Bethlehem (300), Etzion DCL
6:25 – as usual, outside there are many people and cars. Inside 5 windows are open and the hall is quite empty. Two unfamiliar security guards, one greets me with good morning and asks who I am. Hearing the answer he asks his colleague if I am allowed to be there and the colleague confirms I am. Meanwhile, the hall fills up with people.
6:30 – An officer arrives and opens the gate between the windows. Among the passers is our acquaintance, who says today was "so-so." The officer then opened the gate every now and then, when the hall was full and pressure was building up. Today they paid special attention to permit hours. People whose permit began at 7:00 or 8:00 were not allowed to pass (even not through the gate) and they were required to wait. Among them was a woman with a little girl and a baby in her arms.
From the Palestinian side of the checkpoint arrives Y. from the ecumenical. The security guards demand that she stand outside. She asks them to check with their superiors and says she’ll come back in a few minutes to check the answer. When she returns they have no answer, but she stands and talks to us and they allow it. She says that the Humanitarian Gate wasn’t open, although it seemed as if it was, and people were waiting in vain. Meanwhile, Y. the child who had a kidney transplant passes with his mother; we are happy to hear that he feels good and see he has grown taller.
At 7:00 or so everything is calm. The hall has emptied. The soldiers are busy with changing of guards. Some of the windows close. A bit later they let the waiting people pass, even those whose permits are for 8:00. Overall it was pretty empty and the soldiers, who were out of work, were mostly busy exchanging loud jokes among themselves (on the loudspeakers).
As we were leaving, we met a young man, a tourist who came to visit Bethlehem. He asked how to get to the Church of the Nativity and got an explanation from Y. He said he is a photographer and a film producer and referred us to his site.
7:50 - Although we arrived before 8:00 it was already open. Inside many people waited, most of them for magnetic cards. Although on Sundays they issue magnetic cards only from 12:00, those who want to make sure they will be received and taken care of arrive already at the opening. They take a number (when the machine works) and wait...
We helped those we could with filling preventions’ removal applications, instructing them on the required documents or referring them to other authorities that can help. At first they let in people who came to get a permit or submit applications for prevention removal. At one point they stopped letting people in (we did not understand the reason), but the people whose applications we filled were let in later and they faxed us the receipts they received.
We met a relatively older man, in his arms a young child. We already met him in the past. His wife is a resident of Jerusalem who needs to get to the doctor in city. She is pregnant. He complained they are being sent from one place to another, demanding that the wife arrive in person for her permit and then make them wait for hours at length. He is frustrated and disappointed and says that this is what causes hatred and hostility among the nations.
Then, another older man, who came to help his son who wishes to remove his prevention, shared with us what is happening at the checkpoint located near the village of Jab’a passing towards the Valley of Elah and Beit Shemesh. He said the passage there is most frustrating every single day. Every day around 1,500-2,000 people are waiting in line starting in the wee hours while it’s still dark, for close to 4 hours on average, in order to get to work in Israel. The checking of permits is very slow, to the point that people feel that the goal is to harass and oppress them. It can be different, as sometimes happens in cases when soldiers still want to help, or in the rare cases when the women of MahsomWatch are present, then the passage flows and there are no lines. He reports that because the workers are forced to stand on their feet in the cold, the rain, and the wind every day for years - 80% of them are sick and suffer from back and feet problems. He asked us to report on what is going on at this checkpoint and to come witness what is happening there.