Bethlehem (Checkpoint 300) and Environs
Date: Sunday AM, 11.11.07
7:00 Bethlehem checkpoint: The lines were almost finished and by 7:10 there were hardly any people left. The Ecumenicals told us about the bitter cold between 5-7 in the morning. We have been clamoring for covering the waiting areas for two years now.
8:00 Etzion: Many people were already waiting. Many came up to us for help. Among those in line were many young men who were petitioning to get their first magnetic card.
Date: Monday PM, 12.11.07
El Khader: At the construction works of the underpass large signposts announce the name of the contractor and all sub-contractors. The taxi-stand which used to be across the road and then had consequently been moved to El Nashash is now located at the Eastern entrance to Hussan (forbidden for vehicles except those for construction) - this is where the buses from Jerusalem turn around and the yellow cabs pick up passengers to Bethlehem, Hebron, etc. Near the entrance to Efrata the Liebermann Road is in fukk progress and operative. The stretch from the entrance to the Herodion till Har Homa took a mere ten minutes, including the check of our Id's at the huge CP under Nuaman. We asked the soldier whether one could drive up to the village and he said no. This road is in full use only from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. There are no lampposts. There is a sign to El Khas with a closed barrier and another closed road for use of security vehicles only.
Etzion DCL: There were a couple of cars outside, probably belonging to people invited for an interview by the Security Services, there was no one in the waiting room, the toilets were not smelly.
Bethlehem CP: A civilian security guard prevented people from entering if there were more than three or four persons waiting at the windows. The others wait outside in a straight and single line - fortunately it was not raining. At the first window one of the workers had left a small plastic bag. The soldier inside left his post thus causing a longer queue and started smoking a cigarette, sating he was not entitled to a few minutes break. Then another civilian guard accompanied by a nasty BP started shouting at everyone (including those already at the windows, to move back, further and further, because of the ‘suspicious object'. Yalla, yalla!! To us they added ‘please'. The gates to the compound were closed and then we were chased across the road and North beyond the side entrance for cars. We were unable to reach R., the Commander. Meanwhile buses arrived and unloaded more passengers and the crowds were growing. It took a long time for the police destroyer to arrive and we were amazed how quietly and meek everyone was waiting, knowing that possibly all vans and yellow cabs to take them home to Hebron etc. would have left before they would exit. Some shared private taxis to beyond the tunnels along Road 60, a large hunk from their meager wages. They were all joking about the atom bomb and the terrible security risk of a plastic bag with a sweater. But also angry about the tourist buses, which were guided without any inspection through the motor-access. H. was called, but said it would be difficult for her to interfere. CM, the reporter, said she would investigate. Some workers suggested that the big gate towards Rachel's tomb be opened. They feared to be crushed once the green light was given. Indeed after a wait of almost an hour and a half the OK was granted and a stampede entered the terminal. We heard shouting and apparently it took some time before the men had formed ‘neat' lines and were allowed to proceed. Altogether it took twenty minutes for the entire crowd to dissipate since all five windows were open.
Date: Tuesday AM, 13.11.07
06:30, Bethlehem CP. Once again the checking area on our side was almost empty, passage was swift, four checking posts were open, soldiers efficient. The hell was, as usual, on the other side, unseen by us. Palestinians reported that the CP opened at 05:25 (25 minutes late). The crowding at the entrance to the CP was horrible. Ecumenical Accompaniers posted over there added that the entrance would close time and again, apparently, in order to keep the Israeli side quiet and orderly, and that the checking was slow.
Soon it is going to rain - the line in front the entrance to the CP is not roofed. People get there as early as 03:00 and before, meaning that thousands of people will have to spend hours under the rain with no shelter.
08:15, Ezyon DCL. Few people. A major inspecting that all was in order, told us that there was no age limitation for magnetic cards.
Date: Wednesday AM., 14/11/07
Bethlehem, 06:40: Five checking stations are open. The people are quiet, but in very crowded lines. A Red Cross worker stands at the exit door collecting the pieces of paper showing how long it took people to pass from beginning to end. An Ecumenical accompanist tells us that the CP opened at 5:30 am. Although three metal detectors are available, only two are in use, slowing the ability to enter. She said she heard for the first time, a tourist was requested to remove her shoes for checking. Those leaving the CP say there are still many waiting at the entrance.
DCL Etzion, 08:45: Twenty men are waiting for a magnetic card. There are two identical signs posted, each about one meter by one meter. They state that the office is open Sunday through Thursday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. and all the functions of the DCL are listed. Actually, at 8:50 the first five people are invited to enter. We call to see if M is there to take care of police issues. There is no answer. At the "war room", we are told they are also looking for him. At Ras Al Amud we are told that he is at a conference in Hebron. There is no sign stating that he is not present today.
Date: Thursday AM, 15.11.07
Bethlehem CP: 4 windows open and long queues. The Ecumenical Watcher told us that they only opened the other side at 5:25, about 2 thousand people were waiting there and there was great tension. It took her an hour and a half to get to the Israeli side. Since the queues were very long, we requested several times, that other windows be opened, and were told that there were no spare soldiers. Finally, at 6:25, a fifth window was manned.
At 6:55 the soldier at the first window disappeared. It took many requests form us for him to return after about 15 minutes. ( In the meanwhile, the private security guard, smokes in the crowded place where smoking is prohibited).
Etzion DCL: Opened at 8:00. About 20 men, all waiting for magnetic cards. No police requests today.
Abu Dis Area
Date: Tuesday PM. 13.11.07
Sheikh Said: New turnstiles have been installed. There were so few people going in either direction (either because this is the current situation or because of the strike following the killings in Gaza), it was hard to fathom what purpose these turnstiles served.
Abu Dis - Cliff Hotel: There seems to have been some extension of one of the walls at the Moskowitz settlement, but aside from the increased dilapidation of the hotel, little else has changed.
Date: Wednesday PM, 14.11.07.
16:30: Few people crossing the pedestrian CP but 15 minutes later many university students began to arrive and the CP became very crowded. We were encouraged to realize that Bir Zeit University is open.
At the roundabout on the northern side, a new mini-CP has been erected: a chain, manned by a Palestinian paid by the owners of the mini buses, keeps the civilian cars out of the public transportation lane. The Palestinian bus drivers had to privately improvise new measures to be able to keep moving in the chaos provoked by the military order.
An 18 year old woman soldier directing the traffic from the booth before the entrance to the car lanes, shouts at a very polite adult man. The soldier has no way of hearing the responses of the people, she has a loudspeaker but we see no two-way communication apparatus.
17:30 We are approached by a man who wants us to help an old lady and her middle-aged daughter. The mother, 75 years old, came from Gaza to Nablus for heart surgery and got a permit to spend 1 night in Nablus. Of course, she stayed 2 weeks between the operation and the convalescence. Now, with an invalid permit (ended on the 1st of November) she wants to go back to Gaza but the authorities at Qalandya don't allow her to cross. We call HB who manages to get for her a permit for early next morning.
17:50 there is a big crowd waiting to cross the pedestrian lanes but only 1 lane is open. T., who is trying to cross the car CP, is stopped and accused of being rude to the soldier (didn't smile), a policeman is called but he policeman is not so convinced and lets her go saying that he has more important things to do.
Date: Thursday AM,. 15.11.07
06.15 Lille: Two new lanes (one in each direction) where Palestinian cars are being checked. Traffic flows on both sides.
06. 20 Qalandiya: A huge crowd at the external turnstiles, although five entrances were open. Monitoring the opening of the turnstiles is much too slow. The explanation is that the soldiers are new to-day and they have to be briefed.
No separate lane for students and women. The BP officer explains that this was possible at the beginning of the school year when they all came at once, but now that they come individually, the separate lane is formed from time to time.
07.35 Old A-Ram: Almost deserted. We managed to "dry this CP out".
07.50 Anata: Very quiet, rush hour is over.
Date: Sunday, 11.11.07, PM
13:35, Jit Junction. No checkpoint.
14:00, Beit Iba. Once again, there are a great many soldiers at Beit Iba. Two soldiers at the checking table are burrowing into every bag or briefcase coming out of Nablus. Even the shopping bags of young mothers with unhappy looking toddlers at their side, on their way into Nablus, are thoroughly gone over. Six soldiers at the central pedestrian checking area, and four checking vehicles slowly. Happily, there aren't that many vehicles to check. Pedestrians flow through in a steady stream although only two of the three turnstiles are at work.
Date: Tuesday, 13.11.07, AM
07:00--08:45, Beit Iba. The checking was quick and efficient, no lines formed.
The construction works going on there demand "creative" solutions from day to day. Today the checking took place in the narrow passage at the side of the concrete platform, men and women together, people going into the city and those coming out together. Women were not checked, men randomly. For the first time in ages we could stand near the people and near the checking point. A checkpoint is a checkpoint is a checkpoint, but one can't ignore the fact that the relaxed mood we witnessed today (unlike, say, 2 weeks ago and actually almost always) was thanks to the checkpoint commander, a staff-sergeant whose management of the checkpoint was reflected in the overall atmosphere. At one point we heard screams, a group of soldiers surrounded a young man and yelling "you don't touch a soldier!" The commander led the young man away, reprimanded a soldier quietly saying "I told you not to raise your hand to people" and then escorted the man back.
Date: Wednesday, 15.11.07, AM
7.15, Zaatara (Tapuach) Junction. No lines. From the north there are 2 active CPs. Buses and minibuses are sent to the parking lot to be checked, passengers alight and are let on after a few minutes.
7.45, Itzhar-Huwwara Junction. Open, not manned.
7.50, Huwwara. About 40 pedestrians wait in line. There are 2 active CPs and a "Humanitarian". The checking of outgoing vehicles is very slow. In the 1 hour and 15 minutes we were there, 2 buses and 1 van crossed. The passengers alight, each has to pass their personal bags through the screening machine, then they are made to stand in line as if they were taking part in a drill exercise, some are resent to the screening car while the dog goes through the bus and after 20-25 minutes they may go back to the bus and continue on their way. In one of the buses 2 young women were not allowed to pass and had to return to Nablus, unfortunately we were not able to talk to them as we could not get near them.
At the parking lot we were approached by one of the coffee vendors - he is asking what can be done so they will be able to sell their coffee and the soldiers will not turn over their little kiosks and throw them out (naturally there seems to be no problem for the Jewish settler who has set up a coffee house, including permanent cover and chairs, at the parking lot of the Tapuach junction. It does not seem anybody is going to kick him out or turn over his kiosk).
9.15, Beit Furiq. 5 cars in line going to Nablus. The CP is nearly empty and pedestrians pass quickly.
10.15, Zaatara Junction. About 15 cars are in line from the north, 2 CPs are active and passage is fast.
Date: Sunday, 11.11.07, PM
12:45, Route 55. At the entrance to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, on Route 55, a new barrier, a tight squeeze, to get through plastic barricades manned by one Border Police and one blue Israel Police man.
13:00, Qalqilya. From the city, eight vehicles, none entering. Two soldiers on duty, two eating in the makeshift tent on the side of the roadway. We're immediately asked to "go and stand behind the concrete boulder."
Palestinian cars and trucks pass the checkpoint without being checked. An Israeli truck is stopped, and backs up. But Israeli pedestrians, who have left their cars in the parking lot, just pass through, without being stopped.
Azun. Closed in by giant concrete blocks, preventing entry and exit. Taxis stop at the junction with the main apartheid road, letting off passengers.
15:15, Anabta. From Tulkarm, a relatively short line of six vehicles; to Tulkarm, a line of 15 vehicles. But things move quickly. Checking, if at all, is random.
16:00, Jubara. 14--20 vehicles in line to leave the Occupied Palestinian Territories, blue police stopping many vehicles entering.
Gate 753. The checking of small trucks heading into the village is endless, one soldier doing it all, the other doing nothing, not even holding his gun. The checking soldier studies each permit slowly, peers into every nook and cranny of every vehicle or cart, under seats, burrowing into trunks, under sacks. The line of pedestrians on either side of the barrier road grows, as does the line of waiting vehicles.
16:40, Ar-Ras. Traffic, what little there is of it, flows freely, but on the way back to Jubara, at Gate 753, the same behaviors we've already noted.
Date: Tuesday, 13.11.07 AM
A quiet day, empty roads, no pressure at the checkpoints.
06:30--06:45, Qalqilya. Traffic flows, cars are hardly checked.
Jit Junction. Unmanned.
09:00--09:20, Anabta. On the exit side from Tulkarm about 20 vehicles are queuing-up, but passage is quick.
09:30--10:00, Jubara & Ar-Ras. At Ar-Ras not too many vehicles pass both ways. Checking is cursory.
Date: Tuesday AM, 13.11.07
Sansana Meitar - 6:35: 35 workers are outside, and 35 are inside the sleeve. They are angry, having been there since 4:30. At 6:45 there were no workers left in line. 700 workers pass through in 180 minutes according to our calculation. This is reasonable. But some of the employers tell the workers that if they don't arrive by 6:30 they'll lose a day's work. Maybe the crossing needs to be open 24 hours a day, perhaps the contractors should lean on those operating the crossing.
Highway 60: Small children walking along the side of the highway on their way to school. All the Cps are in place and the pillboxes manned. At the Sheep's Crossing there is a temporary CP which is detaining children on their way to school. Not longer than 2 minutes, and it doesn't seem as if they are passing on their ID numbers. Just to show who is the boss here, though the soldiers look like they are just going through the motions, and are trying to be as nice as possible in this uncomfortable position.
Hebron: All the CPs are up and traffic pgoes through without problems. The gas man is detained at Machsom Tarpat. At the end of Shuheda there is a CP with only one soldier and a jeep is parked behind the girls' school. On the school gate someone has spray painted "death to Arabs". At the Tomb of the Patriarchs: 3 men are detained. A new BP-man, just assigned to Hebron, tries to shoo us away. He calls for the regular police, asks for our ID's, and after some discussion everything is clarified and our ID's are returned. He claims that we are not allowed to talk to those who are detained. As we speak the three men are released. We leave promising to return next week.
Highway 35, Halhul-Hebron bridge: All the CPs are in place, pillboxes manned, traffic flows.
Tarkumiya - 10:00: According to people all the buses carrying families to visit prisoners have gone through without any incident. The new CP is in the final stages of construction. The manager of the crossing told us the following: In Tarkumiya there will be four crossing sleeves. The metal detector and the screening will be operated by private gusrds. The palm-reading device will be operated by the police or MPs who are the only ones authorized. There is an order that by 6:45 the last of the workers must go through. The passage for families will only open after the workers have gone through. In his opinion passage time will be longer than. MW volunteers will be able to observe from inside the sleeves. Crossing for merchandise will only open at 7. Checking of an empty truck on the Israeli side takes 10 minutes, as we have witnessed. Waiting time usually depends on coordination between the Israeli and Palestinian drivers. Palestinians and Israelis pay NIS 250 per truck crossing.
There is problem re merchants from Beit Awah. They deal in used items using cars with Israeli license plates. They are now being required to use the back-to-back system.
Date: Thursday AM, 15.11.2007
05:50. Tarquimiya - There were about 250 workers in line, some had been standing in line for about an hour. Papers were examined quickly and efficiently.
By 6:30, no workers remained in line.
A BP soldier told us that by next week the new CP will be in operated by a private company. It looks very impressive.