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The checkpoint: a photo essay

A Palestinian woman crosses ‘Checkpoint 300’ with her child. She is one of the few women making the morning crossing from Bethlehem to Israel – those who do, often sell vegetables and herbs in the old city of Jerusalem. Women, students and those seeking medical care in Israel or East Jerusalem should pass through a distinct ‘humanitarian lane’ but it is often closed, leaving them no choice but to use the crowded male workers’ line.

At the unearthly hour of 3.00am, crowds of Palestinian workers start to arrive at the Bethlehem-Israeli military checkpoint also known as ‘Checkpoint 300’. They are on their way to work in Israeli and Palestinian cities beyond the Green Line. Many making the crossing are construction labourers; many come from the south of the West Bank and begin their journey in the dead of night.

According to the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI), between 4,000 and 6,000 workers cross this particular checkpoint daily between 4.00am and 7.00am to reach their places of employment in East Jerusalem and Israel. ‘Checkpoint 300’ is just one of 13 major crossings that allow Palestinians with work permits to cross, with an estimated 70,000 Palestinians passing through Israeli military checkpoints each day.

According to the International Labour Office’s (ILO) 2017 report, ‘at no point in the last 15 years have so many Palestinians worked in Israel and the settlements. They now number close to 120,000. Most cross over on a daily basis. Crossings and checkpoints remain inadequate to handle such a vast number every day.’

Words & photography – Anne Paq / Active Stills

 Workers cram themselves into every available space of the cement- and metal-barred walkway leading to turnstiles and metal detectors. Afterwards, they wait inside a terminal before their identification and work permits are checked by the Israeli soldiers. This can take up to two hours and has been criticized by the ILO and other human rights organizations as being inhumane and humiliating.
Palestinians at the Bethlehem checkpoint pause for the 5.00am prayer. The strict Israeli system of allocating work permits for Palestinians has been criticized for creating a black market for the documents, which can cost up to $600 a month and must be paid to brokers.
‘This is not a life,’ says 88-year-old Mohammed, waiting patiently until the checkpoint gets a bit less crowded. He makes the journey to Jerusalem six days a week to sell his greens at a market. Many Palestinians feel they have no choice but to make the crossing due to high unemployment rates in the West Bank and much better wages in Israel.
Some workers attempt to bypass the line to arrive as early as possible at their workplace – if they arrive late, they might lose a day’s pay. One man, who is from Bethlehem and works in a supermarket across the border, says: ‘I have to be at work at 7.00am. [But] we often arrive at 10.00am and sometimes the manager sends us back. The army gets in our way; they make us late… Every day is difficult; every day is like this.’


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