Bethlehem, Sun 5.9.10, Morning
6:45 am, CP 300, Bethlehem - Checkpoint 300: first reports about a very slow crossing we receive before we enter the terminal. Inside, there are four windows in operation and few people, but outside, on the other side, there is still a crowd of people waiting.
Not long after we arrived, a young (about 35) man arrived on crutches accompanied by his 12-year old son. The father had an appointment in one of the hospitals and was armed with a permit. The 12-year old son was registered on his father's ID card and was equipped with an original birth certificate. Notwithstanding, he was not allowed to cross into Israel. Chana A. tried to talk to the soldier to get him to let the 12-year through but to no avail. We contacted the humanitarian hotline and there we were told that we can't help: the boy needed a special permit to accompany his father. Having no choice, the father left alone on his way to the hospital, crutches and a plastic bag with his documents hanging from his little finger.
At about the same time a 75-year old man came to the window without a permit. He wanted to go and pray on this holy day (Leyl Al Khader). He had no permit and didn't think he needed one. The soldier said he needed one and so did the humanitarian hotline. "Only on Fridays can they cross without a permit" we were told.
While we were dealing with these problems, one of the security men in the black vests suddenly appeared from deep inside the building and ordered us to stand over by the wall. We told him we were in the middle of helping to get the boy and the old man through and we had all their documents spread out on the metal flat surface attached to the turnstile. We were certainly not in the way of anyone needing to cross over and were not interfering with the soldiers' doing their job!
First the black-vest shouted at Chana and told her to get out of the way. He told her that if she doesn't want him to physically remove her, she should budge already. In the end he did shove her in the direction of where he wanted her to go. Then the security guy grabbed my arm and I asked him not to touch me, whereupon he started to shove me forcefully towards the wall. I tried to get rid of him without any result. I immediately contacted the humanitarian hotline and lodged a complaint against the security guy.
A few minutes later a blue policeman appeared who told us to go inside for questioning. I immediately called the humanitarian hotline (again) and Hanna B. and I asked Hanna B. to get in touch with all the hotlines. One of the EAPPI women was there as well and she told us later that she also got in touch with Hanna B..
The police officer led us into the interior of the building ("the Castle"). It has many doors, all closed. We sat there in a sort of sitting corner and across from us were a security guard (another one), two soldiers from the BP, and Yoav, the "famous" (infamous) of Checkpoint 300. As usual, he was armed to his teeth, complete with knee guards and camouflage over his head gear! There was also a woman soldier in green uniform. The scene was surrealistic; they seemed to all be there to keep us from running away or burning down the building. Just in case. They may have thought they could intimidate us, but that was their way of making the wrong judgment.
In the meantime Hanna B. had called all the people in key positions and Raya had begun to interest the media. But our arrest continued in spite of all this. We had on and off conversations with the soldiers sitting across from us about what we do and why. We had the feeling that everything we said fell on deaf ears. They probably thought the same of what they told us of their opinions. The deaf talking to the deaf...
After about an hour the police officer came and asked us for our ID's. He then called me first and showed what he had written down as the offense: Interfering with the proper carrying out of the police officer's job. What police officer? I refused to sign and asked to add a remark to the effect that the security guard had pushed me when I was busy finding out why the two people mentioned above could not cross over. When the police officer were finished with me, he called Chana A. and the same procedure was practiced on her. She also refused to sign.
When the procedure was finished, we got our ID's back and we were shown in to the office of the officer in charge of the terminal as well as the "safety of all the Jewish Jerusalemites". He told us politely that he had made an agreement with the representatives of Machsom-Watch (MW) that we would stick to standing by the wall. We told him that we had never heard of such an agreement, that we are an egalitarian organization, a "flat" association without the top and bottom, and that any agreement with one of us is only for that particular person. He told us that we are not allowed to talk to the soldiers, that this confuses them...
He said he would be willing to hear any remarks we had to make about the Checkpoint and we said that at times the crossing is irritatingly slow and that this is a human rights offense. He answered that his task is only to be concerned about the Jerusalem citizens' safety, the wellbeing of the Palestinian population crossing over at the Checkpooint is no concern of his. We got his telephone number and can give it to any of you who wants it.
After this conversation, we were released and when we went back to the main hall, we found out that this Sunday, which was Leil Al Khader, people of the right age can cross over without a permit from 10AM. At that moment the officer in charge of the terminal (whom we had just talked to) came out and we asked him why the soldier didn't tell the 75-year old man that he would be to cross over at 10 in the morning. The answer was "that is not the soldier's responsibility". At the humanitarian hotline they could not tell us that older people (different ages for men and women) could cross that day without a permit after 10AM.
Resuming this incident we want to say that this was the first time we had ever been arrested after years of volunteering with MW in general and about six years of being at the Bethlehem Checkpoint once a week. We have sometimes heated exchanges with the security people there but these always end peacefully and they let us finish our tasks there. This is the first time they push and shove us around. And they arrested us as if we were the ones that behaved violently. Familiar, is it not? I don't think this is just the hooligan on duty as security guard that day but that this is a growing abuse on the part of the police against human rights activists. The borders are being stretched and the limits overstepped.
9:00 am, Etzion DCL: after many obstacles, we finally made it to the DCL. Chana had an appointment with someone there and we were in a hurry to get there. It turned out in the end that the person was waiting at the Beit Jalla DCL and he got to where we were only at 10:30, half a minute before we were ready to leave. At the DCL there were a number of people who wanted us to help them submit their petitions to get their security blacklisting removed at the window. We wrote down their telephone numbers and gave them ours, but no one called.