Monday, 8 February 2010


We arrived at our hotel in Bethlehem late last night and it was only in the morning that we could appreciate the view from our bedroom windows. The concrete separation wall stood high across the road, obstructing the view beyond. The wall now dominates Bethlehem. In the case of this house the wall now encloses it on 3 sides. It has ruined their business and made their house worthless.

Not only is it extremely visible, with some very imaginative graffiti, including some by the famous graffiti artist Banksy, it also dominates the lives of many of those who have to travel the few miles towards Jerusalem to work each day.

Thousands of men and some women start queuing at 02:00 every morning in order to be able to get through the checkpoint in the barrier to get to work. They stand (or sometimes sleep) in the caged walkway along the wall. The gate sometimes opens at 04:00, sometimes at 05:00, but the workers cannot be certain how long it will take to get through and so arrive early just to be on the safe side. Keeping their job is very important when so many Palestinians are unemployed. They pass through a series of airport-style security checks where permits, belongings and finger-prints are checked every day.

The Ecumenical Accompaniers are there watching the checkpoint shortly after 4 am every day, and today was no exception. We met Susan Palmai from Canada and Sabine Blum from Switzerland, 2 of the 4 member EAPPI team in Bethlehem. They’d counted 2768 people going through the checkpoint this morning. 800 had been waiting at 04.45 and when we arrived shortly after 8 o’clock there was still a steady flow of mainly men heading off to work.

Amin is also at the checkpoint early every morning, but for him it is to sell coffee to the waiting people. He is the only member of an extended family with regular employment and somehow he manages to earn enough to support his elderly parents, his wife and children as well as a disabled brother and sister who has been abandoned by her husband. His story is not unusual and explains why so many are willing to cope with the indignity of the daily checkpoint in order to keep their job.

As we stood and watched a man spontaneously told us how thankful he was that the EAs were there. This appreciation of their work was evident wherever we went in Bethlehem, as it was in Hebron the day before. We were invited to sit and drink tea and welcomed as friends throughout the morning. As we walked back to our hotel a shop-owner insisted on closing his shop and driving us personally to the hotel and then on to the checkpoint as we headed off back to Jerusalem and back to the airport.
We have been overwhelmed by the warmth and generosity of a people who have lived through difficult times but hope for a better future. As one man said to us, "without hope we cannot live".

1 comment:

Steve Hucklesby said...

This account demonstrates the importance of the EAPPI programme. People from the UK serve for three months at a time. You can find out more at