1 December 2012


Written by Hayley Kemp, humanitarian worker

I visited the Bethlehem Ecumenical Accompanier team and we monitored Gilo checkpoint, it was so depressing. We have to get there at 4.30am as it's due to open at 5am. When we get there, there are over a 1,000 people queuing already. Some of them have been there since 1.30am. The queue starts outside the checkpoint inside the fence running alongside the separation barrier, which is a wall here. Only 20% of the barrier runs on the Green Line, the internationally recognised border between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, the remaining 80% runs on Palestinian land. 

As you approach it looks like a city of homeless people, sat or sleeping on cardboard boxes, but these people are not homeless, they are on their way to work.  From 5am until about 7am more than 2,000 people will pass through the checkpoint to go to work. That's why they start queuing early. All of this to go to work.  Then the most astonishing sight at about 4.40am.  The call to prayer starts from the mosques and the men stand up and use the cardboard they have been sitting on as prayer mats and start their prayers.   Even in the dire situation that they are in they do not forget to give thanks to God.

When it finally opens, most days late, the people have to go through a terminal at the top, going through what they jokingly call a ‘chicken ring’ (a full length turnstile) and showing their IDs and permits.  Then they have to go down into a covered terminal where they go through another turnstile and then have to remove their shoes and belts etc. and pass through a metal detector, again showing their ID.  After this they then move through another booth where they have to show their ID again and also put their hand on a pad for fingerprint testing.

Each stage is crowded with people desperate to get to their bus to get to work on time. After all this they have their journey to work.  It usually takes the last person in the queue at least 2 hours to get through the checkpoint and sometimes takes more than 3 hours.  Remember this is not a checkpoint on the Green Line (internationally recognised border of Israel) to pass between the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) and Israel, this is a checkpoint for people to pass from one area of OPT to another area OPT. For example if this were in Plymouth it would be for people to pass from Mutley Plain to the City Centre.  The people are passing from one area of Bethlehem to the other.  I have never even seen this much checking at airports in the UK. 

As the crowd of Palestinians on their way to work moves, so do the Ecumenical Accompaniers to different parts of the checkpoint, so that they can see where the bottle necks are and to keep a presence at as many points as possible.  I have to go through the metal detector partly so that I can pass through to the final ID and fingerprint check and partly to see how many people are waiting to pass. I take off my jacket with my mobile phone in, I take off my earrings and watch and put all of these through the x-ray scanner.  I then try and pass through the metal detector but it keeps bleeping.  I tell the soldier, who is now shouting at me to go back through, that I do not have anything else on me.  He now screams at me that I do and to take it off.  The men are crowding behind me desperate to get to work but also trying to help me.  They tell me to take off my shoes, the soldier shouts at me ‘it is not your shoes’.  I take them off and put them through anyway.  The metal detector is still going off when I try to pass.  He shouts at me to get back.  The men behind can see I now just have my trousers and top on and nothing else, except my underwear.  I don’t know what to do as the soldier is shouting at me to get back but my things have gone through to the other side.  I panic and worry that it must be metal wiring in my bra setting the metal detector off. I try and tell the soldier but he shouts at me to get back.  I try indicating my bra to him by pointing to it but do not want to take it off in front of all the men.  The soldier ignores me so I just walk through to try and talk to him and amazingly the metal detector does not bleep and he lets me pass.  During this process I felt totally humiliated and scared.

Many men came up to us as they passed through and thanked us for being there and sharing this with them.  I had set off with the intention of taking some photos of the checkpoint but just couldn't actually bring myself to photograph these people in the state they had been reduced to by the Israeli occupation.  It truly is the worst thing I have ever seen.

What struck me most about Bethlehem is just how much the barrier has carved up Bethlehem and how difficult this has made it for tourists to visit.  In one place alone the barrier is in triple where it keeps doubling back on itself, to totally enclose Rachel’s Tomb.  There is a real lack of tourists here and people told us that the Israeli buses drop off tourists to Nativity Square and then pick them up an hour later and tell them not to wander off, ‘as it is too dangerous’!  The irony is that I have never been in any country where I have felt safer amongst the local population.  I caught the bus by myself from Tulkarem in the north of the West Bank to Bethlehem in the south and the only thing you have to worry about is the amount of people who want to give you their seat, give you water, shade you from the sun and even pay your fare!  When you get to your destination the only danger is that you will ‘suffer’ from an overdose of hospitality where people want to take you home and feed you!  It is amazing that people who are treated in such an inhumane way have so much humanity within themselves.

here are a couple of videos, so you can see how it looks like

From Aisha's Lips


Muslim Mummy said...

May Allah (swt) ease their suffering Ameen

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