Bethlehem, Fri 12.9.08, Morning
(First Friday of Ramadan)
09.00 AM, Bethlehem Checkpoint:
There is a mass of people outside, many more than the previous week at this hour; also, there many buses waiting. The police have stretched ribbons along the length of the pavement near the entrance to the checkpoint in order to prevent people from spilling out onto the road. There are many policemen there who guide the people and the cars. Inside the checkpoint there are five checking booths open for men only. This week also, the women have to go outside through the vehicle passage. Unlike last week, finger-print inspection machines are operating in the first two checking booths inside the checkpoint. A policewoman sits and watches the checking booths. This week also, there aren’t any queues on this side of the checkpoint, but one can hear many people on the other side. The woman from the Ecumenical observer team whom we met last week is again here, and she has already counted 880 people who crossed this morning. There are many policemen and officers circulating inside the checkpoint. Similarly to last week, there are about ten men who are not allowed to pass although they are not in the restricted age-group. The computer-screen shows a red line and the caption “not to be admitted”, but the reason for this is not clear. One of the men even said that last week he was allowed to pass. After it has taken the people two to three hours to get here, they are not expecting that anything will obstruct their passage at this stage. It is clear that they are too exhausted even to express their anger, and one can see mainly frustration and deep dejection on their faces.
09.45 AM: The soldier in one of the checking booths prevents a man and his son from passing. The son is fourteen years old, and the father relates that before they entered Bethlehem they showed their pass to the officers there who let them through. He doesn’t understand why he has been refused here. We speak with Ronny, who happens to arrive here, and after a few minutes they are allowed to pass.
11.15 AM: One of the Palestinians tells us that a group of about thirty men has been taken into room number two in the interior of the checkpoint, and they have been waiting for nearly an hour. We try to understand what’s going on and the man tries to phone one of the people inside. After a few minutes the Palestinians are allowed to pass, but they tell us that there are another fifteen still inside the room. In a telephone conversation with Ronny, he says that he doesn’t understand what its all about, there is no such room, and he asks us not to disturb him with such matters now. He claims that he has passed thirty thousand people through the checkpoint today, but this is illogical if we compare it with the number of people whom we have seen ourselves, and also according to the number recorded by the ecumenical representative who counted 2675 people who passed up to the end of our shift. Even if the same number of women passed through in parallel, we still don’t come anywhere near the number quoted by Ronny. We contact the Humanitarian Center, and ask them to investigate the matter of the group which has been detained. The soldier looks into the matter but answered that she doesn’t know anything about room number two, only passage number two, even though the people expressly mentioned a room.
11.30 AM: We leave.