Bethlehem (300)

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Netanya Ginsburg, Chana Barg (reporting) Translator: Charles K.

Second Friday of Ramadan


Border Police soldiers blocking the road to the checkpoint tried to prevent us from entering.  We didn’t argue with them, nor answer their question “Who are we?”, and parked.  Despite the warnings that it’s forbidden, it’s dangerous, we continued on foot.  At the checkpoint we crossed to the Palestinian side and ignored cries of “Lady, lady, where are you going?”  Then they tried to detain us along the way but were finally forced to give up, and we crossed.


The parking lot on the Palestinian side is empty.  The taxi drivers, who have no work, chat with one another, disappointed we’re not looking for a taxi either.  Few men arrive, slightly more women, mostly older.  Age limits are strictly enforced; the disappointment of those turned back clearly visible.  Men and women go through separate lanes.


The behavior of the civilian security personnel is completely outrageous.  Rudeness, indifference to Ramadan customs (they’re smoking in public), spending their time flirting flagrantly with the female soldiers.  For a moment we thought we were in a seedy bar in some port city.


The border police soldiers, the Civil Administration staff and the military police behaved according to regulations and mostly politely.


Suddenly we felt a stir move through the soldiers and understood that senior officers are on the way.  The Etzion brigade commander and the DCO officer arrived.  We talked with them and had an opportunity, even if brief, to have our say.  We tried to separate the fact that the physical conditions had been greatly improved from the fact that the “system” and the occupation haven’t changed.


We saw something worrying as we left.  A female UN observer, in the open area, photographed women leaving the checkpoint.  She wasn’t standing in the checkpoint area, nor was she photographing soldiers – only women coming through.  One of the soldiers decided “photography is forbidden” and wanted to confiscate her cellphone.  The woman refused to give it to him and tried to call her superiors.  The argument was loud and frightening.  The soldier, who saw his scheme wasn’t succeeding, called a policeman.  Michael, the policeman, appeared; we know him from past years.  He began yelling at the woman, using the few English words he knew:  “Arrest,” “Police.”  He demanded her passport and she handed him a blue ID card.  Now the aggressiveness and racism began.  He demanded she follow him “To Police,” to jail.  Holding her ID card he rushed forward toward the “police station.”  Netanya ran after them, trying to assist a second UN observer get help and saw how Officer Michael, the “hero of Israel,” tried to pull the woman to the “police station.”  We telephoned the commander of the Jerusalem Area Crossings Authority, who immediately took care of things.  The ID card was returned and the incident ended.  And we asked ourselves what would have happened had we not been there?


The atmosphere is very gloomy here, a place to which thousands of celebrating people came in previous years.