Hashmonaim (Ni'ilin), Makkabim (Beit Sira)
Today we visited the checkpoints in the Modi’in area, accompanied by Rachel who’d been here before.
We reached the Ni’ilin checkpoint – Hashmona’im Crossing - at about 05:35. The checkpoint isn’t located on the Green Line, but a little beyond in Palestinian territory. Thus Hashmona’im and the ultra-Orthodox town of Modi’in Illit, which are in fact settlements, remain on the “Israeli” side.
The checkpoint has been privatized and is operated by a civilian company under the auspices of the Defense Ministry. We parked along the road on the Israeli side and walked to pass through the vehicle checkpoint to the Palestinian side and observe the pedestrian crossing. A security person approached us immediately and asked us to wait. He called to A., the shift manager, who knows Rachel from previous visits. A. also called to E., the assistant manager of the crossing. The two of them spoke politely and warmly with us, explaining what went on there. We went through the vehicle crossing with them and then they left us by the road on the Palestinian side. They urgently requested that we not approach the Palestinians, out of concern for our safety (even though we made clear we weren’t worried).
Vehicles with Israeli plates go through the vehicle checkpoint carrying drivers and passengers with blue ID cards. Otherwise, only Palestinian physicians are allowed through with their vehicles bearing Palestinian plates. Minibuses and other vehicles (probably belonging to Israeli Arabs) are inspected. They’re diverted to one side where there are three inspection lanes; the vehicles are inspected with a device that is intended to detect explosives. Vehicles driven by Jews go through without inspection.
After walking through the vehicle checkpoint we see the line of people waiting at the pedestrian checkpoint. We can’t see what’s happening inside the checkpoint. A. and E. told us there are two “sleeves” (fenced corridors that we call “cages”), beyond which are 8 inspection booths. They said the checkpoint opens at 4 AM every day. Few usually cross at that hour. Now, near 6 AM, is rush hour and all eight booths are open, usually until 7 AM, when pressure eases. They also said two more sleeves are planned to ease the congestion. A. said they’re very careful about how they treat people and how they speak to those crossing. They said a Palestinian “haj” comes on some days to organize the line to the checkpoint. When he’s there it’s orderly. When he isn’t there are sometimes scuffles among the Palestinians. The checkpoint staff usually doesn’t intervene. He says about 5000 people cross daily. There isn’t a separate lane for women; they say women don’t cross here (we didn’t see any). Our impression was that see themselves as providing a service. They themselves said that conditions there are different from those at checkpoints operated by the army and police. They also said their budget is ten times that of a checkpoint like Qalandiya.
Here’s what we saw from where we stood on the roadside:
There’s a low safety barrier along the road, as well as a high metal fence within the checkpoint area. Down below is an improvised parking area which cars reach via Ni’ilin. Where the high fence starts there is a yellow metal bar blocking the unpaved road and preventing vehicles from moving on. Beyond the metal bar (toward Ni’ilin) is a food stand. In addition to those arriving in vehicles or on foot from Ni’ilin, many come from the nearby villages on the other side of the road (Deir Qadis, Bil’in, etc) as well as those transported here by car. They hop over the safety barrier and descend a dirt path to join the line. A number of stands on the other side of the safety barrier sell food and notions, including a stand busily deep-frying falafel.
Part of the time the line started right at the yellow metal bar, was orderly and advanced quickly. At other times the line was shorter. Sometimes there was a crowd near the entrance to the checkpoint, but the congestion eased rapidly and it didn’t at all resemble the crowds of people at Qalandiya.
The dirt path down was muddy and slippery. We didn’t want to descend and risk slipping. We spoke to people passing on the road and to the owners of the stands and crossed back to the Israeli side through the vehicle checkpoint (we saw it was also possible to go through with the car and park on the Palestinian side).
On the Israeli side we walked through the jammed parking lot (filled mainly with vans transporting workers) to the point where people exit the checkpoint. We spoke with people, some of whom complained about extreme congestion today. We asked how long it takes to go through and received answers ranging from half an hour to an hour and a half. Here there’s an elaborate, permanent coffee kiosk, next to the various checkpoint installations, operated by a couple from Bat Hefer. They arrive each morning at 4 AM to open it. They have Turkish coffee, of course, but also an espresso machine, pastries, etc.
Opposite the kiosk is a covered area whose floor is made of interlocked pavers. Dripping faucets stand nearby and a toilet building whose two doors are closed.
We returned to the car and drove to the Beit Sira checkpoint.
Beit Sira checkpoint
We arrived 06:25. We parked by the roadside, in the direction of Modi’in. There’s a large vehicle checkpoint here operated by soldiers. It’s called Macabbim Crossing and is located on Highway 443. There’s a truck lane and three additional lanes for other vehicles. It’s the main road between Jerusalem and Modi’in and to Tel Aviv. All the lanes are open at this hour. Most cars aren’t inspected.
The pedestrian checkpoint is operated by a civilian company, under the auspices of the Defense Ministry. We saw no one outside the installation. The Palestinians coming from Beit Sira, Beit Lakia, Khirbet al Masbah and other localities on the other side of the road cross on a pedestrian bridge that has opened recently (previously they risked their lives running across the road). Descending the bridge they pass through a fenced lane to the checkpoint. There’s also pedestrian access on this side of the road, where people come from Beit ‘Ur el Taht and al-Fuqa (lower and upper) and adjacent Palestinian villages. There’s a small fenced parking lot near the exit. There are many vans here also, maneuvering in reverse and miraculously not running anyone over. Vehicles belonging to Palestinians coming to the checkpoint park beyond the fence. There’s a covered waiting area, fenced in, with chairs and old couches. There’s a kiosk run by an Israeli woman.
When we walked through the vehicle checkpoint a soldier approached us immediately to ask who we were. They didn’t know how the pedestrian crossing worked. They explained that people return through the other end of the bridge, next to the Jerusalem-bound lane. There’s a revolving gate back to the West Bank.
The Palestinians told us there are four inspection booths inside. All were open today and crossing went quickly, about 15 minutes. But there are days when not all booths are open and it takes a long time. Sundays are particularly congested. We saw no women here either.
We should note that beyond the checkpoint area soldiers walk around among the Palestinians. While they’re all armed they don’t wear armored vests like the soldiers at the vehicle checkpoint. We assume they don’t feel threatened by the Palestinians, which is good.