Bethlehem (300), Fri 27.7.12, Morning
:Bethlehem - Checkpoint 300, 9:45 am
We arrived at 09.45 (this was too late – next week we shall go earlier) and met a huge stream of worshipers who had already passed through the checkpoint on their way to the buses. We were allowed to go through the big steel gate to the Palestinian side of the checkpoint and discovered that a mass of people was hurrying on its way to the checkpoint entrance. At the first entrance, which was under the responsibility of the Palestinian police, many were crowded together, mainly youngsters who were aware of the fact that they could not pass through to Jerusalem.
Some of them climbed onto the wall which separates the various passageways and we endured several minutes of anxiety. We feared that the situation might get out of control and that force would be used. However, to our relief the Palestinians, in cooperation with the Israelis, succeeded to calm the situation and to allow the people to pass without any incidents. The pressure in the passage ways was enormous and people who found it difficult to stand in the queue in the great heat, sat in the shade and waited until the danger had passed.
Also, today invalids and elderly people were allowed to pass through the steel gate directly to the buses without having to climb up in the direction of the turnstiles at the entrance to the checkpoint. The Red-Crescent people were very efficient and took the invalids quickly through the gate and helped them to get into the buses.
The information that women of all ages were allowed to go through
pray quickly spread, and we saw very many women struggling in the
heavy heat to climb up to the checkpoint on their way to their
prayers. Today also many were allowed to bypass the checkpoint
and to pass to the other side without the need to stand in another
line or be inspected. The attitude was permissive and considerate.
The Palestinian bus company completely failed. It didn’t supply the
necessary number of buses to convey the worshipers to the Temple Mount and there was a lot of turmoil outside the checkpoint. Only after the Israeli police intervened, and apparently ordered buses from Israeli companies ( we arrived at this conclusion because of the writing on the sides of the buses, but we don’t have any authoritative information about this), the problem was gradually solved and buses started to fill-up and get on their way at a reasonable speed.
Suddenly we discovered a small child wandering in the area of the checkpoint and crying – he had lost his mother. Everyone – Israeli soldiers (male and female), Palestinian police, and Red Crescent people all tried to help. Everyone stroked the child and did everything to calm him, and only after what seemed like an eternity his mother was found. Tears and sweat ran down the child’s sweet face and the mother gave us an embarrassed look. All’s well that ends well . . .
Towards 11.00 am the pressure of the worshipers greatly increased. The queues at the “cages” were long and congested. The local police commander concluded that the situation was unreasonable and that the dense queues constituted a danger to the Palestinians, especially to the elderly, so he decided to open a gate, which during all our years at the checkpoint we hadn’t seen opened. The key was searched for, but it was difficult to free the locks. So one of the border- guards took the initiative and gave the gate a good kick. The “miracle gate” opened and a huge stream of worshipers passed through it. We felt that the Palestinians also thought that they were seeing a mirage, or a “Ramadan Miracle”. After this operation was completed, the pressure dropped and the queues dispersed. “Where there is a wish, there is a way”, apparently !
Except for a complaint by an Italian woman about the behaviour of one of the soldiers, which we couldn’t verify, the proceedings were appropriate and respectful. We didn’t hear any shouting or swearing or inappropriate behaviour.
We didn’t check at the end of our shift exactly how many worshipers had passed through the checkpoint, but it must have been tens of thousands.
We tried to check whether the rumor which we heard that towards the end of the festival that the mens’ age restriction will be cancelled – but apparently its just a rumor.
Regrettably, we lost our camera so we can’t distribute pictures.