Bethlehem (300), July 20, 2012
First Friday of the Ramadan
Bethlehem Checkpoint 300 (the Palestinian side)
Overview: passage through the checkpoint was fast, quiet and with no waiting. Movement of the devout was very sparse. No one was required to wait more than a few minutes for passage. Border police and civil administration treated people with respect. The fans placed everywhere
eased the heat considerably.
We arrived at the checkpoint at 9:00 am. There was no line, and people were going through quickly. Children under 12 were asked to present a birth certificate and went through only with parental accompaniment. Above that age, children could not go through. On the Palestinian side there was no age requirement – those who looked like they fit the bill were allowed through. The age restriction was strictly adhered to only on the Israeli side.
At the entrance to the building, women and older men were taking an alternate route through the car lane. These walking lanes, which bypass the checkpoint, helped ease traffic. At the same time, it seemed to us that elderly people going this way were having a harder time, both with climbing up the incline till the “humanitarian passage” turnstile and with walking further to the buses than in the regular route. Why weren’t they permitted to go through the large gate leading directly to the bus stop?
Inside the building itself were three manometers and traffic through them flowed smoothly. Red Crescent personnel in the area were helping people in wheelchairs and others struggling to walk to make it to the iron-gate.
The Palestinian policemen and policewomen had little to do today. We were glad to encounter a Palestinian policewoman we’d met last year. Examination lanes were all shaded, and this shade was both a blessing and a necessity.
The soldiers and policemen neither ate nor drank in the presence of the local population. Their rest area appeared isolated and discreet.
Freedom of religious worship: the age restriction we witnessed in Ramadan prayer crossings conflicts with Israel’s claim to respect freedom of religious worship for all. Why is a man who is 39 years and 10 months old more dangerous than a 40 year-old man? And is a 13 year-old not a child? We pondered what we’d say about religious freedoms if these were Jews whose religious worship rights were being restricted now, either here or elsewhere in the world.