Bethlehem, Thu 20.9.07, Afternoon
16.25 - 17.30: Upon our arrival 4 checking booths were open but only a few people wanted to pass. A family, on their way to Jerusalem, were delayed for several minutes because their daughter did not properly exhibit her birth certificate.
Five minutes later the queues to Bethlehem began. People rushed towards the checking booths with their food bags to end the fast day (Ramadan). The queues were of 20 people or even more, but nonetheless passage was quick and after seven minutes the place was empty. Soldiers closed the two rear booths expecting that pressure had eased for the day. Indeed during the next 10 minutes only a few people passed through the CP; two of them were asked by the woman soldier to go to the Bethlehem DCL. When asked why - she said “that is what is on my computer”.
Workmen generally arrive in groups as there is organized transportation from their place of employment.
At 16.50 pressure started to build up. The soldier in the third booth was reclining in his chair and could not be seen from some distance; when we advised people to approach that post he maintained that it was closed. However, after few seconds he started to work.
More people soon arrived, two long lines were formed and the queue overflew the area of the CP. A border policeman who appeared was asked why another checking booth was not opened. “It will be opened, eventually
but it is not urgent” he answered and then reported via the communication system that everything was under control.
Before long it became clear to him that pressure from out- side increased, that people had become nervous and that order might be infringed. “do you want me to close the door (of the CP)?” he threatened. Then he moved towards the door with another policeman and both of them put the waiting crowd at a distance of about 2 meters from the entrance. They commanded those who were standing outside to form a line. At 17.00, after order was re-established a third booth was opened; the policemen let the people enter
the CP only when the queues inside got shorter.
Ten minutes later the pressure lessened; lines of about ten people were newly created but at 17.20 the CP was practically empty and the third booth was closed.
At 17.30, half an hour before the end of the fast, we left the area assuming that there was no likelihood of further pressure.
In front of the road block to Rachel's tomb we saw 2 buses and 3 private cars. Other buses were waiting near the old CP No. 300, apparently Israelis who came for forgiveness prayers, a preparation for the day of atonement; there had been good reasons for asking god for pardon in view of the wrong that was done in and around the Checkpoints.
A Border Police jeep was stationed at the crossroad near Tantur. Ecumenical visitors told us that a few boys were detained on the Palestinian side of the CP, but that they were not allowed to talk to them; the soldiers said that the police would take care of them.