February 2, 2004
[Bethlehem, West Bank] Returning
from Jerusalem today, I found Bethlehem overrun with Israeli soldiers.
There was another "pinpoint invasion" (as opposed to
incursion) into Aida Camp. I had a bit of trouble getting back
into town. Riding back in a service van, I couldn't tell if the
main checkpoint was open or closed. There appeared to be a pre-checkpoint
checkpoint about 100 yards or so in front of the main one. A lot
of military vehicles and soldiers milling around. So our driver
bypassed it and headed for a more non-official border crossing.
We headed down the settler tunnel road to Hebron until we reached
El Hader. But El Hader was also full of Israeli soldiers. They
appeared to be holding many men and women, so our van slowed only
to turn around. Our third option was the big dirt mound in Beit
Jala. This place has always been an option in case all other crossings
were closed. It requires climbing up and down a big pile of dirt.
Pity the poor fool who has to carry a load of groceries, a piece
of luggage or a kid. I've seen old folks take a pretty nasty tumble
down this hill. Recently soldiers rolled a few strands of razor-wire
around it to make passage more difficult. Occasionally I've seen
a few soldiers by it, but not very often. It's usually available
for crossing. Today was a little different.
Somehow soldiers had driven a jeep
to the top of the dirt pile. It was perched awkwardly on the top,
with at least one wheel freely dangling in the air. Several soldiers
were visible at the bottom of the hill. When our service van arrived,
no one would get leave. I told them I wanted out. I figured it
would be a lot easier for me to get through the checkpoint. At
the same time as our van opened, a few photographers -- with proper
credentials -- arrived on the scene. I was surprised, but the
soldiers allowed them to stay and take a few photos. So I'm not
quite certain who they were working for, but checkpoint passage
is definitely easier with the presence of approved media, so folks
rolled out and up the hill. About five rifle-holding soldiers
stood on the other side, and my Palestinian co-riders slowly approached
them. Not all of them were able to pass, but about half were.
I overheard one of the soldiers tell a Palestinian lady that Israeli
citizens were not allowed in the West Bank.
The soldier took my passport and
asked if I lived in America or in Bethlehem. I told him I lived
in Bethlehem, and I offered that I was a teacher. He politely
asked to take a look in my bag, so I showed my camera, a notepad,
and a Rolling Stone magazine (RS 941 -- Howard Dean, the RS Interview).
Then I opened my jacket, and he patted me down and allowed me
After I was through the soldiers,
I took a few photos of other folks trying to get back into Bethlehem.
Then I grabbed a taxi, and my driver told me about the invasion
into Aida Camp. One Palestinian man was killed, and the soldiers
(The Israeli Army continues to
invade Bethlehem. You can find details on my