Bethlehem checkpoint the Israeli side: More and more people are put into the “cage”
Fourth Friday of Ramadan
Bethlehem checkpoint – the Israeli side
The road is blocked as usual. It’s possible to park on the side of the road, in front of the police roadblock.
Lines of buses in both directions. Stewards direct people where to stand, which bus to take, ensure each bus is filled before it leaves. As in recent years during Ramadan, men and women leave together from the central plaza through the open gate leading straight to the bus area. It feels as though many fewer people have come, at least compared to Ramadan last year.
I walk to the regular exit where I’ll stand during most of my shift. Eight soldiers stand there, some from the Border Police, some from other units. At first they try to move me away but eventually, after checking with a superior officer by phone, they allow me to remain.
Next to the gate, in the newly-built portion, a sort of cage has been created and I see a few people inside. I ask one of the soldiers who explains they’re people who’ve been blacklisted by the Shabak. I ask why they’re not allowed to go home if they’re not permitted to enter Jerusalem, and how long will they be detained – he says that if they’re allowed to return to Bethlehem they’ll just try again to cross.
What would you or I do in their place?
I’d jump over the wall! the soldier replies
Every minute, or even more frequently, another person is put in the “cage.”
Really, how long will you hold them there?
We’re waiting for a bus that will take them to Husam.
And they in fact wait until the number reaches 50, remove them from the cage, return their ID cards and send them escorted by two soldiers to board a bus. Thus the cage fills and then empties, again and again. Some of them are very elderly, and there are also some children. People ask, none of them know why they’re not allowed through. A soldier fluent in Arabic tells them: Why are you asking me – it’s the Shabak. I have no idea – do I look like the Shabak?
There’s a report that people have stopped arriving from Bethlehem. One officer claims that the Palestinian police stopped people crossing on the Palestinian side.
Again people arrive and each minute one or two are placed in the cage. A Palestinian tells me: Only once, 28 years ago, during the Stones Intifada, I was jailed in Israel for a few months. I was 18. Never since. And today, suddenly, I’m not allowed to go and pray! Another says: I travel frequently, I have a permit to work in Israel and I also travel to Jordan. They always check my documents and they’re in order. And suddenly I’m not allowed to cross, with no explanation. What’s going on here?! And another tells me: Look where they put me. I came with my two daughters, aged 12 and 14, who were allowed to go through, but how will they manage by themselves?!
A man aged about 45, with a boy aged 10-12, are put in the cage? A handsome, gentle, angry boy. The father addresses the soldier: “Let me go through, for the boy at least…” The soldier who speaks Arabic decides to return one group to Bethlehem. Most are eldery and complain they’re tired (at least the cage isn’t in the sun, but of course there are no chairs or benches. People sit on the ground.) The soldier opens the cage’s inner gate and leads its occupants into the building and they suddenly appear on the external steps above the cage and descend to the other side toward Bethlehem.