Bethlehem - Fourth Friday of Ramadan – the Palestinian side

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Observers: 
Yehudit Elkana, Hanna Barag (reporting); Translator:  Charles K.
May-31-2019
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Morning

Bethlehem - Fourth Friday of Ramadan – the Palestinian side

We arrived at the checkpoint not long after news of injury and manslaughter at Damascus Gate and the Hurva synagogue in the Old City.  At the entrance to the checkpoint we met Palestinians who’d managed to go through inspection at the main entrance to the checkpoint and were waiting for the second inspection station, for men, to open.  No one was able to tell us what had happened.  We heard only that the checkpoint had been closed.  We went down to the main checkpoint entrance from Bethlehem and saw a crowded line of people pushing against one another, toward the crossing.  We got the impression there wasn’t any movement, but our friend, the Palestinian police commander, explained that because of the incident in the Old City those going through are being carefully inspected, one by one, so the wait is longer.  Is this collective punishment?  In the heat, during the fast, a long wait standing in a crowded line is almost unbearable, and as a result people had been taken ill.  One man apparently suffered a cardiac incident and was hurriedly evacuated to hospital by ambulance.  He’d received first aid, which is so important in such cases, from a Border Police medic.  Immediately afterwards a second man collapsed and was treated by Palestinian medics.  We assume additional people weren’t able to handle the pressure, the heat and the fast.  The young men who tried to cross in prior years, some of whom actually managed to evade the obstacles and enter Jerusalem, were chased away by the Palestinian police this year and didn’t even reach the Israeli inspection.  We learned only later of a Palestinian youth who tried to climb over the fence in Bethlehem and was shot dead.

We walked to the women’s crossing farther up the hill, where vehicles entering and leaving Bethlehem ordinarily go through.  It’s closed to vehicles during the hours people cross for Ramadan.  Dozens of women, weary, thirsty and perspiring, made their way up the hill, only to find when they arrived that hundreds of women were waiting to cross.  Not a few, dressed in their best garments, surrendered to the heat and sat down on the roadside.  Some of the men and women going through held items for tonight’s festivities, Laylat al-Qadr in Jerusalem.

We returned to the men’s crossing and found that progress was so slow it seemed nothing had changed.  Arguments erupted here and there which were quickly stifled by a uniformed Palestinian.  People in the stifling line requested assistance from Palestinian authorities, but to no avail.  Border Police soldiers who tried to draw us into an argument kept referring to this morning’s incident, asking us whether we were pleased about it.  We tried to reply but were made to leave, and it was clear there was no one to talk to.  And in the meanwhile we heard another A.W.S.A Woman Said – about a knife discovered at Qalandiya.  I assume that if there’d been time we’d have heard additional heroic tales of attacks foiled.

 

The count of people is based on a count of those boarding buses to the Old City.  Fifty people to a bus.  A manual count, like that conducted by the Ecumenicals, is meaningless, because you can’t count hundreds of people that way.  From a practical perspective the crossing has been improved over the years we’ve been observing it.  There’s shade, and fans and procedures to make the crossing faster.  But it’s only cosmetic.  The permits regime develops no less efficiently, but it’s invisible.  People have become resigned to the restrictions on freedom of worship that have been in place for years – by now they go without saying.  Everyone, Israelis as well as Palestinians, have no choice but to accept them.  There were times in years past we were able to “meliorate” what went on at the checkpoint, but those times are gone.  We’re left only to observe in despair the aggressive and inhumane treatment of worshippers that is repeated every Ramadan.

 

We gave our phone number to the Palestinian police commander and asked him to contact us as the crossing period was ending.  We heard from him that toward afternoon, when congestion had greatly increased, crossing had been speeded up slightly, and additional people had collapsed.

 We parted, hoping not to meet again next year.  If only…