It is the first Friday of Ramadan. Upwards of 400 elderly Palestinians left their homes in Bethlehem this morning to travel the short distance to pray in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in east Jerusalem. This journey to the most significant mosque in Palestine should not take longer than 20 minutes. Hours later they have still not arrived.
A UN lawyer trying to pass out of Bethlehem in a UN issue jeep looked devastated and told me, ?They used live fire. This is a group of old people. They shot a man in the head and a little boy saw it. I just saw him walking, his face is covered with tears.?
Israeli soldiers closed the checkpoint leading from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. It is front-page news in the Al Quds newspaper this morning that Bethlehem is once again completely closed. Israeli Occupation Forces never offer real reasons as to why, as if there could ever be reason enough to hold people captive in their towns and homes for years. IOF only says this, as every crime committed against the Palestinian people, is for their ?security.? Security is not a question if one is sitting in a fortified tank or bulldozer, flying over a refugee camp in an Apache helicopter, or holding a gun at the head of an old man wanting to pray on the first Friday of Ramadan, his grandson?s hand in his.
The Israeli soldiers at Bethlehem?s Northern Checkpoint told the people no one could pass and they must return to their homes. A half hour later, after the people had not moved, Israeli soldiers said only people with ?permission? could pass. A little while later Israeli soldiers said only those over 45 years old can pass. All the while, they did not let anyone through. Some people began to pray on the ground at the checkpoint. Other elderly people began to walk forward. As a young woman with tears in her eyes described it, “The people just refused to take it anymore. They just started going.”
Another eyewitness journalist describes the minutes that followed. ?Many of the people just went through. Some ran, others walked. And the soldiers just lost control. They started shooting. And they shot tear gas and sound bombs. They were beating people. They beat a man’s skull with a rifle butt.”
IOF shot tear gas and severely beat Palestinians at the Container Checkpoint in the north-eastern part of Bethlehem earlier this week. The roads leading in or out of Bethlehem, if not covered with Israeli soldiers and their jeeps and guns, have been dug up by Israeli bulldozers. All Bethlehem area residents are trapped. Many have not left the town in years.
One man is seriously injured after being beaten in the skull. Several are handcuffed in the backs of jeeps, others are being held in the field next to the checkpoint. There are no reliable estimates on how many will be taken to Israeli prisons, or if they will be released.
As I walked away from the razor wire cutting into the ground in front of the checkpoint, roughly 35 elderly people were being lined up at gunpoint to wait their turn to walk through a new device at this checkpoint. IOF have installed a metal detector placed 10 feet in the air where each person must stand alone, where he or she becomes a perfect target for Israeli sniper fire, where everyone can see the humiliating search that ensues
Kristen Ess, an independent journalist and activist from New York City, has lived with Palestinian families under seige in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She reports for Free Speech Radio News, the Pacifica network, and produces a weekly show for CKUT in Montreal. She writes for Left Turn magazine, The Electronic Intifada, and The Palestine Chronicle. Her writing is translated into French, Italian, German and Arabic. She is working on a book about life under occupation in the Gaza Strip.