A bit of background about "the checkpoint": every day, thousands upon thousands of Palestinians go to work on the other side of the separation barrier. There are three primary kinds of checkpoints to pass through.
- The agricultural gates are designed to allow farmers (usually JUST the owner of the land. Most days, no other helpers - even spouses or children - are allowed to pass through) to access their farmland (access which was cut off by the building of the separation barrier, usually, at this point, a razor-wire topped chain-link fence about 2.5 meters high).
- The vehicle checkpoints are some times staffed (and the bus is boarded to check permits/passports/visas, or the car passengers' papers must be checked).
- The terminal checkpoints are for foot traffic and are where the bulk of the workers pass through. To get through the terminal, one first passes through a turnstile and you show your passport or permit to a soldier (the terminals are all staffed by soldiers in the Israeli army -- this is an occupation, after all). It's at this point that, in Bethlehem at least, you actually pass through the 8 meter high wall. Then cross a parking lot (empty) to the terminal building itself. Once you're in the building, get in line (again) to go through another turnstile to pass through the metal detector (think airport security, but without the option of the wands if you keep making the detector beep). Make sure to take off EVERYTHING that is metal: belt, phone, watch, hairclip, jewelry, shoes that may have metal shanks or steel toes, glasses, etc. Once to get dressed again, go to the ID booth. It's at this point that the distinction between Palestinians and foreign nationals is most acute: I usually just flash my passport (once in awhile the soldier actually looks at it and even asks to see my visa); the Palestinians must place their permit against the bullet proof glass so the soldier can read it, then place their ID card on the magnetic reader, then place their right hand on the biometric reader (there's a real trick to doing all three of these things with only two hands). If the ID card, hand print and permit all match, the person is waved through (if, however, your handprint has changed at all, say, because you're a manual laborer and your skin is worn, then you're rejected, have to return to the Palestinian side and miss a day of work).
Here's one of my initial thoughts about the checkpoint process: I can see the internal logic for the various steps and for the set-up. That does not, however, make the whole thing right. Rather, I think the existence of the checkpoint (and the separation barrier) is immoral and illegal, negating the "rightness" of the process or the steps. Yes, a sovereign nation has the duty and responsibility to protect its borders. If this were actually a process that was taking place on the actual border between two actual countries, I would have different thoughts. However, the reality is that the separation barrier and the majority of the checkpoints are within the occupied Palestinian territories and they are created, built and staffed my members of the occupying forces with no plan of phasing out their presence (but, in fact, with continuing expansion plans in the works).