As an EA, I spent a lot of time at checkpoints. At agricultural gates, school gates, and at one large workers’ checkpoint, Taybeh (see "Checkpoints" - March 13, 2013), armed with notebook, camera and cell phone, I was an observer. I also went through checkpoints to get from my home in Tulkarm to Jerusalem for training and meetings. On this, my first trip back since my EA tenure 18 months ago, I spent several hours at Checkpoint 300, the pedestrian-only checkpoint from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.
Because Bethlehem is now almost completely surrounded by “Greater Jerusalem,” (and with the completion of a pending section of the “Separation Barrier” will soon be completely surrounded), many workers live in Bethlehem, and work in (five miles distant). To work “across the green line,” they need permits – another story! – and, those lucky enough to have jobs and permits need to go through the checkpoint to get to work.
|Only birds can fly freely over checkpoints
The small group of women I am traveling with is trying to meet local people and listen to their stories – and to experience, in some small way, what they experience in their daily lives. So Sunday morning, at 5 am, we board a taxi for the ride to the checkpoint. The driver drops us off and we join the throng of (almost entirely) men heading to Jerusalem on this, the first day of their work week.
We have agreed to use the “Humanitarian” line (the special line for foreigners and those few Palestinians with the “right” kind of permit – usually for medical treatment), so as not to impede the workers. As we work our way through the crush of workers to the gate at the head of the line, we note men all around us are pushing and shoving to get to the front (although all are respectful of us and give us space to get through). A large number of men use various creative ways of climbing the 10 foot fence to squeeze through the narrow space at the top in order to “jump the queue” as my British friends would say! Surprisingly, despite objections from those who were patiently waiting, they help each other over the fence and, even more surprisingly, we note no injuries while we stand there, waiting an hour for the gate to open.
|Climbing the barrier (photo by Diana Fisher)
We eventually get into the checkpoint itself, where we pass through metal detectors and ID checks. The metal detectors are constantly ringing, but people keep coming through and no one seems to care! On the other side, we stop to pray, then engage in conversation with two human rights observers – one from EAPPI and one from Machsom Watch, a Jewish women’s organization that monitors checkpoints from the Israeli side. We watched her speak to the soldiers in an unsuccessful attempt to get the Humanitarian gate opened.
When, at about 7 am, we came back through the checkpoint to the Bethlehem side, the line was still long. The EA working on that side said she though about 8,000 people would pass through that checkpoint by the end of the “rush hour.” Mary told us that this was more than twice the number than 2 ½ years ago when she was an EA in Bethlehem.
Checkpoints are but one of the indignities that Palestinians must endure to live their daily lives. Over and over we hear, “Please tell people we are human beings.” “Please tell people to come and see for themselves.” We do – and we will continue to do so!
To hear a poem about the checkpoint experience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUIqhxMdffE