check out

It’s impossible to talk about the West Bank and not mention the checkpoints. These are something that tourists won’t really experience fully if they travel with an Israeli tour guide or settler, whose blue and white number plates get them waved straight through.
Palestinian cars – which carry green plates – are routinely stopped. Their drivers and all passengers must all produce identity papers and answer a barrage of questions about where they are from, going and the purpose of their visit. And all this for people travelling within their own area – the occupied West Bank.

As I mentioned before, the checkpoints surrounding Jerusalem are something of a special case. Only a handful Palestinians from outside the city’s “security” barrier have the necessary papers to pass through.
For those lucky handful with jobs in the Israeli capital, this ordeal puts several hours extra on their working day.
Bethlehem, where I’m staying, is home to one of these checkpoints – called Rachel’s Tomb by locals and number 300 by the Israelis. The distance from here to the capital is about 7km and until eight years ago could be travelled in less than 10 minutes.
These days it takes workers a minimum of two hours to get across – and on a bad day they aren’t allowed to pass at all.

To experience this for myself, I got up at 4.30am yesterday and waited in line with the men who were on their way to work. For a job that starts at 8am, they have to make sure they are queuing by no later than 5am.
It’s a dehumanising experience. Thousands of normal people – teachers, office workers and health workers – up at the crack of dawn and slowly herded through metal pens that feel like a slaughterhouse crossed with a prison.

Once inside the first layer of defence – the wall – you pass through a kind of outside no man’s land before the heavy security begins on the other side. On one side of this area hangs a huge banner emblazoned with the words “peace be with you” in English, Arabic and Hebrew. The men run across this, worried about time.
On the other side there’s another holding pen, which feels something like an airport hanger. Here there are more queues, followed by X-ray machines for all bags, kiosks where you have to show your ID and papers, and fingerprint checking machines.
It’s a sinister place – you see no soldiers apart from behind reinforced glass, but you know there are hidden cameras all over and they bark orders at you over a tannoy if you do anything wrong.

Yesterday the checkpoint took two hours to get through, which by all accounts is fast. On the bus into Jerusalem I sat next to a teacher who was saying how difficult life is these days. His working day is now at least three hours longer than it used to be as a result of all this palaver. Yet he realises that although it doesn’t feel it at 4.30am on a Sunday (the first day of the working week here) he is fortunate. He has a permit to cross the border and can therefore work and support his family. Unemployment is running at 55 per cent in the West Bank so the Israeli government would no doubt think he should be grateful.