It is 4:00 am at Checkpoint 300, the main foot traffic crossing between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The first of some 5800 Palestinians to cross today (mostly men) begin to trudge up livestock style chutes under the yellow glow of the lights hung on the concrete separation wall. Most of the men are construction workers employed in West Jerusalem. They check their watches nervously – if they are late their jobs are on the line. More specifically, their work permits may be lost as their employers control the work permits so they can not only fire their Palestinian workers, they can prevent them from working at all.
As the time approaches 5:00 am, the queue to cross has grown to hundreds of men and the line stops frequently. While there are 10 security gates (where checks are made on finger prints, work permits and identity cards), today there are only 5 open today. The men become frustrated and agitated – they cannot be late. The queue pushes forward and men get crushed at a single turnstile gate location. To “jump” the queue, a few men climb over top of the steel fence. But today is their unlucky day as an angry security guard (automatic weapon in hand) catches them. He grabs them and violently pushes them face first into a steel fence, only a few meters from where I stand watching. I am helpless to intercede and the look in their eyes reveals the realization that they will not be allowed entry today. There will be no work today and perhaps the work permit will be lost as well. Today is Thursday – the same scene plays out almost daily.
Later in the morning, I trudge home – frustrated, angry and tired. How can this happen to men who simply need to provide for their families? Ahh but yes, in the minds of the Israeli military this checkpoint is to prevent the “terrorists” from “getting in”. This level of security is at Checkpoint 300 despite the fact that at various gaps in this uncompleted concrete wall, illegal pedestrian crossings can and do occur on a regular basis. So, is this process less about security and more about humiliation, intimidation and control over simple working men? Sadly, I believe so.
A lady recently asked me “why do they force the women to be in the same line as the men, the men look down on us when we are forced to do this?”. Another old man asked politely, “can you ask them to open the locked toilet doors – some people cannot hold it that long?” (I ask this question to the authorities and am ignored – I understand the toilet doors are seldom, if ever, unlocked for use).
For all these Palestinians, the daily ordeal of the Checkpoint 300 crossing eventually ends and the rest of their day begins.