Bethlehem (300), Fri 1.6.12, Morning
9:10 - 11:15 Bethlehem checkpoint, and a meeting with a Palestinian in Gush Etzion
Summary: The Kafkaesque, yet again, at the checkpoint, but without a 'happy end' this time
Three entry points are open. One is cordoned off with a police ribbon (the checking machine has broken down)
The entrance to the parking lot has been blocked for some reason.
A young man who looks sick is sitting on the ground between two checking points. He tells us he has cancer, was in hospital (still wearing the hospital "bracelet" on his wrist), and he has to get back there but the soldier has asked him to wait. Ten minutes later a friendly and familiar guard tries to speed up things. Another ten minutes go by, and I go up to the soldier to ask why the sick man has not yet gone through:
- He's forbidden.
- But how can that be? He's arrived from hospital and is supposed to return.
- Yes, but he's forbidden.
- Have you told him? He knows you're checking something, and that he should wait.
- Yes, we're checking why he's forbidden.
Another 20 minutes go by (there's no answer from the humanitarian center), and finally he's allowed to cross.
People cross and all is calm until a child arrives, and once again the saga of children without a special permit begins. The father crosses but the child is forbidden. The father has a permit to pray on Fridays; he presents the child's permit but to no avail. Again we begin rounds of calls to the DCO, again vague and contradictory responses, and promises to check.
The female soldier outdoes the rest: to my observation that the requirement of permits for children has been revoked, she invents --without batting an eyelid:
- Now there's a new law only for Friday prayers for which children too have to present a permit.
We demand to see the DCO representative at the checkpoint, but he doesn't come out -- "he's busy" says one of the soldiers.
Fortunately a veteran commander at the checkpoint turns up, hears the story, confirms there's no such rule for Fridays, promises to check if the permit requirement for children has been revoked. Father and child wait.
Ten minutes later he returns and announces that there is no way to let the child cross: every child from the age of 5 must have a permit regardless of the parent's permit.
Father and son are turned ack. The same happens to an 8 year old and her parents. They find it hard to believe that their friendly smile and the words "she's only a little girl" do not solve their problem, and they too must turn back.
The commander admits: "It's obvious to me that these small children are not terrorists, but these are the orders. It's hard for us too. A few days ago a bus-load of children arrived, one family had arranged permits for the little ones but not for the older child who had to be turned away. It's very unpleasant to see a child cry. But if I use my judgment and let someone through, I'm liable to be sentenced. It has already happened to me."
We left the checkpoint for Gush Etzion to meet a Palestinian who came to pass on a sum of money to a lawyer, having suddenly become "forbidden" after many years of work in Israel.