of his lungs. He is dressed in black, the uniform of the company that is employed at the checkpoints. He is screaming that Sylvia is "obstructing the smooth operation of the checkpoint". She is making telephone calls and not moving, he is screaming and shouting. At one point the girl soldiers communicate with each other over the microphone while one instructs the others not to let anyone pass until Sylvia moves. Then Ofra comes to the rescue and demands to hold off …when a female officer appears making it seem as if she will help resolve the problem, but "no way". She also screams at Sylvia telling her not to talk back to her. Ofra runs to the rescue again and gets brutally shouted at too. Pandemonium. At that moment a police officer appears, and hopes are pinned on him, but he doesn't do anything either. In the end, after 20 minutes of telephone calls, of begging and protest, the boy and his father pass the checkpoint. Twenty minutes of wasted time and energy in which tragedy was barely avoided.
The female officer warns/threatens the father/son couple to fix the problem with the magnetic card. But how exactly can the boy go to the DCO to get a new handprint? He can hardly stand on his two feet…
After the couple crosses the CP, the police officer calls Ofra to order after her loud exchange of words with the female officer. He threatens her and asks to see her ID. Then the two go outside for an exchange of words. We try to get close to make sure that Ofra is OK, but she signs to us that she is handling the situation by herself and is OK.
The humanitarian line is not open today. That is part – but only part – of the trouble. This happens more and more often lately. The humanitarian line, which serves women, old people and the sick, is not opened. Last week we heard in an MW report of a woman at another checkpoint (Zeitim) who was delayed in spite of the fact that her pregnancy had ended in the death of her fetus and she had to get to the hospital urgently. Miraculously, these cases did not end in tragedy, but they were only an inch away. The humanitarian line could help at least a little in these cases.
In short, the Bethlehem terminal is quickly turning into a disaster. The girl soldiers, who are hard hearted and the guards who are brutal are making this a place from hell. The problems are reported daily in the last few months, but the situation only gets worse.
8:30 Etsion DCO: We meet one woman who is looking for her son, plastic bag with clean underwear in her hand. She tells the story of a son who was arrested but the family was not notified of the place where he is held. She only assumes he is held here at the police's detention and we refer her to the Moked.
There are only a few people in the waiting hall. Some have already been admitted to the offices inside and after a short while, the others are admitted too. One of the people complains to us that his request to go to Hadassa Hospital for an appointment has been refused twice already and now he is afraid of another refusal. He has an appointment at 3:00P this afternoon at the hematology/oncology department! We turn for advice to Hanna B and she finds out what the problem is: the hospital has not requested a permit for the patient in the accepted way (sending a fax with the request to Dalia Bassa's office). When we call the patient the next day, he reports that he now has a permit for the next Sunday after Hadassa followed the guidelines.
VISIT TO ONE OF THE PALESTINIAN DCO'S
Today we have a meeting with the people in one of the Palestinian DCO's. We talk to them from time to time when workers and/or merchants submit appeals to have their blacklisting removed. We want to understand from them what the criteria for accepting the request or refusing it are.
Before entering the DCO building we are shown the office where applicants get help filling out the request for permits in Hebrew. This procedure costs NIS 10 per form.
We enter the main office and are introduced to the employees there. It's orderly and clean. There is not much of a crowd here today: only one woman is waiting at the window for her permit. The head of the office shows us the pile of requests for permits which is going to make its way from this DCO to the Israeli one that same day. It's a surrealistic scene and especially the suitcase full of requests for prayer permits for Friday to Al Aksa.
The permits for prayer are submitted each Sunday and the permits themselves are issued on Thursday. They are one-day permits. The Israeli civil administration refuses to issue permits for six months, to be used only on Fridays for prayer. They are not willing to issue permits for three months either and not even for one month. The applicants have to come to the Palestinian DCO every week, stand in line in this office where their requests are printed, pay NIS 10 for the request to be filled out, NIS 8 for round trip taxis to their home on Sunday and then again on Thursday. Then they have to stand in line to submit the request and then again to receive the permit. And the mountains of paper… of the requests and the permits. Has the Civil Administration given a thought to how many trees are needed for the production of all this paper??
We then enter the office of the head of the Palestinian DCO which gives us a little insight into what goes on there. The office is equipped with a computer, as are the other offices. In an adjacent office two women are busy recording data concerning the different types of requests into the computer. Everything is categorized according to type of request and the different types of answers from the Israeli DCO. The head of the DCO gets everything into his computer already processed, categorized, and easy to scan on first sight. Several categories: medical needs, personal matters, business affairs (merchants), and religious requirements are listed. The permits are issued by the Israeli authorities.
The procedure for getting a work permit is different: the request for a work permit comes from the employer, the permits are issued by the Civil Administration Officer in Charge of Employment and the workers get their permits at the employment offices in the occupied territories.
The Israeli DCO returns lists of local residents whose request for a permit has been turned down. In many cases there is no answer at all. The reasons for rejection are: there exists alternative treatment in the territories (in health cases); the request is not legitimate; documents insufficient; lacking magnetic card; doesn't meet criteria; blacklisted; forged request; applicant lives in different region, and more.
The head of the Palestinian DCO emphasizes the excellent relations existing between his office and its Israeli counterpart. He comes back to this point many a time. But the final decision concerning entrance permits rests with the Israeli GSS (shabak) and any give and take with them is out of the question. And the GSS rejects many requests.
The head of the Palestinian DCO remarks that the blacklisted residents better be healthy! If they have to get to Palestinian hospitals in Jerusalem, they have to submit a request for a permit at least two weeks ahead of time. Of course, this is not always feasible. Sometimes the appointment at the hospital is sent much closer to the date than fourteen days ahead of time and sometimes there are urgent cases. We give him the name and telephone number of our colleagues, Hanna B and Yael S., for blacklisted people in need of health permits to turn to.
We turn to the question of removing the blacklist obstacle and to the complications created when there is no documentation trace for the requests submitted. The Head says that his office cannot give receipts for requests submitted as the requests are transferred to the Israeli DCO. We claim that the Israeli DCO can issue receipts for requests for removal from the blacklist and this could aid the Palestinian DCO in giving out these receipts to the applicants.
The overall impression is that the Palestinian DCO is doing a good job in documenting and follow-up. In spite of the satisfaction expressed in the matter of cooperation with the Israeli authorities, many reservations are voiced in the matter of the blacklisting which is a major obstacle in the normal conduct of affairs in the occupied territories.
What we didn't hear is complaints about waiting in line at the checkpoints and the harassment of West Bank residents there, every morning and every evening. Also the construction of new (and the building onto of the old) settlements, the wall being erected in the middle of Palestinian territory, the ugliness and the impediments to normal life posed by the wall, and more. In short: If all's so well, why is it so bad??