Bethlehem (300), Etzion DCL
Bethlehem Checkpoint - another difficult morning
06:30 – it’s cold outside, windy and busy as usual with people and cars. We parked without problems. Inside the hall is packed ; 6 windows are active. A security guard stands in the hall. At 06:40 a policeman appeared. Here the passage was flowing, but you could hear the cries indicating pressure on the Palestinian side of the checkpoint. At window 1 the carousel works properly toward Israel, but gets stuck when one tries to pass toward Bethlehem. The few who want to pass in this direction have to squeeze between the arms. People complain about the pressure. One says he waited an hour and a half, others say they waited even longer. One person says that if this is the situation it would be better to close the passage altogether…
06:50 – a man addresses us saying they didn’t let him pass now because his permit is for 08:00 only. We suggested he wait in the hall, where sometimes, when it empties slightly, they allow passage before 08:00. He asks us to turn to the policeman. The policeman claims this is an order from his superiors and he can’t let people pass before the hour indicated on the permit.
07:10 the hall is almost empty, on the other side there is shouting and it is clear that many are still waiting. A. our acquaintance arrives, and says that the situation on the Palestinian side is very bad, there are many people and they are not letting them pass. Sylvia calls DCL and the Humanitarian Center. At first it seems as if everything is in vain, but the hall on the Israeli side is beginning to fill up, an indication that the passage on the other side began.
07:20 - still piercing cries from the Palestinian side. We were told that there are still at least 2,000 people outside, and the ecumenical volunteer on the Palestinian side confirms by phone that many are waiting. It seems that our phone calls are not helping.
At about 07:30 the policeman began to let people pass at the farthest window merely browsing the permits, without verifying with the computer. That way people pass quickly and without delays. In window one, as well, the woman-soldier began to call people to present their permits and just glimpsed at them. People indicated to their friends to switch to the policeman’s window. After things got quieter the policeman stopped passing people swiftly. 07:40 - the policeman is again passing people while briefly checking their permits, and the passage is flowing again.
We arrived relatively late. There were not many people. The people waiting said that an officer arrived and announced that today no magnetic cards will be issued, not even at 12:00 as is customary on Sundays. Only humanitarian cases will be handled. People were told to come back on Tuesday. No announcement was made ahead of time. There were handwritten messages pasted on the wall and on the machine issuing numbers. According to the Palestinians the soldiers hung them just this morning. They obviously arrived early and waited outside in the bitter cold in order to get in line for 12:00, only to discover that they lost a workday in vain. One of the men told us he had to ask for a day off from his employer and will have to again take Tuesday off. We called to find out why they are not working today, they responded that today they have soldiers’ activities. Palestinians’ time and their livelihoods are unimportant and worthless. The main thing is that they had hung in DCL’s waiting room posters of landscapes and a description of the services provided by the Civil Administration...
We asked the soldier who answered the phone to tell Danny, the new Commander of DCL, Mohdi, the new Liaison Officer and Adva, his deputy – that even if there are soldiers’ activities they could leave two soldiers on duty that would issue magnetic cards. We asked him to pass on to them that the cancellation of issuing magnetic cards today, especially without notice, shows disregard for the people and is unacceptable behavior. We also complained to the Humanitarian Center but they said they do not register complaints and that we should address the officer of Civic Complaints. So we did in the afternoon and registered a protest. They told us they’ll check what’s going on at Bethlehem DCL.
We saw more innovation at DCL today: GSS restricted receive a note that says they are restricted till a certain date. A date of ending restriction exists for several years but usually it wasn’t given in writing. Moreover, when the date arrives, they usually extend restriction for a year or two. Therefore, one should not consider this date and if possible submit application for removal of restriction. (Unlike police restricted, where the date is a valid one. Someone received a confirmation that he is restricted till 8/2015, someone else till 2017. It is unclear what determines the date but then it is unclear what determines the restriction to begin with, so this, too, goes hand in hand with GSS’ expected behavior.
We helped people who turned to us for guidance about the documents required for applications of removal of restriction. For those who had the documents we filled the applications and they went in to submit them. Daphne, the new member in the restrictions-team is a lawyer, and after the shift we were supposed to get the signatures on documents from those applying for removal of restriction. But it turned out that they did not arrive today. One didn’t even answer the phone, we hope he wasn’t caught in Israel without a permit.