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Photo Essay: Rush hour at Bethlehem Checkpoint

by Porter Speakman, Jr.

Palestinian day workers lining at the Bethlehem Checkpoint, June 30 2011 (photo: 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.

Lining up at the checkpoint starts at 3AM, though the checkpoint does not open until around 5:00 AM (photo: Porter Speakman, Jr.)

Being late to work might cost you your work permit in Israel (photo: Porter Speakman, Jr.)

Some were allowed to climb to a better spot, but not without getting an earful (photo: Porter Speakman, Jr.)

That day, Even the sick on their way to the hospital had to wait (photo: Porter Speakman, Jr.)

Rush hour at Bethlehem Checkpoint (photo: Porter Speakman, Jr.)

Porter Speakman, Jr. is the director and producer of the film “With God On Our Side.”

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    1. Fred Scuttle

      In a Village Voice article last year, an Israeli nurse was telling an American-Jew, “you don’t understand, the Palestinians are the blacks of Israel.” If that’s the case, then she needs to understand that it was the white Americans who created the horrible situations for the blacks of America.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Rick

      Check out the “rush hour” between Juarez Mexico and El Paso, Texas. The same thing happens here. In fact, these “rush hours” happen all over the world between developing countries and developed countries.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Danny

      Yes, Rick. These “rush hours” happen all the time indeed. They seem to happen a lot in real progressive places like Texas and Arizona, not to mention Apartheid South Africa. Who are we to judge?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Danny

      These pictures remind me of cattle herding on the way to slaughter. Would Israelis agree to be herded in this fashion, not unlike the way their ancestors were treated in Nazi Germany? I seriously doubt it.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Madian

      @Rick…This is about occupation.One entity, occupied a country and enslaved their people and this only happenned 60 years ago… Look it up and you’ll see why it is different.

      Reply to Comment
    6. jenny

      When the rulers are evil the people suffer. The palestinians voted in evil rulers – Fatah and Hamas – and they are suffering because of it. Before the intifada, they didn’t have these issues.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Omar

      Amazing how a journalist can create any story he like by writing different captions under these photos… Not convinced.

      Reply to Comment
    8. David

      Looks like any US embassy to me.

      Reply to Comment
    9. E_rational

      Anyone who thinks this is “normal” doesn’t have a decent or compassionate bone in their body! I am from South africa- so aparttheid and respect for human rights is a touchy issue! This should not be happening!!period!

      Reply to Comment
    10. JoshK

      Uh, did you ever try to go to the DMV in the US? Remember, if these folks were in charge there would be a lot worse than queues.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Mitchell Cohen

      “These pictures remind me of cattle herding on the way to slaughter. Would Israelis agree to be herded in this fashion, not unlike the way their ancestors were treated in Nazi Germany? I seriously doubt it.” [End of quote]
      I thought there was a policy on this site against using Nazi terminology or comparisons….At any rate, as frustrating as it is waiting on line for hours at a time, these people are on their way to work for money in Israel and then go back home at night to their families….They are not being “herded” to death camps….Seriously!!!!

      Reply to Comment