Bethlehem, Fri 3.9.10, Morning
09:00 am, Bethlehem - Checkpoint 300, Fourth Friday of Ramadan: on the way we already saw that the flow of people towards the checkpoint was smaller than passed us last week. At the first station there were no lines, neither for men nor women, and the passage to the checkpoint itself was fast and smooth. Same as last week, we saw "refused by age" people standing on the side and hoping that in a moment of compassion they would perhaps allowed to go through to prayers. Until we left that moment didn't come, and the meticulousness about age of passage was more thorough than in previous weeks.
At the entrance to the checkpoint itself there was a big change. In place of squeezing through turnstiles, the gates were opened wide both towards the building and around it, so pressure was prevented. This time we entered the building itself and saw that, despite the need to pass through a magnometer, there was no delay of longer than 20 minutes. When pressure did develop in the building, people were moved around the building and another checking station was opened.
It was interesting to watch youths approaching maturity who returned time and again to the checkpoint in the hope of making it to Jerusalem - perhaps for a fun day? The soldiers turned them back time and again in what sometimes became a sort of game, and at other times it appeared that a forceful act might materialise at any moment. The presence of senior officers, and particularly of a DCL representative (A.) who had been there for some time already and knew many of the passers by, prevented any such outburst.
As women we felt a special kinship with the Palestinian women. Many had come with all their children, the oldest of whom had already passed the "permissible" age and the mother had to decide whether to cross without him or forsake the prayers in Jerusalem. Dressed in the best of their festive garments, in the holiday atmosphere and the yearning to pray - the disappointment would be as great as the expectation.
Passage for the old men and women, the sick and the disabled, was difficult. The climb to the checkpoint and the walk to the busses was almost impossible for many of them. Only the ones in wheelchairs passed directly to the parking lot. A blind man accompanied by his wife was clutching a white cane. The soldier at the station tried to prevent the "entry" of the cane. Clearly he didn't understand "what is it?" The blind man, speaking good Hebrew, stopped and showed the soldiers the "wonders" of the cane - and perhaps they all learned something.
We learnt that, despite the 50,000 who passed last week, they anticipated only 30,000 today. We tried to clarify among the Palestinians why there were less and we heard that people were deterred after the terror strikes this week and after the last week at the checkpoint became common knowledge.
We left in the hope that next Ramadan we will not need to be here...