Stop the Wall has prepared a special report describing the horrific conditions in which Palestinians find themselves on a daily basis when crossing the checkpoints. For this we interviewed four individuals who experience these crossings daily and they have provided us with an insight into the difficulty, complications and humiliations they must face within their own land, whether they are looking for work, going to school or visiting loved ones – every part of their life is affected by the checkpoints.
From reading these accounts it is clear that the freedom of movement is a fundamental human right which, when violated, affects every aspect of a person’s daily life and has far reaching implications on a large range of human needs and for society.
The general complications in the daily life of Palestinians and the violations of their freedom of movement caused by the checkpoints can be compared to the Group Areas Act (1950) which was implemented in South Africa under the Apartheid regime. Parallels can be drawn in the general disruption of movement where travelling short distances requires a disproportionate amount of time, there are constant delays and administrative issues regarding “permits” etc. but more importantly, these restrictions are applied on the basis of race.
These infringements on the freedom of movement added to the daily humiliation linked to the checkpoints all form part of an overall system of control and de-humanization aimed at making the daily lives of Palestinians unbearable.
However, what is inspiring in these interviews is the steadfastness of the workers, students and farmers as they face this mechanism of oppression. This is yet another sign that the Israeli attempts to crush the Palestinian people are only succeeding in creating more resistance.
1. Artah Checkpoint
“My name is Suleiman, I was born in 1974 in Tulkarem to a refugee family originally from Sabarren village near Haifa. I am married and I have 5 children and I am the only person in the family earning an income.
I worked within the occupied territories in 1948, ‘Israel’, ever since I was 15 years old. Until the beginning of the second intifada I was working there with no need for a permit. At the beginning of the nineties there was no need for permits to work inside ‘Israel’.
Since the year 2006 until today, I crossed Artah checkpoint every day, the checkpoint built at the beginning of the second intifada in 2000. I cross it every morning and every night.
My day starts at 4.00am, and my wife prepares food for me to take with me. I start walking from my home in the camp and through the main street of the city of Tulkarem to cross the checkpoint around 5.00 or 5.30am and wait with the other workers in a long queue to pass the checkpoint. The number of workers who congregate to enter the checkpoint are what I estimate to be around 5,000 people on a daily basis. The checkpoint opens at 5 am and starts the entry of workers who hold work permits.
At 7.00am the people who have commercial permits start entering the checkpoint, exacerbating the crisis in the place because of the large number of workers who are stuck there trying to pass the crossing until 10.00am. Especially on Fridays and Sundays, there are more workers than usual who enter through the crossing and spend the rest of the week at home. Furthermore, the checkpoint opens the gate for fewer hours on Fridays and Artah checkpoint is the only crossing which Palestinians can use to enter ‘Israel’, whether they are workers, relatives and visitors of the prisoners and/or children in Israeli jails or others that hold special permits to visit relatives in ‘Israel’. Artah has only one gate for all of them to pass through.
After gathering the workers at the entrance to the terminal, which is a long, winding corridor surrounded by razor wire and which is very narrow as at no point does the width of the corridor expand larger than 5 meters. The workers are herded into this corridor to enter the only gate in the checkpoint. After one enters through this gate, workers pass through seven iron turn-style gates, each designed to accommodate entry of one person at a time only. Then they pass through a second gate and, finally, through a last gate, that is located besides a bulletproof room. A soldier sits inside this room and the worker hands over his identity papers through a small hole at the bottom of a glass wall. At the same time there is an electronic machine, which is located on the right of the gate. Then the workers have to put their fingers to get the prints registered in a special place on this machine. When he has given his finger prints, the soldier then has all available information about the worker. Any problem or defect in the fingerprint process causes a major crisis within the crossing. This happens especially among construction workers who are working extensively in the construction and stone industry, which leads often to a lack of clarity in their fingerprints, forcing people to repeat the process of passing fingerprints until the soldier receives the information, because without it the soldier will not allow him to pass.
Some of the workers, who need more time to get to work, move from their homes at 1.00 am in the morning, and may need to sleep at the gates of the checkpoint, so they can reserve a position for entry in the first minutes of the opening.
I clearly can see surveillance cameras that surround all areas of the crossing and monitor every movement of every single person, the crises at the crossings, when we can stand for hours without moving forward or being able to go back.
The staff working at the crossing are not Israeli soldiers, the only soldiers are the ones who check the IDs and take the fingerprints, the rest of the employees there are employed by the ‘Betahon’ company, ‘a security company’.
The employees and the soldiers have been known to stop the entry or delay the workers, purely depending on their mood.
The impact of work in Israel and barriers to the social life:
Often I do not find time to sit down and talk with my wife and my children, I go to work in the early morning hours, when my children are asleep, and come back home at seven pm exhausted. I work in construction and go to sleep at about 9 or 10 pm in order to wake up early the next day to start again the process of crossing the checkpoint. Therefore, I do not find enough time to get to know my children and their lives.
As I cannot find the time to carry out any of my roles within the family or other social duties, I am cut off from all my social surroundings.
The presence of the crossings constitutes a burden on Palestinian workers. The barrier was built to put hurdles and more obstacles in the face of the workers. We are forced to work within ‘Israel’ due to the lack of job opportunities within the West Bank. Even if I was to find work in the area for as little as 80 shekels a day, I would give up my work inside Israel, even though I receive three times more money there!
In my opinion, Israel should remove the crossings and checkpoints, and the Palestinian Authority should intervene to end our suffering, but no one cares to improve the conditions for workers.
The process of obtaining a work permit is increasingly more difficult and complex. It takes a worker an extensive amount of time to even obtain a permit for 4 days known as the ‘permit to look for work’ and go to Israel to find an opportunity, and when he finds a work, the Israeli employer must request a permit for the working period until its end. Of course, the 4 day permit is always inadequate to find a job opportunity and so there are people that the workers have to pay to find them job opportunities and to get them permits.”
2. Qalandiya checkpoint
Yusra, Information Officer
“During the past year I have walked through Qalandia checkpoint for 4 months and Al Jeib checkpoint for 8 months. I work in Jerusalem and therefore I have to cross into Jerusalem through one of the checkpoints to the city.
I am based in Jerusalem and without a permit to enter Jerusalem I am not able to answer my work requirements. Obtaining a work permit was not easy at all, despite the security check clearance, supporting documents and work contract, the whole procedure took 2 months because of meaningless procrastination. The excuses were: Muslim Holidays, Jewish holidays, security checks, work description is not sufficient...etc.
The only times any of my immediate family members applied for permits were on holidays and as it has been noticed recently, it is easier now than the previous years.
There is no defined pattern: the treatment varies according to the soldiers, circumstances and the number of people crossing the checkpoint.
At Qalandia checkpoint I have to walk through the pedestrian section of the checkpoint, despite my work coordination stating I should stay in the work car. Again, my treatment varies, there were times that I wasn't asked to show the permit, others I show the permit only, in other occasions I have to show the magnetic card and permit, take off my shoes, wait in line for at least an hour due to soldiers’ slow processing of crossing and papers, checks and at other times processing was as smooth as in a bank.
At Jib checkpoint where both soldiers and a private security company man operate the checkpoint, a special coordination is required to have a work car pass through, yet the treatment is different.
The checking of the documents - when it happens - requires everything (permit, magnetic card, work card). There were incidents where one of my colleagues was turned back because he didn't have his work card or magnetic card but always had the permit with him.
In general the experience is not smooth at all even when soldiers just process papers and let me/us go. There is tension, we have to wait and one constantly worries that for some reason the documents I have on me will not be enough.
Even if my personal experience cannot always by described as bad, there is the fact that the checkpoints are illegal and should not exist. Apart from being turned back, if I don't have a magnetic card or it is a Jewish holiday and then holders of working permits are not allowed to pass.
What counts as the worst to me is the humiliation and frustration I experience everyday as a Palestinian going to work through an illegal body under international law.
This is in addition to the pain of watching other Palestinians on Al Jib checkpoint waiting to be allowed in to the other side to access their farm lands which is annexed to the settlement, the feeling of guilt that I have a permit and I can cross sitting in a car while they are waiting out in the sun. The very existence of the checkpoints is a combination of humiliation, violation of all laws, a constant reminder of who is oppressing whom.”
3. Bethlehem checkpoint (‘Container’ checkpoint)
“My name is George, I am from Bethlehem. My nationality is Palestinian, born in 1987.
Every day we pass the checkpoints since 2005 until now, either to go to university or to work, and the main checkpoints I have to pass are the ‘container’ and Qalandiya.
We do not need permits to pass those checkpoints, but we need them to enter our land in Jerusalem. At the checkpoint, there is a difference when the soldiers check me as compared to others, because I am Christian. They take off the bus those that sit beside me, because he or she is Muslim. This is just another way in which they want to create hatred and resentment between us as Palestinians; they try to distinguish between us as depending on our religion.
The checkpoints are huge obstacles in our lives because they prevent us from moving freely. I always plan to leave more than an hour early now to be sure that I will reach my destination because I know I will spend a long time waiting for the occupation soldiers to let me pass the checkpoint. It takes me 4 hours to reach my work every day. This is simply for a journey of only 90km.
Checkpoints are the most humiliating experience to human dignity and freedom, when you are exposed to the checking process, even though you are in your own country.
The presence of the checkpoint affects a person’s entire life. For example, someone who lives in Hebron and wants to visit Tulkarem, will pass at least 5 main checkpoints, and if every checkpoint stops him/her, by the time he/she reaches their destination the day will be over. Also, the checkpoints have instilled fear in people which makes them move or only travel to other cities in a case of emergency. This has a huge negative impact on people and their social life.
Human beings should live a free life, without fear or waiting at checkpoints. The freedom of movement is something which the people want and need.
The checkpoints should be removed, and the occupation as such has to end as well.
This data is correct and taken from real life, and this is only a very small picture of huge suffering that we are exposed to on a daily basis. But we will keep steadfast and continue passing the checkpoints until the last one is removed.”
“My name is mourad Jadallah, born 23.1.1977 in Kuwait. I am Palestinian and have a family of three. I am a legal researcher.
Since 1992 I have been using the checkpoint to go from Beit Safafa in Jerusalem to Bethlehem where I used to study. Since 2002 the checkpoints are worse than before.
I work in Ramallah since 2009 but part of my work requires travelling around the West Bank so basically I need to pass checkpoints every day to go to my office in Ramallah or to visit friends during the weekend.
I do not need permits to go to the rest of the West Bank because I have a Jerusalem ID. But my aunt has been living in Jerusalem since 1967 without a Jerusalem ID and as a result she cannot leave Jerusalem legally to visit her daughter who lives in a village near Ramallah.
In addition, I have a lot of friends in Gaza but since 1996 I have not been able to get a permit to visit them even in cases of illness of death.
My general experience with the checkpoints is similar to all the Palestinian who may pass through any of these 500 checkpoints.
We experience a lot of humiliation from the occupying forces based on racism, disrespect and hatred. They aim to destroy our lives, our souls, our beliefs and our values.
As a Palestinian who has lived under the Israeli occupation for more than 36 years, I can say with conviction that the Israeli checkpoints are part of the occupation policy to destroy Palestinian life in all aspects. It is part of the political genocide.
They want us to surrender, to forget and just leave our land or else they will turn us into today’s “Native Americans”. And they are supported by many western countries around the world. This is clear to me when I see all the European companies who are involved in the occupation industry such as G4S and Volvo.
Mourad Jadallah, 36 years old legal researcher from Beit Safafa Jerusalem.
I believe that all the facts in this statement are true.”