Bethlehem, יום ו' 27.8.10, בוקר
8:50 am, Bethlehem - Checkpoint 300. Third Friday of Ramadan
During Ramadan there are two inspection points at Bethlehem Checkpoint. The first is next to the parking lot, which is closed on Ramadan Fridays and manned by Palestinian policemen and women and IDF soldiers, male and female. The second entrance, which is the normal one to the checkpoint, is located on a hill slope and manned by Israeli soldiers and police.
We arrived at 08:50 and there was already very hevy traffic of Palestinians on their way to prayers. The flow was incessant and clearly there was a significant increase in the number wishing to pass to pray. Before we arrived there we already received phone calls from people who were refused passage, and when we did get there it was clear that many hoped to pass despite the prohibitions and procedures.
Throughout our stay the flow was incessant, and when we left around 11:30 masses of people were still arriving. Passage at the first women's station was smooth while at the men's there was crowding - the converse of the situation at the second station.
We ascended in the direction of the second checkpoint, but the terrible crowding particularly at the women's crossing was such that we couldn't even approach the entrance. After quite a dangerous climb, we succeeded in bypassing the crush and could see that the turnstile only opened from time to time, each time letting 20-25 women through then stopping again. The pressure of the women in line increased, and clearly the situation was tough and the terrible crush was not only causing suffering but was also dangerous. By comparison, the men's station was functioning in relative tranquillity.
They had bothered to provide shade in the area before entry to the first station, but entry to the second point, which is the actual access to the checkpoint, was unshaded and standing in burning sunlight was a harsh addition to the suffering that people were already enduring. Throughout the morning the pressure at the men's station grew, and we heard complaints and comments about our disgusting helplessness and the arrogance applied to people who were trying to maintain their basic right to pray during their fast at their most holy of sites.
We complained to the officers who were on site, and they promised that the situation would improve, but in practice nothing improved for an hour and a half. A Palestinian woman, apparently foreseeing the outcome, pulled a bottle of ice water from her bag and sprayed the women in the line. Others had brought damp towels to cover the heads of the children and dampen the faces of the women. The situation was terrifying.
The flow of people in creased by the minute, and there was no remaining doubt that the "system" had failed completely. After an hour and a half we finally succeeded in reaching the entrance. Suddenly the eyes of those in charge apparently opened, and the gates were in use, letting people pass outside the building instead of through the magnometers that slowed the flow even more, and finally it looked as thow there was a chance that people would arrive at prayers while still alive.
And we ask: everyone knows that the flow of the observant increases during the third and fourth week of Ramadan, and the number of transients this week is double or more than in the preceding week. Up to 11:00 some 28,000 had passed. If they are already activating the tough procedures on freedom of prayer, why not plan the crossing so that it is as human as possible? Wasn't it possible to do at 09:00 what they were going to do at 11:00?
An order was given to ease the passage of Palestinians whose age was slightly lower than that of the "permissible," and children just past 12 years of age. In the light of the heavy pressure, it was not possible to ascertain whether the soldiers were behaving according to those orders - and in the prevailing situation it was difficult to expect. What we did see and were pained by was the bitter disappointment of those refused passage. The situation did not escape the eyes of the journalists on the spot, who were filming and interviewing passers by.
The behaviour of the soldiers this week was nervous, and quite often lacking in respect to the point of vulgarity. It is to be assumed that the pressure and heat did not ease the situation, and we wondered why it was necessary to reach this state of affairs? We learnt in the last two weeks that things could be different!!
And so year after year, Ramadan after Ramadan - and none of this will be forgotten or forgiven...