Bethlehem (300) Checkpoint - We we’ll soon see who’s the idiot here
We thought we’d arrived late at the workers’ crossing, but pressure at the checkpoint was at its height. People – men and women alike – come out fallen-faced and report a difficult day, huge crowding on the Palestinian side of the checkpoint. They tell us of late opening time and sudden shutdown that ended only after a long wait. As we arrived we saw an ambulance and were told there were people injured by the crowding in the morning, although this has remained unconfirmed.
My own impression of the inspection untouched-by-soldiers’-hand at the five open inspection posts (after all I haven’t been to the checkpoints for the past three years…): scans are conducted of the magnetic card, the person’s hand (finger prints), a short tense wait, and then the metal arm opens and with it, the way into Israel. At the actual posts the Palestinians show their permits through the glass wall of the post, the computer confirms, and the metal arm rises.
We are also impressed by the number of uniformed personnel hanging around: security guards, policemen, DCO officials, military police. We aren’t informed of their division of authority, and believe they’re not exactly clear about this either… Anyway we can at least talk about it.
And here’s proof that there’s still some interaction between a soldier and a Palestinian at the crossing: a man, no longer young, arrives and says that a soldier called Shachar confiscated his magnetic card and ID at the inspection post. The soldier identified him among the crowd as one who quarreled with him about a month ago on a road close to the checkpoint. The Palestinian – who passed by and was almost run over – said to the soldier inside the car “are you an idiot or something?” The soldier came out and said to him, “We’ll soon see who’s the idiot here!” There was a lot of badmouthing and Shachar promised the Palestinian he would certainly hear from him.
A security guard informs the checkpoint commander about this. The latter arrives and promises to look into it, get the two of them inside a room and mediate. In the meantime he gives us a tour of the new checkpoint now under construction. There will be a large shed on the Palestinian side divided into 3 waiting lines and from there a door leading to the inspection posts, 8 in number. He explains that this door was broken into this morning by the crowded Palestinians, and that was why the checkpoint was shut down for a while. He tells us of 7,000 Palestinians crossing throughout the morning – undoubtedly a difficult task.
We go back to the Palestinian whose papers have been taken away. Above us in the upper story corridors many uniformed personnel walk around. A strange sense of superior commanding reigns here. We have chance encounters with women in a hurry (going through the entire via-dolorosa together with the men, no separation), as well as a group of activist volunteers from the US who came to visit the country and is meeting only with Palestinian organizations. (We found this unfair. The organizers are Jews). Reports of great crowding on the Palestinian side continue to pour in. Some tell us they’ve been standing at the checkpoint since 5 a.m. but the international group arrived later and it took them only one hour to cross. Unfortunately, as we exit we only see the people coming out so we have a problem verifying the extent of the crowding.
After about an hour, the soldier who took the Palestinians’ documents arrives and is summoned to see the checkpoint commander. The latter sends us away gruffly claiming we’re disturbing him at his job. Another half an hour and movement above us in the corridor out of a door opening from a tourism poster (!) announce that the commander is sitting with the two conflicting parties. Another half an hour and the Palestinian comes out with his papers, headed for work in Jerusalem. We have no idea what really goes on at the other side, but apparently it’s rather late and most of the workers have gone through.
On our way to Beit Safafa we see some of the workers standing at the roadside, waiting for someone to give them a day’s work. Hard is one’s way to earn a living through checkpoint 300…