06:00 We arrive at the parking lot; it’s not crowded with cars but a stream of people exits toward us on their way to their rides. Somewhat unusually, many smile at us and some greet us with a “good morning.” This time we heard only one complaint about the new body scanner recently imposed on them. Since we haven’t permission to go through the pedestrian lane we again climb the steep dirt path toward the checkpoint for vehicles coming from Ni’ilin. At the entrance we ran into one of the trainers we’d already met. We asked about the body scanner and this time received a detailed explanation. He says the device is called a “millimeter wave gate,” radio waves which are not radiation. They’re not ionizing. It’s not an x-ray machine, and provides only an outline of the body. He himself goes through the machine a few times daily while training his staff, and to show the people going through that there’s no danger. He also refers them to internet sites for additional information. He says they’re also careful to preserve people’s privacy, separating men and women and deleting the images after one week. Inspection with the machine is faster than any alternative – a pat-down, I imagine. But despite that, the trainer says there’s considerable opposition by people going through the checkpoint. We suggest posting large announcements with an explanation to try to calm people’s fears. He welcomes the idea. He’s also willing, if he gets approval, to give us a closer look at the machine and show us how it works. The trainer, by the way, refuses to call this a “checkpoint.” He says it’s a crossing whose purpose is to allow people to cross quickly and efficiently, subject, of course, to security regulations.
As we go through the checkpoint we meet some drivers, all Arab residents of East Jerusalem, waiting for their vehicles to be inspected. They complain that only Arab drivers are detained; they have to wait 20 minutes each time. We see the new vehicle inspection devices, flexible black tubes emerging from pipes set in concrete and inserted into the vehicle through the window. They draw out the air and send the data to be read in an adjacent building. The trainer hearing the complaints says they’re still breaking in the machines; inspection should take eight minutes. He thinks it’s a much better solution than using dogs, or searching by hand, and more efficient, and they also use it on cars belonging to Jews. He concluded by expressing his desire to do what’s necessary to solve humanitarian problems at the checkpoint. While he was explaining the drivers entered their vehicles and drove to work. We also left, but we didn’t make do with explanations. At Michaela’s suggestion I emailed Physicians for Human Rights the complaints we’d heard from people at the Ni’ilin checkpoint, and their apprehensions. Within a day I received a reply – B’Tselem had also contacted them about the matter and they’re planning to look into it. They asked whether we want to participate in their investigation. Of course we’re interested as individuals, but is there some way Machsom Watch as an organization could be involved? I’ll upload their reply and will be glad to hear reactions.