Sun 17.8.08, Morning
7:00 AM, Bethlehem Checkpoint: On the way here we hear from Omar, our Palestinian contact, that things are very bad. When we arrive at the terminal we find the exit hall almost empty and a lot of noise on the other side. This is what we hear from the Palestinians:
Thousands of workers are on the other side waiting to get through. Four people have been injured and were taken by ambulances to a hospital. The authorities denied this - admitting only to one injury - but the reality became clear when a contractor came to pick up his wounded worker's permit and the officer who ended up giving him the permit had four in his hands.
There was only one metal detector working on the other side. People were getting desperate and climbing over each other. One fell of the fence, the others who were wounded presumably were crushed and broke ribs. Sylvia starts calling everyone and is very adamant about what she sees and wants.
People who pass here do so every day. The authorities know them, they have the right documents and are legal workers who "build the country" i.e. they are needed for the building industry in Israel. What do they want from them? Why make their lives miserable? The argument that there is not enough manpower, or that the usual staff is away training (and when they are here these things also happen) sounds hollow when one considers the harm done to Israel's image and the hatred engendered in the workers who have to suffer these humiliations almost daily. They get up at the crack of dawn to make it to work on time and then they come up against a wall of bureaucracy and badly kept-up infrastructure, computers that don't work, metal detectors that have chronic illnesses, and soldiers that are brutal and wield their newly found power over men much older than they are. The Bethlehem terminal, build at great expense, is suffering from overcrowding and poorly maintained premises to the detriment of the honest workers, men with families, diligent workers, and upright citizens. The checkpoints (and terminals) really have to go. They do more harm than good.
An officer from the DCL, called in "to help", remarks to us "this is the way it should be" (about the empty exit hall), testimony to his own feeling of helplessness or cynicism.
9:15 AM, Etzion DCL: Due to the miserable situation in Bethlehem we get to Etzion DCL late. There are not many petitioners but the picture in the waiting room is every bit as horrible as the situation at the terminal. At 9:45 AM there are 104 signed up for the day, 9 have been received so far. When at 15:00 (3 PM) we call one of the people we met in the morning, he tells us that 30 people have been received until then. He himself is number 61 (no chance!) As every village is accorded one day, the rest of the crowd will have to wait a week until they can come back.