Bethlehem, Etzion DCO
06:25 - When I arrived at the checkpoint I noticed that there were relatively fewer cars and people than usual. If at first I hoped it was a sign of a good morning, the fact that I did not meet our acquaintance in his usual place was ominous. Inside, the hall was not very full and the 5 operating windows did not predict what was happening on the Palestinian side. A security guard arrived and offered a cup of coffee to a woman-soldier and everything seemed relaxed. But a few moments later there was an announcement: "stop sleeves streaming" from the speakers on the Palestinian side, indicating that there are many more people waiting to pass. And indeed people who pass tell us about many people outside and overcrowding, shoving and shouting (some of which we hear). One of the people defined it as "War". The hall empties and fills alternately according to the "streaming sleeves" situation, but all the time the reports are that there are still many people out there.
06:55 – Our acquaintance arrives only now, and he too reports that there are still many more people waiting, only few are being let in, hence the pressure.
07:00 – A young officer peeks from the door leading into the checkpoint. He asks the security guard who we are, and when he says: "the women of Machsom-Watch” he greets us with ‘good morning’ and apologizes that he can’t come out to meet us since he isn’t wearing his bulletproof vest. We respond that we heard that the situation is very bad and that there is great pressure on the Palestinian side. According to him there is always more pressure on Sundays. The officer disappears and after a few minutes the hall fills to capacity and suddenly shouting and shoving begin here too. The security guards are summoned immediately, but after a moment, everything calms down. Meanwhile a policeman and more soldiers arrive.
7:15 - one window closes, still there are a lot of people. An officer starts to move soldiers from the gate between the windows. First he takes every time a number of permits, checks them on the computer at the window that is closed to the public and then comes back and lets the people pass through the gate. Later on, since the pressure is not subsiding, he passes people, briefly browsing their permits, and only then the pressure diminishes.
We met a French guy who is with his friends in Bethlehem and passes for visits to Jerusalem occasionally. He asked about our activities. As usual people turn to Sylvia and seek help for relatives and friends who are prevented from entering Israel.
07:35 –There are still a lot of people, which is very rare at this hour. Although the gate has closed four windows are still open. We leave because we need to get to a meeting with Jamila and to the DCO.
On our way to the parking lot we see a rare sight - cleaning people, probably from the municipality, are cleaning the area adjacent to the checkpoint. Unfortunately they didn’t choose a good day, because a strong wind is blowing and propelling bags and papers all over the place. At the cars’ exit of the checkpoint we meet the young officer. He addresses us warmly. It turns out his name is Asaf and he is the commander of the military police here. According to him the reason for the pressure today is that in one of the 3 lines (“the paddocks”) on the Palestinian side the carousel is stuck, an "electrical hitch" he said. That’s why they had to let people pass only through 2 of the 3 lines and pressure ensued. He says that they are working on fixing the problem. He gave us his phone number just in case, but says that soon he is moving to the north of Jerusalem area (Qalandia and other checkpoints).
On our way to the DCO we stopped at the entrance to Husan for a meeting with Jamila and to purchase olive oil and olives. This is our first meeting with her since her husband died and we express our condolences to the family.
We arrived late; the DCO is already open and the parking lot is full. Many people approach us immediately and as usual Sylvia can barely get out of the car. The requirement for “Report Comments for Permits Requests” (see previous reports) further complicates submitting applications for work in Israel. Regarding the settlements (which do not require a Report Comments), some of the large employers have already learned that they must write in the letter that the work is in settlement XXX, to others we explain which documents they have to submit. But there is an additional difficulty: they also require a letterhead and/or official stamp. They did not accept an application from a man who has a letter from a private employer. He calls the employer who wants him but has no rubber stamp. Sylvia instructed him to try and enter again and insist on delivering the paperwork and suggest they call the employer on the spot. Even on our way back to the car people are still approaching Sylvia.
In the photo: Sylvia talking to one of the applicants on the way to the car, and next to her a "coffee boy", we have known him and his disabled father for years.