MachsomWatch Alerts - February 2008 | Machsomwatch
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MachsomWatch Alerts - February 2008

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Thursday, 3 April, 2008

 

Bethlehem Checkpoint (the 'Rachel Crossing') is one of the 'terminals' that the Defence Ministry built to organise the crossing from the southern West Bank into Jerusalem. Close to 4,000 people pass through it checkpoint daily, on their way to work 05:00 to 08:30, then returning home - from 15:00 to 17:00. This is the announcement made in the Knesset about the construction of the terminals:

Minutes no. 495

- a meeting of the

Interior & Environmental Quality Committee

10:00 - Wednesday 27 July 2005

(Address by Mr. Taiber)

"The state and the Defence Ministry have assumed the task of transforming these crossings into the most humane sort of crossing possible, that will provide the most appropriate services in all senses of the words. In terms of the visual and physical aspects - they must be the most attractive, appropriate, and suitable for the people using it. And as far as the terminals are concerned - they should be of a level equivalent to international terminals".

That sounds like a really bad joke. "Humane ... equivalent to international terminals?" There are no toilets; no benches; no protection from the elements; no "humane" crossing that takes into account the presence of children and women; no water-cooler - (and - how surprising - not even a duty-free).

The 'terminal" for people crossing on foot was built as a spacious hall on the Israeli side with 12 checking-positions. Only five of them are functioning, however. In comparison, on the Palestinian side there are only 2 checking-positions. And so appalling congestion that endangers everyone in the checkpoint is generated each morning, when thousands of people try to get to work on time.

We reached the checkpoint at 05:10. People had started crossing a few minutes previously. Behind the walls on the outskirts of the checkpoint - an area that's out of bounds for us - are the downtrodden Palestinian labourers holding their coats, their belts unbuckled, shoes in their hands, or wearing shoes without laces.  These phenomena are invisible in the fable of the 'fabric of life' and the 'human aspect'... nor are the people running towards the checking positions pulling on their clothes, hoping that the transport to work won't 'escape' them meanwhile.

It's everyday hell that's typical of this checkpoint. A young man holding an infant was standing in line in the checkpoint area, by the entrance. He was obviously waiting for the babyinfo-icon's mother. The guards tried to get him to move out of the checkpoint, to the extreme cold outside. Common sense prevailed this time, and he was permitted to remain standing in the hall. Apparently the baby wasn't his; its mother was on the other side, but with the terrible crowding it was impossible to create any space so she could get to the head of the line. So the baby was passed from hand-to-hand until it landed in this young man's arms. It took 50 minutes until mother and baby were reunited.

Another man held a sick infant, and was accompanied by his 11-year-old daughter: he asked the guards to allow him to leave the checkpoint without standing in line. He showed his daughter's birth certificate - confirming that she was indeed 11 years old. But no - he could leave with the baby, but not with the big girl! He was afraid that the child couldn't find her was back home alone. So what? The child had to go home alone. (5 February 2008)

The checkpoint on the Israeli side opened at 05:05. Only four checking positions were open for business. The overcrowding was terrible. More and more people were crowded together in an inhuman way: the disorder was absolute.

There was no chance of helping in "trivial" cases - like someone whose magnetic card gave an expiry date in 2009 but "the computer in the soldier's position says that it will expire this week"; or someone who until two days ago had worked without problems, but since the previous day had been blacklisted by the GSS. At 06:55 another position was opened by an officer. We asked him to try and get the crowds moving. He took a seat at a position where the exit turnstile wasn't functioning. People were standing in line behind that position. After a while, when the problem became obvious, he moved to another position, and this of course caused more disorder.

The situation was one of lack of control and aggressiveness. The Palestinians pushed, shouted and argued. The guards shouted at them to move back. Sometimes the guards pushed them to try and get them to move back. Some people tried to get through the unstaffed positions. Some were successful, others failed.

At 06:50, a man of around 45 collapsed after crossing through the checkpoint. The private security staff called for an ambulance which arrived some 20 minutes later. They examined him, and a Palestinian ophthalmologist who was there mediated between the staff (who didn't speak Arabic) and the patient. According to the ambulance staff the man had not suffered a heart attack, and they called for a Palestinian ambulance. The man was evacuated after lying on the floor for about an hour. He had collapsed as a result of fractured ribs caused by the overcrowding. The Israeli police and border police gave first aid.  

As for the general situation at the checkpoint they had just one solution: shout at people to stand in line, close positions when the Palestinians failed to do so (thus worsening the congestion), and then reopen the positions once collective punishment did nothing to help. We spoke to a police officer and asked him to allow the women to go through - they were helpless in the face of the anarchy. His answer: they will wait like everyone else.. (7 February 2008).

Because we see sights like this every day, we complained to the responsible people several times. On 16 March 2000 we sent the following letter to Mr. Matan Vilnai, Deputy Defence-Minister: General Gad Shamni, Chief of Central Command ; General Yossef Mishlav - Coordinator of Activities in the Occupied Territories; Brig. Yoav Mordechai, Head of the Civil Administration.

 

"Good morning.

Today is Sunday - the start of the working week. This is not classified information. Every resident and citizen of Israel knows that Sunday is the start of the working week.

It's now 06:00 and there has already been a 'battle' at the entrance to the Rachel Crossing (Checkpoint 300)- but today is worse than usual. People from the civilian company that operates the facility are behaving with extreme violence, pushing, shoving, screaming and cursing - appalling behaviour (and this is a restrained description).

06:00 - We contacted the IDF's humanitarian hotline - " I don't think I can help about the civilian company - I contacted the  DCO - but at this time of day ... and on a Sunday..."

06:05 - The checkpoint is closed down - the pressure is immense, what a surprise, who would have imagined pressure like this on a Sunday morning?

This situation has been going on for weeks. We were told that another sleeveinfo-icon would be opened in Bethlehem - when will this happen? Why this daily abuse? Must there be a disaster before it stops?

06:30 - the entrance is still closed. At last - a fifth checking position is opened.

How many workers will miss a day's work today?

How many humiliations will remain in their memories? "

This letter received an answer only from the office of the Chief of Central Command, informing us that the checkpoint is the responsibility of the Israeli Police - Jerusalem district, and our query had been referred to them.

This was written by the General in charge of the Central Command - the sovereign power in the West Bank!