Ras Abu Sbitan (Olive Terminal)
, Third Friday of Ramadan
We arrived at the special shaded checkpoint set up for Ramadan in the open – above Abu Dis -- at 9:30 and were received warmly by Civil Administration officer G. and a number of colleagues who were touring checkpoints in the Jerusalem Envelope. G. took the opportunity to inform us that the claim that 85,000 Ramadan permits had been cancelled the week before was not true and stemmed from a “misunderstanding.” What Palestinians understood as a prohibition on entering Israel on the first Friday of Ramadan, 10.6, he said, was actually a prohibition on entering on Sunday, 12.6, the holiday of Shavuot. Indeed, the number of passing through Zeitim this morning was similar to that of earlier years. And at 10:00, for example, one of the Civil Administration officers read off his cell phone that the number of people who had passed through Qalandia up to that hour was 48,000, compared to 10,000 by the same hour last week.
Later in the morning the new head of the Civil Administration, Brigadier General Achvat Ben Chur, arrived at the checkpoint and also asked us about our impressions on how it was functioning.
A few observations about the morning:
Three groups were present at the checkpoint: soldiers from the Civil Administration and from the Military Police and policemen from the Israeli Police. Crossing the checkpoint went smoothly. The Palestinians were treated with respect, patience and occasionally friendship (when one of the soldiers or policemen was personally acquainted with someone coming through). Conversations with the Palestinians were all in Arabic. They were greeted politely with wishes for a “Ramadan Karim.” No one ate or drank in front of the fasting Palestinians.
In a conversation with Captain T. of the Military Police, we were told that the policy is to show empathy toward the Palestinians as the most effective way of relating to them and that by the end of the day the soldiers themselves feel more positive about it. “We have no right to treat the Palestinians in any other way. That is a matter of values and has nothing to do with politics,” she said.
Along with the respectful contact with the Palestinians, the soldiers were strict about enforcing the age limitations on entering Israel. Men under the age of 45 lacking a prayer or other permit, along with children under the age of 12 (occasionally 14, at the discretion of the soldiers), were turned back. If children did not have their birth certificate with them, their age was checked on the parent’s identity card. This led to a number of unsettling instances of people begging to be let through and rejected, but they were always handled politely and at no point was tension raised at the checkpoint.
The Red Crescent brought about 10 people through the checkpoint on wheel chairs.
During his visit, Brigadier General Ben Chur expressed concern about the Palestinians having to walk about a kilometer to the checkpoint in the heat and expressed his desire to establish a “sterile sleeve” closer to Abu Dis with buses taking people to the checkpoint. He also asked that a request be made to the Palestinian Authority to clean the area adjoining the checkpoint, which is full of bottles and plastic bags.
We left the checkpoint at 12:00, by which time the flow of people had thinned out. It also seems unnecessary to begin the shift at 8:00.