Checkpoint 300 is the military designation for the exit and entry point for Palestinians traveling between
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. Jerusalem
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
. 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. Bethlehem
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
. We weep for Jerusalem .” Palestine
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
. Now he has to be at the checkpoint by 4:30 am and still doesn’t get to work on time. Jerusalem
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.
After the second intifada in 2000,
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 Israel West Bank. It should be noted that the second intifada erupted following Ariel Sharon’s highly provocative act of entering the Temple Mount in , the third most holy site in Islam, with many armed Israeli soldiers. Jerusalem
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.