Bethlehem, Etzion DCL, Sun 24.2.08, Morning
7:00 The Bethlehem CP is crowded both outside on the street and inside the terminal. Those we asked told us the crossing was quick today. There were five booths open inside and many people but little tension, maybe because the procedure was fast without unnecessary delays. We didn't see the security guards at any time; that may have worked for the better and contributed to the more than usual relaxed atmosphere. We left the CP after 20 minutes, not our usual observation time, so that we could be at the Etsion DCO early and still manage to get to the High Court at 9:00. When we left, the crowd inside had almost completely crossed into Jerusalem.
We reached Etsion at 7:45 where there was already a small crowd in front of the locked door to the waiting room. At 8:00 exactly two soldiers, officers of the DCO, armed and with their helmets in their hands, ordered the people to move away from the door and stand behind the cement blocks separating the administrative area from the parking lot until the door was opened. The Palestinians obeyed the orders quietly with expressionless faces. Only we were surprised. We left at 8:30 and drove to the High Court.
The court session started at 9:00 hearing the case of three blacklisted Bethlehem Palestinians, who petitioned the court after MachsomWatch was unsuccessful in having the security stain removed by the simple procedure of petitioning the Civil Administration. Muhammad, married to a Jerusalem woman, Ibrahim, father of 13, who refused to collaborate, and Fayek, father of 5 whose brother was killed. All three asked to have the security blacklisting removed so that they can work in Israel.
The judge ruled in Muhammad's case against giving him a work permit and advised to appeal against the security blacklisting in the framework of family reunification. However, the reality is that this is the more difficult path and people are blacklisted to prevent family reunification.
After the presentation of the cases by the counsel for the defense, the judge asked to be given time to hear the GSS (Shabak). This was done in camera and the public was asked to leave.
Upon returning to the court room, we heard the judge's opinion that after hearing the GSS' presentation of evidence, the blacklisting would not be lifted. How can the judge have an independent opinion after "evidence from the field" brought by the experts? There are no witnesses and no way to defend oneself. In all three cases the charges are not against acts committed but of relations maintained – family or otherwise – with activists. Maybe greetings were exchanged on the street with certain people, maybe family events were attended with certain people, neighbors involved…no way of knowing. The only way to deal with the problem is to cut off all ties, to shut one's telephone and to live as prisoners in one's own house. Then maybe the blacklisting will be lifted.
Thus the case was closed against Ibrahim and Fayek. Everything was very classified, the accused themselves were not allowed to know what they were accused of. Maybe Fayek can receive a permit, as his brother did who is also on the security blacklist but received a permit through the offices of the bereaved family forum of which he is a member. Thus said the judge. He also agreed to the defense counsel's request to have them apply for a permit again in six months in the usual way. In the meantime, how will the families eat? Ibrahim, for instance, has a family of 18 to support: 13 children, two wives, his parents and himself.
In the case of Muhammad the judge recommended he ask for a permit to stay with his family in Jerusalem. He hinted – but did not promise – that the case would be viewed positively. There is some small glimmer of hope here.
Of course none of the security blacklisted was present at his own hearing because he cannot cross into Jerusalem. Therefore the judge cannot get a live impression of the people whose fate he decides and they hover like a shadow over the debate with the only human presence representing them being the handful of human rights activists of MW on the benches.
We leave the building and try in vain to admire the architectural marvels of the impressive structure.