Bethlehem CP and Damascus Gate - 2nd Friday of Ramadan

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Natanya Ginsburg
Rachel's Tomb in the past

Kamal, our driver, took me to the Bethlehem checkpoint at 11.00 am. Already as we approached the road leading to the checkpoint I could see that, even allowing for the early hour, there were very few people. We were stopped at the beginning of the road but I told the soldier that I was going to Rachel’s Tomb and we sailed through. It's the last place I would want to go to since it has been turned into an ultra orthodox fortress. This is how it once looked. I have only been there twice since it was fortified and it is revolting. But my explanation got me through.

There were only one or two buses waiting for people and I did not see people coming out the gate but I saw people being turned back. At the one bus waiting for people. there were maybe 10 people waiting to alight. On the other side of the road, buses were standing empty and it did not look as if they would soon be in use. The whole area seemed desolate.

It was not at all clear what was happening and when I tried to approach, two soldiers immediately came towards me and warned me to go back and also that Kamal should leave immediately even though he was parked quite a distance from them. They said that the checkpoint itself was closed and when I asked if people were being let through, one soldier started answering politely while the other, very aggressively wanted to know why I needed such information. When I said I was from MachsomWatch he shut up completely. There seemed to be very little point in hanging around so we went on to the Damascus gate.

All the way from the Bethlehem checkpoint to the Damascus gate the entire city seemed to be bristling with police and soldiers at every point. Police cars stopped drivers and checked cars in what seemed to be a random search and this all added to the already volatile atmosphere.

Next to the light rail there was a large number of police and army vehicles. There too, there were few people but it did pick up during the morning. But even then I did not see bus after bus arriving as in previous years when one would arrive and about ten minutes later another.  There seemed this time to be a preponderance of men, mostly elderly as well as fewer women and children than in previous years. Neither was there the festive dress of previous years.

 But there were many reporters and cameras.