Saturday, January 21, 2006

New Beit Lehem Checkpoint

New Years Eve I traveled from Beit Lehem back to Ramallah. I finally took some pictures at the new Beit Lehem checkpoint, so you can all see how awful these new border crossing terminals are. I was the last person to leave of the international conference staff, so I hit the checkpoint by myself. I got there around 10am, which is apparently a quiet time because I was the only person there. I took pictures of some of the signs around the checkpoint; my favorite is the one advertising for the Israeli Ministy of Tourism and is pasted ONTO the Wall. I also got a couple of good pictures of the turnstiles that people have to go through.

When I got to the turnstile, there wasn’t anyone in sight. No soldiers to be seen, no voices, nothing. And, of course, the turnstile is electronic and locked so that I can’t go through. These new terminals are creepy because the soldiers are completely kept behind bullet proof plastic – so you have no actual contact with them – but there are surveillance cameras everywhere. I knew that they could see me, even though as far as I could tell I was alone. So, I did what any American would do. I started yelling “Hello” at the top of my lungs after about 2 minutes of waiting patiently (and taking more pictures). When that didn’t get a response I tried “Shalom” (Hebrew) and finally, just for fun, “Marhaba” (Arabic).

Eventually an unseen finger pushed a button and the light above the turnstile changed from red to green, so I was allowed to pass through to the next section of the checkpoint. Next, I had to put my bags through an x-ray machine and walk through a metal detector. Only, the little conveyor belt on the x-ray machine wasn’t on. Now, I could see the soldier, sitting in her little plastic cubicle, ignoring me. So, I decided to walk through the metal detector with my bag. The soldier didn’t like that, so she told me to go back in Hebrew – I waited until she said it in English – then she turned on the conveyor belt. So, I put my bag through the x-ray machine and walked through the metal detector again.

As I was pulling my bag off the machine, I noticed a second plastic soldier cubicle. In this one, the only thing that you could see was feet in the window because the soldier was sleeping while on duty and using his desk as a footrest. I took a picture of him.

Needless to say, that didn’t go over well. There was a second set of turnstiles that I needed to go though, and the female soldier locked both of them and started yelling at me that pictures aren’t allowed. I thought that was interesting because she had been watching me take pictures on her surveillance camera since I entered the facility. So, I’m not supposed to take pictures of sleeping soldiers, I guess. Now she was pissed at me, so I had to wait almost ten minutes for her to unlock the turnstile.

After that turnstile, I finally got the area where they inspect your passport and visa. Again, there was total silence and no one around. I was seriously considering just jumping the barrier when I realized that there was a soldier slumped down in one of the booths, asleep. I was debating how I wanted to wake her up – the thought of landing in an Israeli jail the day before I was supposed to leave wasn’t really that appealing, so I opted against hopping the barrier – when the mean soldier from the previous section walked though and banged on the plastic separating me from the sleeping the soldier.

She sat up, rubbed her eyes, then waved me through after giving my passport a cursory glance.

This is security?

Once through the checkpoint I caught a bus to Jerusalem and said goodbye to city. Then I headed to the new Kalandia checkpoint, which is exactly the same as the Beit Lehem checkpoint except that it was crowded so it took forever to get through the damn turnstiles.

Then I went back to Ramallah. I had just enough time to pack up the rest of my stuff and finish my errands before it was time to celebrate New Years Eve.


Blogger Why Palestinians Usually Get It Wrong said...

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7:18 AM  

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