First Friday of Ramadan 2024, Bethlehem checkpoint

Facebook Twitter Whatsapp Email
Roni Dahan-Ramati and Hannah Barag (reporting)

First Ramadan Friday 2024


As in previous years, this year too the Israeli Border Police placed a checkpoint about 100 meters after the Rosmarin stoplight. People with typical Haredi (Jewish ultraorthodox) appearance were allowed through in their vehicles to get to Rachel’s Tomb. We - secular in our appearance - were forced to park rather far and proceeded by foot.


According to the scant bus traffic, we realized immediately that today not many came to pray here, as they did these last few years. Indeed, on our way to the iron gate through which we were allowed to pass over to the Palestinian side of the checkpoint, we saw hardly any pedestrian traffic on the way to buses taking people to the mosque. The Israeli police and army, Border Police and Shabak (secret services) abounded, all armed from head to toe. Roofs of nearby houses became fortified army strongholds. One could not ignore the overall tension.


We had to stand far from the inspection post, inside the soldiers’ refreshment stand. Thus, no contact with Palestinian passersby was possible. We could not hear them, speak with them or photograph anything. Unlike recent years, and perhaps because of the scarcity of people wishing to cross for prayer, women’s inspection was back along men’s.


This year there was no consideration of the people fasting, and the soldiers smoked and drank in full view. People who came to pray were very few, and the checkpoint was empty most of the time.


In past years we reported a festive atmosphere, people wearing their best, little girls in colorful dresses and cute boys in little suits. Today no festivity was apparent, no one laughed, and we hardly saw any children. People hurried off to the buses and it was obvious they were getting away as far as possible from the fear and humiliation of approaching the prayer site this way. Perhaps fear of police brutality and a possible terrorist attack contributed to the pressure of those who came to pray, and of those who avoided it.


We only managed to talk with one woman, who told us about an elderly relative who was not permitted to cross the checkpoint because she forgot her magnetic card at home. She was amazed to realize we were Jews. She had not expected this. We saw people being turned back to Bethlehem, but because we were so distant from them, we could not find out anything or help in any way.


The always renowned visit of the Central Regional Commander and a large group of male and female officers took place on a rooftop overlooking the checkpoint this year. In the past, this visit would occur in the checkpoint compound itself. The officers watched the wonders of the Ramadan from above, and naturally nothing was said to them about the cruelty of occupation nor about the occupier’s duty to enable the local population its freedom of worship.


After about two frustrating hours, we decided to leave. We passed through the checkpoint, presented our IDs and got out. In our exit we saw sheds, probably in preparation for hot weather. The sheds included turnstiles so people would not stampede on their way to the buses. This year the buses waited for praying passengers, while in the past the people would crowd and push in order to find a vacant place.


This shift of ours has only one heading: S h a m e !