Bethlehem, Fri 30.1.09, Morning

Efrat B., Clair O. (both reporting)

Summary : The commander of the police force in the area has issued an instruction to let people pass through the checkpoint even if the finger-print inspection machine does not give a positive response.   This is on condition that the Palestinian’s name does not appear on the list of GSS- denied people. Bethlehem Checkpoint: two inspection-stations are open. The female soldiers at two of the stations refuse to talk to us and direct us to their commander, who doesn’t  come out of his office during the whole shift. Most of the time, the Palestinians pass through without a long queue forming, but again and again there is a problem with the finger-print inspection machine and people have to put their hand on it, take it off, put it on again and again remove it. At one point, two brothers about fifty years old arrive, with magnetic cards and permits, but the machine rejects them again and again. The soldier tell them to return to Bethlehem, but they insist that only on Sunday they were at the DCL, their finger-prints were recorded there and they were assured that everything was in order. The security guard who is at the checkpoint identifies them and says that they indeed passed through recently. We ask the soldier to call the officer so that he can use his judgment. She refuses, but allows one of the brothers to try again. On about his twentieth attempt the machine apparently remembers that the man is OK. The man hesitates to pass-through without his brother, but the soldier orders him to go through and wait at the side. He succeeds to pass a tissue to his brother and suggested he cleans the glass on the machine because perhaps a piece of dirt is obstructing the finger-print recognition.   After a number of attempts the second brother manages to pass through. A few minutes later the story repeats itself but this time a man of about fifty does not have any luck and after many attempts the soldier orders him to return to Bethlehem. He explains that he has an invitation to a reception at an embassy but nothing helps and he has to return empty-handed. We phone to Ronny, the police commander. He listens to us and we get the impression that he has already received many complaints about this subject. He immediately contacts the checkpoint commander and instructs him to let people pass through even if the machine doesn’t approve them, on condition that their name does not appear on the GSS-denied computer list.   He tells us that in fact he has called for a technician to repair the machine, and that his instruction is in force for “at least a week”.And indeed this was so.