Commuting in the West Bank

by EA Helen

It’s four 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 West Bank. Every day thousands of people cross from Bethlehem to East Jerusalem and Israel.

Checkpoint 300 at 5am EAPPI / EA Helen

“The Israeli buses will wait until six at the latest,” he says. “They don’t care if we get on them or not, after that they will leave.”

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 EA’s 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. Despite this, he comes to the checkpoint at four every morning and travels to Israel to work. In the West Bank he can’t earn enough to support his pregnant wife and two young daughters.

“The Israeli buses will wait until six at the latest,” he says. “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.

Nadeer at Checkpoint 300 EAPPI / EA Helen


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.

When I met Nadeer it was 5:30am and the checkpoint gates, including the humanitarian line, 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.

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 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.

Freedom of movement is protected under international human rights laws and principles. Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, which has been signed and ratified by Israel, states that, “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” and that “Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.” In addition, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which sets out principles of human rights on which much of human rights law is based, states that, “(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country,including his own, and to return to his country”. (UDHR 1948, Article 13).

The humanitarian gate. EAPPI / EA Helen


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.

For those travelling to work each morning from the West Bank and Israel, 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, “I can go anywhere and noone 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.”