Bethlehem, Fri 13.8.10, Morning
Bethlehem - Checkpoint 300 -- the Palestinian side
First Friday of Ramadan
The town of Bethlehem is still drowsy. Many shops are closed and there is little traffic in the centre of town. Traffic picked up as we approached the checkpoint, and at the early hour of 8:45 pedestrians were streaming in that direction. Palestinian police blocked traffic and parking from the streets leading to the checkpoint. The checkpoint was opened only for those on their way to Jerusalem by car, and that was how we were able to park close to it.
The entry to the checkpoint is covered and the passage in its entirely is shaded. Four entry lines were manned by Palestinians police men and women. The army manned the entrance to the parking lot which, as in previous years, is blocked to parking. The graffiti which used to cover the wall have been painted over in blue, although here and there traces peep through. The entire area is clean. The roof over the "cages" has been mended and the barbed wire removed.
Entrance into the checkpoint space is very fast. Men go through the usual entrance, one turnstile, then another where documents and permits are checked. Women cross through the humanitarian entry without passing the checkpoint space, and are immediately directed to checks of documents and belongings, and then leave by going round the building (the passage usually used by vehicles). In the building itself all three x-ray machines are working and the liines move quickly. From our observation point we measured an average of 30 minutes crossing time.
There is a festive atmosphere, men wearing spotless galabiyas, women wearing gorgeously embroidered village dresses. We had the impression that there were more veils than in the past.
Massive presence of soldiers and officers, their behaviour uniformly respectful. We did not see a single soldier eating or drinking in the presence of the fasting Palestinians who were addressed politely. We heard many soldiers greeting them with holiday greetings. Only one female officer destroyed the impression by speaking and behaving very shamefully. We watched her over a considerable period of time and were outraged; but no other soldier followed her discgraceful example. We were sorry no one reprimanded her, and complained to those concerned.
In contrast to previous years, very few were turned away -- perhaps because prior publicity had improved, and also because co-ordination with Palestinian police was helpful. Unlike previous years, crossing regulations were not changed during the night between Thursday and Friday.
One woman who tried to cross with a man's ID was sent back to Bethlehem and the ID confiscated. Since the woman did not protest, we didn't intervene.
Many of those crossing who know us from previous watches wished us well and greeted us with a "shana tov" and sent greetings to our fellow observers.
When we left, people were still streaming towards the checkpoint. We made our way to Jerusalem on the Israeli side and saw convoys of buses waiting for passengers to Jerusalem.