Bethlehem Checkpoint - a particularly difficult morning
6:35 - We went back to the checkpoint after an absence. During Christian Holydays, after the news item on TV and before the snow there was an improvement in the situation at the checkpoint. Last week we have been away for fear that the roads are covered with ice, and we estimated that there would be fewer workers because of the wintery weather. Today the storm subsided, and the situation at the checkpoint was again bad and even worse. First, they blocked the entrance to the parking lot with a police checkpoint (not sure why) and we had to park far away. Outside is busy as usual with people and cars. Inside the hall is packed. Window 3 is probably out of order and is blocked. 6 other windows are opened. The carousel at window 1 has been fixed and is working properly. People are passing and complaining that it’s very busy on the Palestinian side. Also M. an Ecumenical volunteer from Sweden says that only 2 of the 3 metal detectors operate on the Palestinian side and there is a lot of pressure.
6:50 – the hall begins to empty. Voices can be heard from the other side and it’s clear that many people are still waiting. It is unclear why they are not letting them pass. Towards 7 it is almost empty and still people are not arriving and shouting is heard from the other side. 2 policemen come out and wonder about it, too. The policeman in charge ignores our appeal, but tries to find out on the radio what's going on, later we saw him passing on the upper bridge toward the other side. We called DCL. They transferred us to the checkpoint. On the phone they say that the metal detector is stuck and that’s why they stopped the passage. Meanwhile people began to pass. Shouts and whistles can be heard. M. checks with her Ecumenical colleague who is on the other side and he reports that there are long queues and a lot of pressure. One of the women who passed told us that people are climbing the fences on top of each other because they are in a rush to get to work. No passage at the Humanitarian Gate. The hall empties again despite the long lines on the other side. Another phone call to DCL, they again transfer us to the checkpoint and once again the phone is slummed off. One of the security guards tries to explain that the problem is that one of the metal detectors is broken. It turns out that the high-tech superpower can’t maintain and operate some simple devices to enable the lo-tech Palestinians to serve her...
A. our acquaintance arrives and tells about a big mess. He says it has been that way since about the middle of last week (earlier in the week not many passed due to the bad weather).
7:10 the hall is again pretty empty, but on the other side there is shouting and clearly many are waiting. Y. the child who had a kidney transplant and his mother arrive. Y.’s smile is heartwarming. It’s been a long time since we last saw him and we are happy to see he is doing fine. They rush off.
An older man talks with the security guards and then with the policemen. He gives them a magnetic card, saying "not prevented, not prevented." He talks on the phone. The security guards call the policeman in charge and check something for him. Later we realize that the checking was for someone else who is on the other side of the window and is prevented from passing. At one point, the older man gave up and went to work. We offered help, but he said there was no need. In the meantime, the policeman took from the other man his permit and went inside to check something. The man passed and was required to wait next to the security guards. After a moment the policeman returns, gives him back his permit and allows him to pass into Israel. He leaves with a smile on his face and hurries away.
7:30 – the hall is packed to capacity, a very rare sight at this hour. Usually all had passed and some of the windows are closed by this time. Not today. Many people complain to us about the situation. People we know greet us and rush due to the late hour. The security guards are actually very patient today. When a group of young women students arrive on their way to Bethlehem, one of the security guards calls them and opens the gate between the windows so they can pass comfortably. Later he gets upset at a man who was rejected because his permit was revoked and sends him back to Bethlehem with a slight push.
7:40 – the hall is still full, but the Ecumenical on the other side reports that the lines are finally beginning to shrink. Many people complain about the situation.
7:45 - The officer says that so far some 6,000 people had passed and there are many more still waiting. An old man arrives, leaning on a stick from a tree branch carrying on his back sacks with various green leaves. He complains to us and to the security guards about the situation and says there are still many more who are waiting. He tells Goni that he prepares potions from the leaves, a cure to various illnesses.
Although it hasn’t yet emptied completely, despite the late hour, we have to leave. We have to get to a meeting with Jamila’s son, and purchase olive oil and olives. Last time we were not able to meet him. We must also get to Etzion DCL where people who scheduled in advance with Sylvia are waiting.
When we arrive at DCL it is already open. Relatively few people, probably some of those who are waiting for magnetic cards had taken a number and went out. Reception starts only at 12 on Sundays. Sylvia arrives with documents for police and / or GSS prevented prepared in advance. People come to meet her and enter to submit their applications.
One person for whom we prepared an application for removal of police prevention arrives in order to submit it. His employer is in Beitar Illit (a settlement). He went in to submit the application but they refused to accept it. They said that the employer’s letter is too old (it was from 2.12). He will have to get a new letter and come again to submit it.
Another person for whom we filled an application for prevention removal tries to submit it. They refuse to accept his, as well. Sylvia checks out with the DCL soldier. After a further checking he is again let in to submit the application. We told him if that if they won’t accept his application he should call us. Indeed they didn’t accept it. In this case, too, they claimed that the employer’s letter is too old. The letter is from 24.12 (i.e. less than a month)! Sylvia again talks to the soldier, but according to him the officer refuses. The man will have to go and get a new letter and will be delayed a few more days. Who cares about the waste of time and the need for livelihood of these people???
A young man, about 20 years old, turned to us, he has been asking for the past two or three weeks a one-day permit to go to Jerusalem to attend a preliminary inquiry at the US Consulate in Jerusalem, towards getting a US visa. He has a written invitation from the American Consulate in Jerusalem, but he is refused. We asked our friend Hannah Ba”rg to help, she explained that obtaining a permit in such cases is quite difficult, and involves a bumpy journey of going back and forth between the Palestinian DCL and Etzion DCL. If he again gets a negative response, she will try her best to help the young man.