On Monday, July 1, I had an early morning Check Point experience at the Separation Barrier between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
I joined two Bethlehem colleagues at 3:45 a.m. to walk to Check Point 300, the entrance on the Bethlehem side of the Separation Barrier for Palestinians with work permits to enter Israel.
We walked in the Exit lane with our cameras safely stowed out of sight.
A soldier sitting in protected room presses a button to open the turnstyle, then focuses on his mobile device for a game of Bejeweled. When his walkie-talkie squawks, he presses the close button and the line stops. EAs use a counter to record the number of men, women, girls and boys passing through the first turnstyle. After recording for 30 minutes, we switch off with another EA and two of us enter the cage to go all the way through.
Here we saw men with their arms through the bars, the cage completely filled.
These Palestinian workers are among the lucky. They have a work permit that allows them to earn money in Israel. Some – only 50 shekels ($14) a day. No benefits. No health insurance. No pensions. Just money to help keep their families going.
You may have observed that almost all of these Palestinians are over the age of 30. Younger Palestinians are considered a security risk and do not get work permits. Nearly 75 % of the youth and young adults in Palestine are unemployed.
It took us over 60 minutes to pass through the first turnstyle, walk into the security building, put all of our items in a tray, including our belts, hold up our pants as we walked through the scanner, retrieve our belongings and line up for the ID check.
At the ID check, Palestinians put their wallets on a scanner, hold their work permit up for the officer to see, and place their index finger on the fingerprint reader. The officer verifies the permit number with the photo and information that comes up on the computer monitor. If everything matches, the worker is cleared and runs to catch a bus to his or her workplace. If not, the worker is turned back.
For internationals like us, we merely hold our passport up to the glass and the officer waves us through. The EAs then stand at the exit and wish the workers passing by a “good morning,” “good to see you,” “have a good day” in Arabic and English. Some stop to thank us for helping them.
The whole point of this exercise is to monitor the efficiency of the check point and try to keep things running smoothly so workers are not further delayed getting to work. In western countries we are also subjected to scrutiny when traveling from one country to another. However, we have options for frequent travelers with access cards to get through security quickly. And we are not put through wire cages in such a dehumanizing manner.
This is a daily nuisance and an intrusion into the lives of those Palestinians crossing into Israel. Many others cannot for “security” reasons. They are locked into the West Bank and many cannot worship at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, visit relatives living in Israel, vacation on the Mediterranean Sea, or travel to other countries through the airport in Tel Aviv.
Sad, frustrating, undignified and tiring.