On the walls of the otherwise featureless checkpoint at Bethlehem someone has put up posters advertising ‘Israel’ as a venue for tourism. One, using rich colours, depicts an elaborate religious ceremony - probably Greek orthodox or something - carrying the slogan: ‘Israel: See the Glory!’ Another showing people on a beach says something like ‘Israel, where it’s holiday all the year round’. (I dared not write these down while in the checkpoint.) The sarcasm is wonderful. The official Israeli notice outside tells one (in various languages): ‘Welcome to the inspection point. Read the instructions and obey them.’

There is a group of over 300 Israeli women, the Machsom Watch (Machsom is Hebrew for checkpoint), whose members stand at checkpoints to observe what is happening and to be of assistance to Palestinians trying to cross. They ‘man’ 33 checkpoints. We met one of these women, a born and bred Israeli in her 70s, dedicated to her work - getting up in the early hours to do her round of checkpoints during the morning rush hour. She was highly critical  of Israel. Israel says it wants peace! But its actions belie this. They have a government full of generals. The Israelis say the Arabs (the Israeli term for Palestinians) are all terrorists. But 99% of these people are looking for work. There is no work in the West Bank. Millions went into the pockets of Arafat and his friends. Hamas is clean: they have tackled health, infrastructure and there is no corruption. Many think that the only thing that Israel understands is violence.

This woman made the point that the insecurity experienced by the Palestinians is part of the whole system. A man whom she knows was for 15 years a caretaker working for an Israeli firm in Jerusalem. One day they took his papers; no one told him why. The authorities need collaborators. For 15 years he had had papers to cross into Israel to go to work. His whole life and his pension were dependent on his having them. He got the papers back. Three days later they were taken again. It is psychological warfare. He was to see the security, Captain George etc (she did not give the name), and was told that if he came at 20.00 they would give the papers back. Then he was instructed to come back in a week. This can go on for 3/4 weeks. People will be asked questions like ‘Who are your neighbours?’ and told ‘You help us and we help you’. She remarked: ‘One needs an [Israeli] employer willing to go the via dolorosa to get you a permit’. Employers have to pay tax to employ foreign workers. Only a big employer will go to all this trouble. They use a Palestinian middleman to find such a worker, which is not allowed. A Palestinian will never get the minimum wage. Furthermore the tax the employer has to pay will be deducted from his wage.

The work of the Machsom Watch consists, for example, in getting people through to allow them to reach a hospital so that a child will not die. Women have given birth at checkpoints, even died. They will maybe let through a mother and sick child, but not the father who will be thought a potential ‘terrorist’. The Palestinian hospitals are quite good, but there are certain treatments which cannot be carried out; e.g. for cancer, which requires chemicals or radioactive materials which the Israelis do not allow in Palestinian hospitals because they say it would be possible to make bombs out of them; or complex heart surgery. After the Gazan crisis there were 1,000 desperately ill people in Gaza with no one being let through, though now people are beginning to trickle through. Then there are problems such as that after school children will go to their grandmother, so they are not at the checkpoint at the time it is open. The father is left stranded one side and the kids the other. The woman from Machsom Watch remembered one case in which only at 9.55 at night did they get it sorted out and the children got through. The father had repeatedly tried to get his children on the list (?of children going to that school, through the wall), presenting his papers many times. The father said: ‘I gave in the papers’; the soldier ‘I cannot let you through’.

Entrance to Area B (Israeli control) with checkpoint and roof camera, Hebron

Bethlehem checkpoint 5.30 a.m.

Machsom Watch

See Further on this Site:

  1. - Wall

  2. - Permits/ID

Gergey Pasztor

Defence for Children International website


There are of course checkpoints in the wall to get into Israel proper and, further, about 600 road blocks and checkpoints in occupied Palestine. When the UN undertook a survey in September 2008 it found that the number had increased. There are also ‘flying checkpoints’, some of which then turn into fixed checkpoints, becoming permanent.

Checkpoints are utterly disruptive of people’s lives. I got to know the one in the wall at Bethlehem, passing through it on my own and with others, on foot and in a bus. Men queue there from 4.00 a.m. that they may reach their jobs in Jerusalem on time. Hundreds go through the wall in this way twice a day, every day. Palestinians must undergo an extensive search, having their finger-print read and of course showing their ID. It feels degrading, like cattle being counted through a turnstile. Belongings pass through an X-ray machine. The Israeli soldiers are behind glass. The turnstile is controlled by lights for ‘go’ and ‘stop’. It is forbidden to smoke in line. If a Palestinian smokes they


Checkpoints and Other Barriers

in the Jerusalem area

may have their papers taken and be held for four hours. Meanwhile Israeli soldiers smoke on the roof.

Today, we received a call at about 7:30am that the same checkpoint, Beit Furik, was completely closed. So we went. The same soldiers from last night were there, and were very unhappy to see us. We stayed at Beit Furik from 8:00-1:30. In that time we forced the formation of a humanitarian line to expedite children, the elderly and the sick. Also, we organized a student’s line. It is final exam season for the students of Al-Najah, and today is a big day for their exams. So, the Palestinians sorted the students from their lines, filled the car lane with bodies, and forced the soldiers to check them quickly in groups. We had many victories today, from UN workers, to pregnant women, to sick kids, to ambulances and on and on and on. We were so effective that the soldiers turned to assaulting us, threatening us, and eventually calling the police. Since the military cannot arrest us, they had the police come who seized our IDs, checked our bags, and ordered us to leave. ... Also in the action we continuously circumvented the military to cross the checkpoint to deliver water, and to advocate for individual people who either had special needs or who were being completely denied entry.

Our presence at checkpoints really does a lot. First, we get a lot of people through one by one. Second we force the soldiers to work quicker, stop them from taking breaks to sit and chat. We also physically protect Palestinians as they cross through while the soldiers threaten to beat or shoot them. We translate. We bring water and supplies. We also organize the work for the soldiers to maximize speed. When they have five soldiers checking a car and one checking the four hundred or so people waiting, we yell at them until they put another few soldiers on ID duty. We force them to allow the Palestinians to sort themselves into priority lines, and we raise their level of protection. ... Today, after many had been waiting for over four and a half hours, a group of men ran through the crossing, and did not turn back when the soldiers saw them. As punishment, the soldiers completely closed the crossing to the remaining four hundred people. Because we argued with them, called the Israeli authorities in control of the area and other such things they had to reopen. By the time we left, a few Palestinians took over our job, locating those who needed to cross quickly, and advocating for them with the soldiers. We are growing.

Blog of Michael Ramallah, Beit Furik checkpoint.

Wikimedia Commons: Justin McIntosh

Graffiti on Kalandia checkpoint, Aug.2004.