Bethlehem, Fri 3.10.08, Morning

Ephrat B., Claire O.

Summary: At the Bethlehem Checkpoint the soldiers are preventing scores of small children from crossing. A Border Police officer tries to drive us away. 

 At the beginning of the shift there were only two positions open, and a long line of Palestinians. Following our request a third position was opened even though they started by saying that it was impossible for lack of manpower.

Transit on the Israeli side became shorter, but many people stopped by us to report that hundreds were waiting on the other side, among them women and children and people not accustomed to crossing checkpoints and not familiar with all the procedures, which also lengthened the process. The end of Eid el-Fitr is on a Friday, and for many it is important to reach the Old City and to stroll around  with the children.

Our main frustration was with the cases where a father was compelled to return with his son/daughter, or alternatively to cross alone and send the children back to Bethlehem. In every case the father had a work permit, and a kushan for a child, but he had not taken care of getting a special pass and the children were not allowed through: “What! He’s going to work with the children?” And this even when the purpose was to visit the mother in hospital, or a brother after an operation.

All this is of course not new, but today there were a great many such cases, and it was difficult to look at the sad faces of rejected children. They were dressed festively and very excited (after a wait of an hour and a half or more on the other side, where they were allowed to pass), and here a great disappointment awaited them. Some people tried their luck at another position, and we begged – but nothing helped.

The two women soldiers and the man who sat in the positions were not loud – they neither shouted nor humiliated the Palestinians, but just repeated the mantra: “These are our orders!” They were unable to explain the orders. After all this was a cruel distortion: a man gets a permit to work in Israel, attesting that he is not a security threat in the opinion of Shabak, but when the same man wants to stroll with his daughter on a day off work – he suddenly becomes dangerous? Clearly it has nothing to do with security. Maybe MachsomWatch should raise this harsh issue of the children, and compel the army to rediscuss its deaf policies.

A Border Police officer came to “extricate” the woman soldier who was being asked to think about the essence of the order she had received about the children. He demanded that we stand outside because we “are interfering with the soldiers”... Maybe he wasn’t completely wrong, and if only we could have interfered more...

He threatened to detain us, and we went out, but Ephrat put him in his place when she talked with the blue police commander of Bethlehem checkpoint.