I have written about West Bank barrier and the identification needed to cross, but another, critical part of this, are the checkpoints which control the (limited) access through this segregation barrier.
In order to cross from the West Bank to Israel (or to Jerusalem), one must pass through the tall, imposing turn-styles, encircled by a network of wire-fences and corridors, filtering people like cattle. At the Bethlehem checkpoint, one enters a warehouse-type building with a tin roof, drowned by bright, white light. On walk-ways above, Israeli soldiers patrol, their hands on their M-16 rifles. This is an oppressing place. The guards checking identification sit the other side of thick, bullet-proof glass, and communicate with the people they are controlling via harsh loudspeakers.
Crossing from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, it is sufficient to show identification. Crossing back the other way, there is a metal detector to pass through, and all bags are scanned by an x-ray machine. This can be a humiliating experience. Whilst I waited my turn, a Palestinian man in front of me was forced to remove his trousers—in full sight of everybody present—because something on them was causing the detector to beep.
The first time I emerged to the Bethlehem side, I was faced with a long crowd of people, crammed into the wire-fenced walkway, trying to cross to Jerusalem for the Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa mosque. If you are a male with Palestinian ID, you must wait until you are 55 to have authorisation to cross this barrier, and then, only on a Friday.
At the Qalandia checkpoint (between Ramallah & Jerusalem), this queuing is a long, slow, arduous affair. On a Friday morning, it can take three hours to cross, in very pushy, cramped conditions. Tempers often flair.
The wall & its checkpoints are also having a devastating effect on the economy in Bethlehem. Many people who live here used to work in Jerusalem, but now they are denied the authorisation to cross, and so find themselves without a job. Unemployment is high; in 2008, it was estimated as high as over 60%. (An article from Al Jazeera about Bethlehem’s economy.)
Crossing through these places, I feel sub-human, and the treatment I get as a Westerner is vastly improved over that of the Palestinians.
This piece of graffiti, from the entrance to the Bethlehem checkpoint, is particularly apt: I am not a terrorist.