Most of you might know that in 2002, during what is generally known as the Second Intifada, the second uprising of the Palestinians, the Israeli government decided to build barrier around the occupied Palestinian Territories.
As in some places the barrier shows itself as a fence or a dividing street, in lots of areas it is a up to eight meter high concrete wall. Legally, the barrier is a problem because it is built mostly on Palestinian territory rather than on the internationally recognized Green Line. Today, it is almost finished which not only blocks the view to the other side but also has a huge impact on freedom of movement.*
If I want to cross from Jerusalem to the city of Bethlehem, which will be my home for most of the next three month, I need to go to the other side of this wall. Quite easy for me: I take a bus, which brings me to Checkpoint 300 near Bethlehem. There I hop off, squeeze through a turnstile, show my Swiss passport if one of the soldiers on duty asks for it, walk over to the Palestinian side and exit. “Welcome to Bethlehem!”
It is a bit different if you have an Israeli ID. Israeli citizens are forbidden to go to Palestinian areas which are controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Does it sound complicated? It is. Let me explain: The occupied Palestinian Territories are currently divided in three different areas. Area C is under Israeli security and Israeli administrative control. Area B is under Palestinian administrative and Israeli security control and Area A is – at least theoretically – controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Now back to the Israeli citizens. Israeli citizens are not allowed to Area A according to Israeli law and since Bethlehem is Area A, Israelis can – at least theoretically – not cross Checkpoint 300.
So what about Palestinians? Palestinians can and often have to cross over to the other side. They can cross if they have a Palestinian ID or a Jerusalem ID (the situation of the so called Jerusalemites will be explained another time). And they have to cross if they have a Palestinian ID and their permit to enter Israel is only valid until a certain time in the evening. Every Palestinian with a Palestinian ID needs a permit to go to Jerusalem or any other place in Israel and the permits are often only valid until 8 or 10 in the evening or only on certain days etc. However, some Palestinians live in Israel and they have Israeli passports. This means, they are not allowed to go to Bethlehem, even if they have family and friends there.
Let’s sum it up. You want to go from Israel to a place in the occupied Palestinian Territories (excluding Gaza)? If you have an international passport, that’s fine. The same goes for Palestinians with a Jerusalem ID. If you have a Palestinian passport and a permit limited to 8pm, you better hurry up in the evening to get back and if you have an Israeli passport… Well, it’s on your own risk but you are doing something illegal according to Israeli law.
That’s crossing from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. To return from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is a whole different story. However, I will save it for another day. In the meantime, check the pictures and get an impression of the art on the Bethlehem side of the wall.