Bethlehem checkpoint - first Friay of Ramadan

Yael Sh.; translator: Tal H.

First Ramadan Friday – Normalization
Finally nice weather – a significant improvement!

Allowed entry into Jerusalem: men over 40, women of all ages.
I received a phone call from I. of the Bethlehem area at 3:33 p.m., who told me that although he is usually prevented from entering, he was allowed to enter for prayer –

I arrived around 9 a.m., and was not allowed to be present either at the new terminal or on the Palestinian side – a DCO officer devoted about 15 minutes to walk with me and we stood near the Palestinian-side entry gate, and from there to observe (no photos allowed) the women’s track. The men did get through the special gate, and as every year, were directed to the new terminal for inspection. I was told they spend about half an hour until they are out of their track.

The women’s track went along the road around the compound, through a passage one meter wide at the entrance to the old terminal, and from there continued walking to the buses. I couldn’t see whether their IDs were inspected nor could I pass with them as I did in previous years. They looked relaxed in general – didn’t show any special suffering. It took the women about 10 minutes to get through, which had them waiting for the men just as in former years… Only this time, the waiting areas were pre-arranged either in front of the gate at the bus area or near the grocery shop on the main road.

I kept looking at the Palestinians behind the fences for I was not allowed to be anywhere in their presence... And I did not want to photograph people behind fences yet again…

Naturally I could not see Palestinians being refused entry and turned back. I could not see cases of soldiers treating them roughly or respectfully… I was only told that as every year, soldiers stood at the men’s entrance way who were pushy and forceful, even aggressive and at any rate unfriendly – all hearsay.

So I stood at the bus exit until 12:45. There were many civilian policemen – which looked relatively normal for mass events, and few Border Policemen, wearing police badges but in khakis. They were really polite, didn’t eat, drink nor smoke in front of the Palestinians (who are fasting) – they did these things only away from the compound. They did not yell, and when they closed the temporary gatesinfo-icon for a while to lessen the crush, they did so with explanations. They were visibly using minimal force and were calm.

The problem is the number of people vis-à-vis the number of buses.

About 23,000 people (according to the DCO) went through, a much larger number than last year’s. It was already palpable when I arrived. Around 10:30 a.m. the crush increased at the last gate – and then, as if miraculously, another barrier appeared about 50 meters from there. The ordering officers were in constant communication and coordinating the opening and closing of gates. They remained polite throughout.

At this time elderly women and men, boys and girls arrived at the regular line and they received attention, they were allowed through, especially when a child was crushed by the crowd and a woman-soldier who went to let him out fell on her way and was slightly injured – or when a young Palestinian woman fainted from the crush and was taken out…

As every year, Red Crescent personnel led disabled people on wheelchairs – a pity they didn’t help them all the way to the buses…

I assume there were about 2500 people at any given moment either after inspections or on the way from the passage to the buses. Every 4-7 minutes the gate was opened by order  of the person in charge, and was closed 2-3 minutes after there were enough people to fill the buses…

5-7 buses were able to park at their allotted space and it’s a question of pressure. For about an hour, between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. about 70 loaded buses left, some Egged (Israeli) buses summoned urgently because not enough Palestinian buses were available. Any delay in the arrival of buses increased the pressure.

Pressure let up only around 12:45, which is when I left.