How was the checkpoint today?

By EA Elina, Bethlehem team,

“I don’t call it a separation wall. It doesn’t separate our land from their lands, it goes deep inside the land which belongs to us,” says a young Palestinian man in his 20s, a student from the Bethlehem University.

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Bethlehem Checkpoint 300, men queue during morning rush hour, Photo EAPPI/Elina 25-09-16

The Wall is a visible part of daily life for many people in Bethlehem 

“For us it is a Barrier, a Barrier which takes our freedom and makes lots of difficulties on our lives. It makes our lives, like living in a jail. If you are allowed to exit, you are allowed to exit only during certain times and you always need to have a permission for it.”

Abu Dis 2

Separation Barrier separates the Palestinian town of Abu Dis from Jerusalem. Photo EAPPI

Since June 2002, the Government of Israel has been constructing what it refers to as the ‘Security Barrier’. The Barrier is made up of concrete walls, fences, ditches, and razor wire. Israeli officials say that the purpose of the Barrier is to separate the West Bank and Israel in order to prevent violent attacks by Palestinians inside Israel. Once completed, the full route of the Barrier would be around 709 kilometres, which is approximately twice the length of the Green Line (the 1949 armistice line between Israel and occupied Palestine). Approximately 85 percent of the Separation Barrier is built in occupied Palestine and only 15 percent of it goes along the Green Line. [1] According to the UN the main reason for this deviation of the Barrier inside the Green Line is so that it can include Israeli settlements inside the West Bank, which are illegal under international law. [2] B’Tselem a leading Israeli human rights NGO found that: “the revised route of the barrier surrounds sixty settlements (including twelve in East Jerusalem), separating them from the rest of the West Bank and creating territorial contiguity between them and Israel.”

The Wall has had several serious effects, especially for people living near it. It deteriorates and obstructs peoples freedom of movement, right to work, right to health, right to worship and so on. In addition, it generates psychological, social, economic and ecological problems. [3]

“If you want to go to visit your family members on the Jerusalem side of the wall, you need a permission. If you are going to work on Jerusalem side of the Wall, you need a permission. If you are going to pray on Friday at Jerusalem, you need a permission.” says one man at Checkpoint 300 the main checkpoint at the barrier in Bethlehem.

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Bethlehem, Graffiti on the wall. Photo EAPPI/ Elina. 24-09-16

The International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) 2004 Advisory Opinion specifically confirmed that the Barriers route, which goes 3 kilometres inside the Palestinian side of the Green Line, breaches Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the destruction of property and that it is not justified for security reasons. [4] The ICJ also stated that the wall impedes “the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination,” its route threatening to create “de facto annexation.” [5]

Access to work: few kilometers, several hours

“Saba ilkher. Good Morning. Welcome to Bethlehem. It is a good morning today, it goes faster than usually. Last week when you were not here, it was very bad.” Old Palestinian man tells us (Ecumenical Accompaniers) while passing the checkpoint.

Checkpoint 300 is the main crossing point into Jerusalem for the residents of Bethlehem. It is located approximately 2 kilometers inside the Green Line. Since 2014, approximately 4,000 to 6,000 workers cross the checkpoint daily between 4 am to 7 am. [6]

When it is a so-called “good morning” at the Checkpoint it can take less than 20 minutes to go through the checkpoint. Often it takes much longer.

“I waited more than an hour to get through. My work was supposed to start at 7 am but I won’t get there before it’s already over 9 am.”  A Palestinian man explains to the EAPPI team monitoring the checkpoint before he hurries into the bus waiting outside the checkpoint on his way to work.

It is not unusual that it takes Palestinians several hours to reach their jobs even when there is sometimes only a few kilometres between home and their place of work.

Bethlehem Gilo 11, 31.10.07

Bethlehem Checkpoint 300 or Gilo, Palestinians queue. Photo EAPPI 31.10.07

The time needed for passing the checkpoint usually depends on that how many lanes, inspection points and booths are open at the same time. Sometimes the machines are not working. Construction workers are having problems to identify their fingertips due to their hands being worn by their rough work. People are some times turned back for having the right permits to enter Israel.

Recently, there has been a problem with the Humanitarian Lane which is a separate line for women, children and men over 60 years. Women, children and old people are forced to queue in the same lines as the others because the Humanitarian Lane stays closed.

 “How was the checkpoint today? Was it okay?” asks a Palestinian vendor selling cigarettes and tuna fish outside the checkpoint when the EA team has finished their duties after the busy morning in the checkpoint.

I hesitate before giving my reply, but the vendor helps me.

 “Okay, I know the checkpoint is really never okay. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse, but occupation is a very old model. It isolates us. It’s never good.”

More info:

UNOCHA January 2015: Bethlehem Governorate: fragmentation and humanitarian concerns 

UNOCHA: The Humanitarian Impact of the Barrier

B’Tselem: The Separation Barrier

International Court of Justice (ICJ): Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of 9 July 2004

B’Tselem and Bimkom: Under the Guise of Scurity, Routing the Separation Barrier to Enable the Expansion of Israeli Settlements in the West Bank

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