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1 Sep, 2009 08:32

Palestinians continue to suffer at border checkpoints

It takes up to two hours to cross the border between Palestine and Israel. However, in order to make a living, thousands of Palestinians do it daily.

Some see such long lines as regrettable security measures, while others see it as a tool of repression.

Early morning is chaos at Kalandia checkpoint. There are a few Palestinians among those who have a permit to work in Israel. They can’t risk being late – because just one mistake and they could easily be replaced by the hundreds of unemployed they have left behind the border.

It has been three years since the Israeli government decided to privatize 48 checkpoints and make filming illegal. It brought in private security firms to take over. The government says it improves the way they run, but many say it is merely a way of camouflaging the Israeli occupation.

Palestinian resident Mohammed endures up to two hours of security check on a daily basis, but he says the process is as awkward now as it ever was.

“There’s no real difference now after the checkpoints have been privatized. They give us a lot of trouble. They search us more than once. They put us into rooms, search all our clothes and make it very difficult for us,” Mohammed said.

For nearly eight years Hanna and other Israeli women have been standing every day at checkpoints to keep an eye on how their soldiers are behaving and they record the pictures as evidence. Now, with the private security firms, that is no longer allowed.

“They’re all connected to political parties in some way or another. They are well connected. It’s not some little company that no one has heard of… and the companies are known for their terrible working conditions,” Hanna Barag from Machsom Watch said.

Security cameras are the only cameras to be found at the checkpoints, making it the last stop for camera crews.

The Israeli security establishment defends the move. It says it spent millions making the checkpoints more user-friendly for Palestinians passing through.

“When you see a soldier with a gun and he is a 19-year-old boy, he is not trained in face-to-face interaction or communication between people, he is trained to be a soldier, so let him be a soldier in his field and let people who know a little about security stand there and a face the civilians in a very nice manner, it creates a different atmosphere,” said Shlomo Peretz, a media consultant for the Defence Industry.

Critics say that atmosphere still can’t hide the fact that the occupation exists.

“It’s an easier way to say that it’s not our problem directly and it’s an easier way to create a sort of civilian normalization of the situation of occupation, which is still a military occupation,” Eilat Moaz, coordinator for the Coalition of Women for Peace, said.

Israel says its checkpoints have dramatically reduced terrorist attacks. Palestinians, however, say they have only tightened the noose around the prison in which they live.