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Christmas at the Checkpoint

The checkpoints surrounding the occupied territories of Palestine have many faces. You would never really know whether the Israeli soldier will send you back home of «security reasons» or is asleep using his weapon as a pillow. Sometimes the checkpoint is a watertight bulkhead. The next day you wouldn’t even notice if you passed it or not.

Last Sunday a couple of people organized a stunt to set focus on an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. This brought internationals and Palestinian youths together in a «Run for Silwan». Me and some friends attended and started our solidarity work out in Bethlehem. Heading for Jerusalem from Bethlehem includes passing the checkpoint, and runners are no exception. Even Norwegians. But my mind was somewhere else – I was only going for my weekly run, and the need for a passport was forgotten in order to cover my higher prioritized need for a chocolate.

Despite the strict control system at the checkpoint me and my chocolate could simply pass the security check without any questions asked. The reality of the safety argument is obviously not in harmony with the «urgent need» that the law subscribes. But the real assault of the checkpoints is something you would have to seek out for. The obstacles a runner would face could be annoying at worst. But the Palestinians in Bethlehem who’s working in East Jerusalem have to do the 15 minutes drive from one occupied territory to another occupied territory in the middle of the night every day in order to arrive their work in time. Due to the checkpoint the distance of 8 kilometers requires 3 hours to cover. Workers in the western world might complain about the inefficiency of public transport. The workers in Palestine are moving in the speed of 2,5 kilometers per hour.

Statistic shows that unemployment in 2006 rose from 23% in 2005 to over 50% in the occupied territory of the West Bank, but later there was an economic progress. In 2009 the rate indicated 19% unemployment, and the percentage for 2010 was estimated to be 16,5. Regarding the difficulties of developing sustainable businesses in the West Bank, partly because of the politics of Israel, many Palestinians consider labor in Israel and East Jerusalem as an alternative. On the other hand, moving to East Jerusalem will be impossible regarding the Israeli law, and this makes the checkpoint an inevitability.

Before 03:00 in the morning you will see the first sign of the Workers Line at the Checkpoint «Gilo 300» outside Bethlehem. Among 3000 workers are passing the boarders every day. The atmosphere is surprisingly close to an imagination of a prison. The people are lining up parallel to the separation wall, and the queue of exhausted people is stowed together between bars and fences. Waiting. Instead of letting people pass in a constant flow, the gates will open in intervals of maybe fifteen minutes. As soon as a group of stressed people is allowed to enter the next queue, chaos is spreading and «the educated people are transformed into desperate animals» as one of the workers I talked to formulated it. They will run from the first stage of the checkpoint consisting of three stations of control and security checks. Tension and frustration increases which lead to uncomfortable interactions especially when the gates will close without any reason announced. The purpose of the inefficient system seems to be the desire to create lines and obstacles. And the Palestinians have to pay the price by wasting time for hours every day. And while the hours pass, the Muslims among them would have to do their prayer, which will happen blocked between bars.

If you would ask for the responsible person behind this system, the workers themselves could point at the soldier, or even the EAPPI – international observers from the World Council of Churches. But what about the Israeli people who give their sovereignty to the government who puts this into power? The frustration because of the democratic choices which others consider as unacceptable is expressed in many ways. I had an urgent need to pee while exiting the checkpoint, but the limited availability of water closets made me listen to advice from a friend: «pick a tree and show your ass to the settlement» (Kristel, 11th of December 2011).

Listen to what the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would like to share with us regarding the human right protection in Israel: 

As long as the statement of Netanyahu remains a lie, the Palestinian workers will stay steadfastness at the checkpoint of Bethlehem. Christmas morning is no exception.

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