Bethlehem

Nov-1-2003
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Observers: Y. E., Ch. O., T. G., Tz. G.

This report is written in regard to the announcement by the army
spokesperson and the office of civil administration regarding the
need for special permits for passage in order to participate in
Ramadan prayers, and our letter of response in regard to the
matter.

The requirement is not legal and is illogical. It represents a
severe infraction of the freedom of religion and worship. It is
clear to us that the army had neither the ability to convey the
information about the requirement to the Palestinian population,
nor do it have any intention to actually do so, and therefore the
demand for such authorization for passage was a fraudulent
deception. The contempt of the administration in the matter is
evident in that the district commanders distributed a total of 5000
permits for the entire population of the occupied areas, including
Gaza (some 3 million people), which in itself is ludicrous,
malicious, and provocative. We intend to follow up on these serious
infractions of human rights and normative practice. If you have any
specific information about this matter or ideas on how we can
arouse public awareness or gain more support, please contact
Tzili.

Chaya Ofek got a call from the work dispatcher of the bus company
in Hebron (Vetnia, telephone 053-511160) at 6:30 in the morning
saying that a driver, with a license to transport passengers from
Hebron to Bethlehem reported that all buses were prevented by
soldiers of the Etzion battalion to pass through the Etzion
checkpoint from 5:00 a.m. that morning. He reported that hundreds
and perhaps even thousands of Palestinians were stuck at the
checkpoint and were not allowed to pass through. We informed the
media about this and made contact with the UN observers. We went to
the checkpoint at 9:00 a.m. and along the entire way, we did not
see any movement of Palestinians, not at checkpoint 300 and not at
El Khader, not at Etzion, and not at Halhul. At Halhul, we were
told that the hundreds of people at Etzion were allowed to go by
foot in the direction of El Khader. We left with the impression
that the people will try to reach prayer services via Bethlehem or
via the Container. We returned to checkpoint 300 by way of the
Tunnel Road.

Checkpoint 300

The Gilo intersection near checkpoint 300 was blocked to all
vechicles and there were dozens of police and border police, some
of them lurking to pounce on Palestinians who had attempted to
circumvent the checkpoint via Tantur. We went by foot toward the
checkpoint that was reinforced with a large number of troops –nahal
brigade # 50, the Etzion brigade, and border police from Beit Horon
and Jerusalem. The military jeeps blocked the road and wire fences
were spread out all along the way. Hundreds of Palestinians, the
majority of them elderly who wanted to get to their prayer
services, crowded around the fence and filled up the “sleeveinfo-icon” that
leads to the inspection booth where i.d.’s are checked.

According to the report of a UN inspector, there were also large
numbers of Palestinians on the Palestinian side of the checkpoint –
some 1000 people. Not one of them was allowed to pass. 11:30, the
time of the prayers arrived, and very few people had been allowed
to pass. Many others bowed down opposite the wire barriers and
prayed there. At about one o’clock, the crowd dispersed and
returned to their homes. The checkpoint was under the command of
the Etzion brigade and the nahal unit that now is permanently
stationed at the checkpoint.

We had a conversation with Nadav, the new commander of the Etzion
brigade, (02-548-5202), a pleasant and “laid back” young man, and
Avi from the Etzion command. We arranged to meet with them
regarding the way the command operates next week.

In response to our contention that the command is not able to meet
the needs of the population, he said that the Etzion district
commander serves some 80,000 people, and would be able to cope if
they did not come in huge waves. The command allowed 400 pass
permits for Ramadan which were processed according to age and
security clearances. He felt that that was a reasonable
number.

According to him, not all those who applied passed through to
Jerusalem for two reasons. One was political – that the
Palestinians refuse to take a permit for prayers. The second was
because of the pressure at the checkpoint, it was not possible for
many of those with permits to get through the mob and be allowed
through.

To our question about how the Palestinians were supposed to know
that they needed permits, he answered that great efforts were made,
and that announcements were made three days previously on Bethlehem
television and on Israel Arabic broadcasts.

If any of you go to the command post in Etzion, take notice of how
many people arrive at the counter in the course of one hour!!