Israel-Palestine: Waiting at the Checkpoint

Source: The New Internationalist

Hours of queuing is the lot of Palestinian workers traveling to their jobs on the other side of Israel’s separation wall.

At 3 o’clock this morning, many Palestinian men were already awake and dressed, standing in a queue at Gilo checkpoint in Bethlehem in order to work on the other side of the separation wall. Approximately 4,000 people – mostly men between the age of 18 and 45 – have passed through this checkpoint every day, all year round, to get to their jobs in East Jerusalem or Israel since the construction of the wall began in 2002. Gilo checkpoint is just one of 500 roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank.

I arrived at the checkpoint just as it opened, at 4am. Palestinians who work in Tel Aviv had already been there for two hours to be first in line; they have over an hour’s bus journey ahead of them once they reach the other side of the wall. From 4 until 7, the race is on to get to work on time yet Jerusalem is – at least for Israelis living in nearby illegal settlements – a twenty minute ride away. But the Israeli occupation means that for Palestinians, this journey can take as long as it took me to get to Jerusalem from London, a distance of approximately 4,000 kilometres.

The workers’ entrance to the checkpoint consists of iron bars, a holey roof and is about one and a half metres wide – barely room for two men to stand side by side. It can only be described as a cage, leading up to the checkpoint’s turnstile. With a 30 per cent unemployment rate in the West Bank though, these men are considered lucky to have work. Many Palestinians are refused a permit into Israel and this also means that some have never been to Islam’s third holiest site, the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City. Entering Israel illegally can result in fines and imprisonment.

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