Bethlehem, Fri 5.9.08, Morning
09.20 AM, Bethlehem Checkpoint: While walking from the parking lot to the checkpoint, one can see people who are coming from the area of the crossing towards the buses. About a hundred people are waiting outside on the pavement and along the length of the path. They fill-up the buses and taxis, which can't keep-up with the rate of their arrival. Inside, five checking booths are in operation, with no finger-print inspection. From where we stand there doesn't appear to be any pressure, and the queues are relatively short. However, its clear that there is a mass of people on the other side of the checkpoint. Almost all the people going through the checkpoint are men.
A police officer tells us that we are forbidden to be inside today because the inspections are not thorough and we have no protection. Nevertheless we stay there, and he doesn't warn us again.
There is a lot of activity by the security forces : a policewoman and two security guards stand near the entrance, and during our stay at the checkpoint officers, soldiers and security guards are circulating; they come and go at a high rate.
A woman from the Ecumenical movement tells us that they arrived at 06.45, and some of them are on the other side (later, we met an additional three representatives of the group). According to her, an additional passageway has been opened for women, and in fact it uses the passageway inside the check point which is normally used for vehicles.(this is why there are practically no women to be seen in the checkpoint). She is located inside the checkpoint, and during a quarter of an hour counted about 1,000 men on their way to their prayers.
A boy of about thirteen can't find his father, and has been waiting for him outside for some time. A police officer and another man speak to him, try to find out what happened, and help him to call his father on his mobile phone.. The boy continues to wait at the side with two Palestinian women who look after him. The father reappears after about twenty minutes.
The rate of the inspections appears to be fast, the queues are not more than ten people long, but some of the men say that it took them about two hours to pass through the checkpoint. This is in spite of the fact that all the checking booths on the other side are working, according to the ecumenical women. It seams that the operation of the checkpoint is according to the procedures that were publicized. However, we encounter quite a large group of men whose age fits the criteria, but are not allowed to pass. The soldiers explain that the computer marked them with a red line, which signifies “do not let him pass”. This happens to a group of about ten men, but perhaps there are more whom we didn't see. The men are surprised by the refusal since they are all above the age-group that was denied.
10.40 One of the ecumenical women, who stands inside next to the corner that is furthest away from the entrance, comes and tells us that a few minutes previously two policemen took an elderly Palestinian inside for interrogation. They entered through the exit door on the Eastern side of the checkpoint, and took him directly into the office area. After about twenty minutes we phone the Humanitarian office to find out what is happening, and try to question two officers who give us evasive answers.
11.00 According to the ecumenical women, up till now 1,850 people have passed through the checkpoint. At this time one of the checking booths is closed, leaving four operational. One can estimate that that in fact at least double this number has passed through the Bethlehem checkpoint in total.
11.25 Nothing comes out of our efforts to find out from the Humanitarian office what has happened to the elderly man, and they advise us to check with the police. We contact Ronny, and in parallel ask another police officer when he comes out of the office. The man who was detained was taken to a police station, and none of the officers is prepared to tell us what has transpired.
11.30 We leave.