Commuting in the West Bank

December 12, 2018

‘Some will wake up at two or three in the morning just to make sure they get through the checkpoint and to work on time’

EA Helen

It’s 4am in the morning and concrete corridors with metal bars are crammed full of men on their way to work. This is the scene most days at Checkpoint 300, one of the largest military checkpoints in the occupied West Bank. Every day thousands of people cross from Bethlehem to East Jerusalem and Israel.

The checkpoint is an intimidating place, especially during the commuter rush. The gates and turnstiles are often closed for long periods, trapping people in narrow corridors. This can make the short journey through the checkpoint last a couple of hours. It’s an uncomfortable place to be, and EAs have witnessed people passing out in the line.

On a day like this I met Nadeer, who was on the way to his construction job in Israel. Nadeer has two degrees from Bethlehem University and a master’s degree from Bahrain University. He comes to the checkpoint at 4am every morning and travels to Israel to work as a manual labourer. In the West Bank he can’t earn enough to support his pregnant wife and two young daughters.

‘The Israeli buses will wait until 6am at the latest… They don’t care if we get on them or not, after that they will leave’


If Nadeer can’t get onto the bus, he will lose a day’s work and return home to his family empty handed. When I met Nadeer it was 5:30am and the checkpoint gates, including the humanitarian gate, had been closed for nearly half an hour. The humanitarian gate, which is for the elderly, women, children, and people with disabilities or illnesses, is rarely opened. On one occasion, at 5am, when the main line was crowded, I tried to persuade soldiers to open the gate for a ten-year-old girl on her way to hospital with her mother. They refused.

Early morning at Checkpoint 300

Nadeer waiting at the checkpoint

The checkpoint queue at 5am

The humanitarian gate is rarely opened

The Journey through Checkpoint 300

Once through the first set of turnstiles, those in the line enter the military compound and go through an airport style security check. The next stage is the permit desk, where Palestinians show their permits to soldiers who decide whether or not they are allowed through. These permits are required by all Palestinians who want to travel to East Jerusalem or into Israel. Applying for a permit is a complicated process, with over a hundred different types for things such as work, visiting relatives or attending medical appointments. Having a permit does not guarantee entry. Palestinians may still be turned away and are rarely given a reason, making it difficult to appeal or try to resolve the problem.

For those travelling to work each morning from the West Bank, freedom of movement is not something they experience. ‘It’s like this every morning,’ Nadeer says. Travelling from Beit Jala just outside of Bethlehem, Nadeer is one of the luckier ones. Some travel for miles from places like Hebron in the Southern West Bank, as Checkpoint 300 is their nearest crossing. Some will wake up at two or three in the morning just to make sure they get through the checkpoint and to work on time. A Palestinian woman I met in London just before coming out to Bethlehem said the thing she loved most about being in the UK was that ‘I can go anywhere and no one stops me.’

When I ask how he can do this every morning, Nadeer says, ‘We have to have hope. We have to keep smiling for our children. We have to hope they have a better life than us.’

What does international law say?

'Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence.'

Article 12, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966

'The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.'

Article 6, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966

by EA Helen   –    December 12, 2018

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