Bethlehem, Fri 13.8.10, Morning
08.45 - 08.15 The first Friday of Ramadan
Very many Palestinians pass through the checkpoint with almost no delay. Our Ecumenical friends also pass through and measure the time it takes : the women pass around the checkpoint outside, very fast. The men follow the usual route inside. Both at 08.00 and also at 11.00 it takes 35 minutes to go through. The border policemen and the soldiers behave with meticulous politeness.
Bethlehem - Checkpoint 300: there are many policemen around the checkpoint, and there is no access to the parking lot. A long line of buses awaits the arrival of those coming from Bethlehem. Palestinian women come around, outside the checkpoint. An Ecumenical volunteer came with them and found that the passage takes only four minutes, because the women are hardly inspected and they pass quickly.There are between 3 and 5 inspection stations open inside the checkpoint (they are open and closed intermittently according to the need).
There is a large sign hanging at the entrance explaining that men above 50 years old can pass without a permit, for those between 45 to 50 a permit is needed. Women above 45 can pass without a permit and between 35 to 45 they need a permit. So it appears that young people are not mentioned, and the State of Israel does not recognize their right to have religious sentiments and to express them.
The team of border policemen and soldiers at the checkpoint behave properly.There is only one female soldier who is unpleasant, but later on she surprisingly shows some responsiveness and dares to use her judgment.
The subject of the children is still the most sensitive. A small portion of the Palestinians arrive without their original certificate of registration, but they are only a few.
An ecumenical volunteer arrives and reports that it takes 35 minutes - exactly the same time as in the early morning when he passed through for the first time to check on the situation. He told us that the soldiers were surprised and suspicious to see him standing in line with the Palestinians.
A man about 55 years old arrives with a boy of 12. The female soldier (whom I mentioned above) tells him that he cannot pass with the boy because the latter doesn't appear on his identity-card. It then appears that the boy is his nephew, and the grandfather requests that they should be allowed to go together to Jerusalem where the boy's grandmother is waiting. (The father is in Hebron). The grandfather explains at length in Arabic that he himself has no reason to go to Jerusalem except that the grandmother is waiting and he promised to bring the grandson. The female soldier shows signs of impatience and says that she doesn't understand what this Palestinian wants from her. She calls for the officer who also complains that he doesn't understand what the man wants.
I point-out to the female soldier that "if he (the officer) is supposed to deal with an Arabic-speaking population, it really would be advisable that he should learn Arabic".
"He should learn Hebrew if he wants to cross into "the land of Israel" she replies".
" There is no legal identity called "The Land of Israel", I answer ", all he wants to do is to pray at the El Aksa mosque at the beginning of Ramadan. What can he do now ? Can the boy return to Hebron alone ? His grandmother is waiting for him here".
The argument with the Palestinian continues for a little longer, and suddenly the female soldier tells him " Well then, you can pass".
Later on, there is an incident with a blind youth aged 29 who passes through the checkpoint, but someone sees him, runs after him and brings him back into the checkpoint. He requests to lean against the wall and rest a little. They allow him to do so, and then the border policemen comes to bring him back and to accompany him in the Bethlehem direction; however, he refuses. It should be noted that that they are perplexed and don't dare to touch him, but plead with him to return to Bethlehem. After a very long argument they tell him that if he doesn't do so they will have to arrest him.
I intervene "maybe you could call the officer so that he would decide whether to allow a blind man to go and pray, even though he is not yet 50 years old ?"
Indeed, they call for someone from the police who comes and talks quietly to him, but the youth continues to refuse so the policeman says that he will call for a patrol car to arrest him. Eventually, an additional officer arrives, speaks to him quietly and accompanies him back to Bethlehem.