A normal morning at Checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem. Not overly crowed as on other mornings, but one still needs patience to pass. I usually count around 5000 people going through between 4 and 7am.
Checkpoint 300 is for many Palestinians the gate to Jerusalem and other cities in Israel, where they have a job, go to hospital, see relatives or go for Friday prayers. To pass, Palestinians need a permit. There are numerous different kinds of permits. Permits for work, permits to pray, health permits, school permits, study permits, visitor permits. Some are valid from early in the morning until a certain time in the evening. Some are valid 24 hours.
Permits are issued by the Civil Administration, which is part of the Israeli army. This means that the Israeli army decides whether a patient is sick enough to receive special treatment in a hospital in Jerusalem. The army decides if an old Palestinian man can pray in Jerusalem. The army also decides if a mother can visit her daughter in Jerusalem, who just gave birth to her first girl. Very often, permits applications are rejected without explanation.
On a normal work day, men start queuing around 4am in the morning to go to work in Israel. A long line through a long corridor of bars. Palestinians call it the cage. A soldier opens or closes the turnstile at the end according to instructions from elsewhere. Towards 5am, the corridor is too short and people gather outside. Whoever wants to reach Jerusalem in a reasonable time is too late now. People with a health permit can try to go through the humanitarian gate. Sometimes it’s open, sometimes not. The impatient or those who are afraid of losing their job for being too late, climb onto the roof of the corridor, slip inside through a hole in the roof and continue to move beneath the roof on the supporting bars until they arrive at the front. If the turnstile at the end of the corridor opens, some of the men can pass. They run over to the other side of the checkpoint.
Next stop metal detector. Artificial plants hanging from the wall. What for? People remove their belts and jackets to have them checked. Sometimes the soldier on duty shouts, sometimes he (or she) doesn’t pay attention. Another turnstile after the metal detector. Gets closed suddenly sometimes because the soldiers decided that the people weren’t checked thoroughly enough. Or for any other reason. One never knows. After the second turnstile comes the make or break section:
ID control, permit control, fingerprint check. Pictures of Jerusalem and Nazareth on the wall. People are in a hurry. Some of them still have a long way to go. To Netanya or Tel Aviv. They push, they get shouted at by the soldiers for that but they still push. The soldiers in the booth are young, often grumpy at this time in the morning. When the hall becomes too crowded, soldiers open an extra door, let people pass without taking fingerprints.
It’s Israeli territory now. (Update: according to international law, it’s not Israeli territory because the green line is still some miles away.) I regularly stand on this side of the checkpoint, not far from the armed security service. They sometimes joke about the men who pass the permit check, belts around the neck because there wasn’t time and space to put them back on.. Most of the time I’m ignored by the security men but occasionally they tell me to leave the building and to stand outside, where I can’t see what’s going on in the ID section. I ask why but never got an answer so far.