Bethlehem (300), Fri 12.7.13, Morning
Translator: Charles K.
Parking near the checkpoint is forbidden and cars aren’t allowed through except, of course, those going to Rachel’s Tomb. Many buses were parked along the sidewalk, advancing one by one to the checkpoint to collect worshippers on their way to prayers in Jerusalem. It was very orderly and went very quickly. The buses opened their front and rear doors so people could board quickly, and the bus left as soon as it was full. Border Police soldiers and people keeping order helped prevent bottlenecks.
The initial inspection of those headed to Jerusalem was again conducted this year at the southern end of the parking lot. Separate lanes were assigned to men and to women. Delays on the women’s line were due primarily to the careful inspection of children who appeared older than 12, who weren’t allowed through. We had the impression there were more women than last year on the first Friday of Ramadan.
Last year’s “Ramadan Gate” was fully open; the women didn’t have to go through the revolving gates. The path up to the Ramadan Gate isn’t particularly steep, but in the heat, while fasting, and heavily dressed, many women have difficulty. We saw women who didn’t feel well and needed assistance at the top of the slope. The Palestinian first aid services operated professionally and efficiently.
The men went through quickly, but procedures were carefully followed. Those refused entry had to go back; their disappointment was very obvious. We had the impression that a greater number of young men obtained permits to worship ahead of time.
The soldiers behaved respectfully; it appears that the orientation they’d received stressed the significance of the holiday and the need to treat people crossing with respect. When soldiers took breaks to eat and drink they did so in an area not visible to the Palestinians. Civil Administration soldiers and officers, some of whom spoke Arabic, tried to solve problems, used their discretion and were as flexible as possible.
By the time we left, some 20,000 worshippers must have gone through.