Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Photo-Tour of the Bethlehem Checkpoint

Two years ago, if you wanted to go to Bethlehem, you would pass through this checkpoint. Vehicles could travel through, along with tourists.

Today, the gap in the wall and a soldier with a gun has been replaced with a terminal, complete with metal detectors, x-rays, and video monitors.

Most vehicles are barred entry, squelching all hopes of economic development. Coming into Bethlehem, you hop off the bus and see this sign.

Next, you enter the first of several turnstiles and show your ID to the soldier sitting behind plate glass.

A turnstile later, you cross the past the sign saying "Peace Be with You"

through another turnstile, and out into the city of Bethlehem.

But this route - traveling from Jerusalem to Bethlehem - is comparatively easy. Going from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is more guerling. This is the enterance to the Bethlehem checkpoint from Bethlehem city at 6:20 in the morning. Hundreds and hundreds of people line the wall, waiting for hours to show their ID cards at least twice so that they can go to work in Jerusalem.

These Palestinians are lucky. They hold a coveted Israeli-issued permit to travel to Jerusalem, a permit available to less than one half of one percent of Bethlehemites. But holding a permit isn't neccessarily enough. Palestinians can be turned back by Israeli soldiers at any time. Palestinians first pass through a door and show their ID to the first Israeli soldier. Then they must stand in line instead a structure resebleming a cattle chute

until they get to another turnstile. A disembodied voice yells through loudspeakers at people as they wait for the lights above an automated turnstile to flash red to green. Israeli soldiers control these serral system, giving orders (often unintelligibly) through the loudspeakers, watching waiting Palestinians through video cameras, and pushing buttons. It's chrystal clear who is in control and even priveledged forgieners, like myself, feel frustrated and dehumanized.

Next, Palestinians have to place their belongings on conveyor belt of that a soldier sitting in a glass both can x-ray them. Then it's time for another turn stile and another line. Finally, a soldier checks IDs and permits again and, hopefully, the ordeal has ended.

Inside the terminal there are special rooms for interrogations and searches where no one can see what is happening. Separation, humiliation, and dehumanization seem to be designed into the very architecture of this terminal. I can't tell you of many times that I've stood inside this checkpoint- trying to understand what the soldiers were saying, trying to lug a bag through a narrow door, or just trying to figure out which way to go - and knew that if this were my life, if I were subjected to the same rudeness and restrictions that Palestinians experience, I wouldn't be able to stand it.

There's no way to describe that feeling.

(most of the photos are credit to my friend Jill, photographer par excellence. I took only the first. The "peace be with you" photo was taken by the lovely and talented Frank.)

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