It is forbidden to take photos inside the checkpoint. So we never take our cameras, when we go there. On a cold February morning, an armed security guard approached me on the Jerusalem side of Checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem (see description of checkpoint here). “How are you?” he asked and I informed him that I didn’t feel well at all. The guard was a bit surprised by my reaction but decided to inquire further: “Why? What’s the problem?”
The problem was that I had just arrived from standing for too long in a very narrow, unpleasantly long corridor of iron bars, called “the cage” by others. It serves as a crowed control means on the Bethlehem side of the checkpoint. Only little by little people pass through a turnstile at the end and, therefore, the corridor soon fills up with workers on their way to Israel. Inside the corridor, two to three people can stand next to each other. Once you’re in, there is only one way out: You wait until you’re at the turnstile. On good days, it takes about 10 minutes, on bad days more than 40 minutes, sometimes more than an hour.
On bad days, young and old men are climbing through the roof to arrive in front of the corridor without queuing. They are afraid to be late for work and hence losing their job. That day, men also used tools to bend bars apart so that they could squeeze through. When the turnstile finally opened for a few minutes the crowed impatiently pushed towards it.
It seems that there were not enough military personnel to check IDs of the 5000 Palestinians, who needed to pass between 4am and 7am. This always causes tension and a sense of claustrophobia in the corridor. After my description of the situation on the Bethlehem side, the security guard agreed to check but returned to disagreed with my impression. “This is normal.”
After 5am, I went back to the Bethlehem side, where my colleague was standing in the exit area next to a fence separating us from the turnstile. To myself I still disagreed with the security guard. The situation was far from normal. I had seen “normal” days (read here). In addition to the already tense situation, the humanitarian gate intended for women, children and elderly, injured or invalid people was closed. Keeping the overcrowded corridor in mind, it was impossible to picture, how a woman, a child or a sick person could enter the checkpoint.
At some point, another armed security guard started to randomly exercising his power next to the turnstile. Some young men were grabbed by the arm and sent back to the end of the queue. People behind the fence were shouted and cursed at in Hebrew and Arabic. Finally, an extra door in the fence was opened occasionally, so that women and children could avoid the corridor. Old men were refused, though. A pale man, walking on crotches, accompanied by an old Palestinian showed documents to proof his hospital appointment and was refused, too. The security guard smiled and kept exercising his power. We asked him again to open the gate for the injured. The security guard repeatedly refused with a smile.
The pleading continued for a while with no result until, suddenly, the old Palestinian lost his patience and started shouting at the guard in Arabic. Several people were standing close, when the security guard opened the extra door, grabbed the Palestinian by his collar and started beating him. The old Palestinian tried to defend himself and others finally prevented an escalation by intervening and separating the two. The security guard was furious. With brutal force he pushed everyone out of the exit door.
It is difficult to know what made the man on crotches stay next to the turnstile after what had happened. Surprisingly, after another 20 to 30 minutes, the security guard decided, to have a second look at the man’s paper and after another few seconds, allowed him to pass, leaving his elderly company behind.
Taking photos inside the checkpoint is forbidden. That’s why reporting about injustice and violence is difficult. And most likely this morning’s event will not have any consequences for the security guard.