It’s an image of protest and accusation amidst one of the most complicated and long-standing political conflicts in the world.
A woman, clearly indicated as being a Palestinian Arab, stares with a jumbled expression of fear, accusation, contempt, and conviction. The image, along with the caption “I am not a terrorist,” hits upon a trend that has grown since the 9/11 terrorist attacks: the propensity to be suspicious or wary of all peoples of Arab descent and, to go one step further, to classify the entire race as a breed of terrorists.
The image has found itself etched on the cement wall lining the Bethlehem checkpoint, one of the most crucial checkpoints in the West Bank. Thousands of Palestinian Arabs who live in Bethlehem but work in nearby East Jerusalem and other Israeli cities have to pass through the Bethlehem checkpoint (also called the Gilo checkpoint) each day.
But it’s no airport security line. Studded with turnstiles and enclosed by metal bars, the checkpoint more closely resembles a cattle chute than a diplomatic security station. And while there may not be cattle prods, more than 2,000 Palestinian Arabs must usher through the narrow entryway daily to reach their place of work. The checkpoint opens at 5 a.m., although many Palestinians arrive by 3 a.m. to ensure a prime spot in line. While the majority of people passing through are the same day-to-day, the line creeps along slowly and wait times of two to five hours are not uncommon.
With security measures at a maximum, many Palestinians stand in line only to be rejected at the pearly gates. Those seeking entrance into Jerusalem must present a work permit as well as undergo mandatory fingerprinting, document inspection, bag x-ray and a metal detector test. After gaining admission, many still have a long walk to work, as cars obviously do not fit among the checkpoint confines.
An appalling example of a process lined with red tape, the measures enforced at the Bethlehem checkpoint have resulted from the fights concerning the status of Jerusalem, which remains one of the core issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflicts.