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The Extraordinary is Nothing but Ordinary at Checkpoint 300

“Welcome” said the Palestinian woman ahead of MPT at the massive Checkpoint 300 between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. She had just had her documents checked and been fingerprinted. She watches as MPTers get by easily with their U.S. passports. Yes, here is the real welcome. It is not the soldiers behind the bulletproof glass, but the women whose community we are entering that welcome us.
Checkpoint 300 is the military designation for the exit and entry point for Palestinians traveling between Jerusalem and the north and beyond. It was built in November 2005 to replace an older, smaller and more simple checkpoint. It sits under the illegal Israeli settlement of Gilo.

Gilo settlement
MPT arrived at Checkpoint 300 at 5:10 am on Monday, June 16, 2008. It was quite a sight as hundreds of men were already in line. Every man in Bethlehem lucky enough to have a work permit must pass through this checkpoint every day on his way to work in Jerusalem.

MPT’s goal for the morning was simply to accompany the Palestinians on their typical morning checkpoint experiences as they went to work. MPTers would also keep their eyes open for human rights abuses as checkpoint 300 is one of the most militarized checkpoints in the West Bank and is infamous for violence and harsh interrogations.
The checkpoint is closed during the night so no one can enter or leave Bethlehem. It is supposed to open at 5:00 am. At 5:10 am, there was no sign of it being open. Around 5:20 am, it opened and the first charge of people toward the entrance began. Everyone started rushing and moving, hoping to get through the checkpoint as quickly as possible. The line no longer mattered. It was a bizarre experience to watch.

In a couple minutes, movement stopped again and the waiting continued. Every ten minutes the Israelis staffing the checkpoint would let in a few more people and then there would be waiting again. MPT along with the men followed the line into a narrow fenced-in path that runs along the apartheid wall. The wall is covered in writings in many different languages. It has messages like “We want peace” and “Jesus wept for Jerusalem. We weep for Palestine.”

"We want Peace" is written on the Wall next to Checkpoint 300

View up at the Wall from where MPT stood

A man standing in line near MPT explained that today was a good day. There weren’t too many people, he said. It was hard to believe that the hundreds of men did not constitute many people. He also said that it opened close to 5:00 am. Yesterday was awful, he explained, because it had opened closer to 5:30 am. He said the Israeli soldiers open it whenever they feel like it. Before Checkpoint 300 was built, he said, he left his house at 6:30 am to be to work on time. It was only a 15 minute drive to Jerusalem. Now he has to be at the checkpoint by 4:30 am and still doesn’t get to work on time.
When the checkpoint was opened for a few more people, it could first be heard from the back of the line and again everyone would begin to rush. People would run up along beside the fenced-in line and then jump over and get closer to the front. The men in line had a pretty good sense of humor about it. For those couple of minutes while the checkpoint was open, it felt like chaos. A member of MPT said, “majnun, majnun” meaning “crazy, crazy” in Arabic and the men around would laugh and laugh.
Men run up along the side of the line and climb over the fence

Hands reach up to help a man climb over the fence
At 6:50 am, MPT reached the first turnstile. It had been an hour and a half and it was just the first step. Everyone held up their documents as they passed through the turnstile. MPT stood out of the way and watched as the men went through the turnstile, which brought them to the other side of the apartheid wall, and then took off at a sprint through the parking lot where soldiers and dogs were walking around. The men ran into the checkpoint building that looks like a large warehouse.

Men running from the first turnstile to the next line. Gilo settlement in the background
Once inside the building, there was another line and more waiting. This was the line for the metal detector and MPT watched as men took off their shoes and belts while emptying their pockets. One man even took off the pins in an arm bandage. The soldier behind the glass kept yelling, “Go back” in Arabic to the men for no apparent reason. To the soldier’s surprise, MPTers declined the white privilege preferential treatment she offered them and put their belongings through the metal detectors.

Two pictures of the inside of the checkpoint

Once through this step, the men would run to the next line with their shoes half on as they put their belts back on and prepared their papers. The men then waited in line again to have their work permits checked. They struggled with the new equipment that scans work permits with hardly any instruction. This equipment, along with fingerprint machines, is a gift from the United States to Israel. Some men were fingerprinted. Not all stations have fingerprint machines. It seemed entirely random.
After the second intifada in 2000, Israel cancelled all Palestinian work permits. Every Palestinian had to reapply for a work permit and not many were granted, which accounts for the high unemployment rate in the West Bank. It should be noted that the second intifada erupted following Ariel Sharon’s highly provocative act of entering the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the third most holy site in Islam, with many armed Israeli soldiers.
By the time MPTers reached the last step in the Checkpoint 300 process more than two hours had elapsed. It was hard to imagine doing this every morning before going to a full day’s work.
MPT stayed to observe as every sort of Palestinian man, young and old, short and tall, dressed in business or laborer’s clothing, went through the line. At times, the men grew loud and angry by the metal detector. An MPTer asked one man as he came through if there was a problem. He said, “Everything problem. No easy.”
MPT met a couple of Israeli observers who said this seemed to be a pretty calm day. One of them said, “We may not be able to do much. But sometimes we can do a little.”
If nothing else, hopefully the Palestinians that MPT saw know that internationals care and are watching. Seeing men running with their shoes half on, putting back on their belts, wishing us a good morning, and struggling to show their documents as the equipment kept changing and everything was different depending on which line you were in was difficult to watch. MPT now shares with you what they learned about the absurdity and dehumanization of checkpoints. This story needs to be told so that all who hear it can refuse to let this be ordinary.

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