Bethlehem, Fri 30.5.08, Morning
Bethlehem Checkpoint: There were many people during this shift and there were only two active checking booths, despite repeated requests and calls we made. Many people arrived with their children and were rejected for different reasons. You just can’t win. If all the permits are in place then the children are too old (we were told at first that children up to the age of 10 can accompany their parents. Then we were told that it is actually 13). If the children are at the right age they are told that “parents don’t take their children to work!” Of course if there is no permit then they can altogether forget about it.
The two soldiers manning the booths are very rude; they yell at people and ignore many. The woman soldier spends most of the time talking on the phone, although there is a sign stating that you are not supposed to talk on the phone during work. Only after two hours does a third booth open, just as the pressure is all but over.
Another soldier (a Gaza veteran according to his boasting words) can hardly hold back from telling us of his “adventures”, since he is “not allowed to talk about it”. He runs around, shouts, puts people in line, refuses to admit children and is unwilling to listen to any Palestinian. Suddenly a number of tourists arrive and ask to pass to Bethlehem. The soldier stops the line of Palestinians waiting to enter Israel and waves them through. They are puzzled and want to know why they are given special treatment?
- Because you have passports and they don’t.
Despite the embarrassment they walk through and the soldier mumbles: “I do them a favor and they complain.”
A ten year old kid comes from Bethlehem with no papers and says that he wishes to visit his father who is hospitalized in Israel. He is sent away rudely.
Four tourists come from Jerusalem. They are looking for a Palestinian guide who is supposed to show them around. They arrive without passports and say that no one at the hotel notified them that passports were necessary. They hesitate for a while, refusing to accept the fact that they are facing a border. Finally they leave and return 40 minutes later with their passports.
Every request we make is met with contempt. Our request to meet with the checkpoint commander to ask about the procedures regarding children is rejected. Finally he comes out and yells at us: “You are not allowed to intervene, you are interfering with our work. I don’t want to talk to you!”
A 50 year old man that works for the UN arrives. He is invited to a party that many other employees have been invited to. He has his permit but has forgotten his children’s permits at home. Another UN employee worker arrives, also heading to the same party. There is an issue with his children too. It simply breaks the heart to see. The children are all dressed nicely, have to watch their father beg the soldier to let them pass, who completely ignores them. Finally they must turn back. One family is allowed to take one of the smaller children but sends the rest back.
In one of the cases two little girls burst in tears and watch their father who was allowed through the checkpoint. We try to take a picture but it is too dark. However, the checkpoint commander comes bursting outside:
- You are interfering with our work. I will call the police!
- Maybe you’d care to explain to us the procedures regarding children.
- I can’t give you any military information, but you have broken the rules! You have taken pictures of soldiers!
- I did not take pictures of the soldiers I took a picture of the crying children. Have you seen the children?
- Show me the picture. In any case you cannot take pictures here. This is a military installation.
- You don’t see any military installation in the picture (the screen on my camera is black. Only children.
- Show me. Erase those pictures.
- But you can see that you can’t see anything. I’m sorry I couldn’t take a picture of the crying children.
- Erase those children or I will confiscate the camera.
- You will not confiscate my camera. There is no picture. Do you have any children? Look at these children. How do you think this makes Israel look?
- My children will not have to go through checkpoints!
- Are you sure? Not so long ago, we were on the other side…
- That’s right. And that’s why we will never be there again! Now don’t get in our way or we will arrest you.
- Speaking of procedures. It is against the law to smoke in a public place. Why are you smoking?
- I’m allowed!
It was a very frustrating shift. Many Palestinians left frustrated. Israel proved who is the strongest.