by Porter Speakman, Jr.
Bethlehem, West Bank – Thursday, June 30, 2011. I set my alarm for 4:45 AM and headed out of Jerusalem to take some video at the Bethlehem checkpoint for an upcoming project.
Jerusalem was still very quite, a stark difference for what was awaiting in the nearby Palestinian Bethlehem. As I crossed over into the city you could hear the voices of thousands of people lined up both in the terminal and awaiting access. This is morning “rush hour” in Bethlehem Checkpoint.
Thousands of Palestinians who live in Bethlehem and work in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities start their day around 3:00 AM by lining up at the checkpoint. Although the checkpoint does not open until around 5:00 AM, getting a good place in line can mean the difference between a one-hour crossing or a much longer one. You never really know how long it’s going to take to get through, because the IDF border guards will let only let a certain number of people in at a time to the terminal for inspection. Being late to work is not an option, as your permit to enter Israel is dependent on that job, which only makes the experience more stressful.
There are 3 basic stops at this checkpoint. The line to get into the terminal, then metal detectors and bag x-ray and finally document inspection. The attitudes of the Palestinians were remarkable in this circumstance. Most women and children were let through to the front – no questions asked, even if you had been there for an hour and almost through. Some, who were most likely running late, would climb the fence and drop down through holes in the roof to advance in line. Generally, they were allowed to do so by the others and to keep their new place in line – but not without getting an earful. There is a special “Humanitarian & Tourist” line at the checkpoint, however on this day the gate would not be opened and everyone, even the sick on their way to the hospital had to wait.
Porter Speakman, Jr. is the director and producer of the film “With God On Our Side.”