Ramadan: prayers in Bethlehem, no joy, a lot of stress

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Hanna Barag, translation: Marcia L.,

This week, as last week, I had to walk quite a distance to the checkpoint, while the worshippers on their way to Rachel’s Tomb (Jews) overtook me in their cars.  During my walk to the checkpoint, I noticed that the bus traffic that takes worshippers to prayer, increased somewhat since last week.  There was no problem crossing to the Palestinians side.  Immediately obvious today was the fact that the soldiers eat, drink, and smoke in the presence of the Palestinians who are fasting.  This is a phenomenon we haven’t seen during the many years we surveyed what was happening at the checkpoint during Ramadan. Is there some relation between this and  October 7? In speech it would mean, “We’ll show them who owns the house here.” The army, the border police, and the Shin Bet were present in great numbers, most with weapons drawn.  The roofs of the houses surrounding the checkpoint have become fortified positions.

This week also, we had to stand far away from the inspection point, although closer than last week. The number of the worshippers was still small, but a bit more than the previous week. Another thing that stood out was the atmosphere surrounding those who are handicapped, during a holiday that is accompanied by joy and high spirits.  The inspection was overly strict and more than a few people were sent back home.  I succeeded in speaking with an acquaintance who, in the past, was not allowed to cross.  He is six months younger than the age “allowed” to pass through. He asked that we stand in a corner, slightly hidden, “because it is not nice to be seen with Israelis in a place like this.” I couldn’t photograph.  “Only an army spokesperson can photograph here.”  Men and women stood and were inspected in one line. When there are few worshippers, it is apparently not “worthwhile” to open two inspection posts.

This time as well, there was a group of officers looking down on the checkpoint from the rooftops, and not from the area of the checkpoint as was done in the past. Certainly, no one told them the story of the injustices of the Occupation and of the checkpoints. I was bursting to let them know about curtailing freedom of worship and movement; obviously, I was prevented from doing so.

The exit to buses was done quietly.  No wonder when the bus waits for the worshippers and not the opposite.

While standing frustrated, at a distance, I was exposed to conversations of soldiers and officers who, in my presence, broke out in disparaging language. After so many years, I have gotten used to such things being said about us.  But what I heard this week was perhaps the worst that I have heard in the 22 years that I have been a member of Machsom Watch. Some hit us with below the belt compliments, but some treated us as traitors and supporters of Hamas, as haters of soldiers; they cursed us and promised us (sarcastically) much good in the future.  In a conversation with one of the officers whom I have known for many years, I told him what I heard.  His reaction was, “That’s the spirit today of the soldiers and I don’t have any suggestions for this problem.”  Very worrisome!

I left after two hours.