The city of Bethlehem has been bustling in preparation for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit for several weeks. Roads are being cleared and painted, and banners featuring the Pope and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have gone up across the city. But while some find themselves busy preparing for the Papal visit, others will be without a job for days.
Due to the Pope’s visit, the Israeli controlled Bethlehem checkpoint 300, which serves 4,000 to 6,000 workers every morning, will be closed, confirmed to Middle East Monitor by the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The three-day closure began on the evening of 22nd May in order to speed up construction work, which has taken place over the past month in preparation for the Pope’s visit to Bethlehem along with the pilgrims and tourists who are expected to follow in his wake. The Israeli army informed workers of the closure the night before it would take effect. Workers had to quickly find an alternative way to cross into Israel.
Hassan Al Qaisi relies on his work at the Bethlehem checkpoint and the workers that pass through it for his livelihood. He makes his way to the checkpoint at 2am every morning and sells breakfast goods to the thousands of workers as they enter Israel.
However, when the sun rose this morning, what is usually a chaotic environment was a ghost town.
“Because of the Pope’s visit the checkpoint where I work will be closed for three days, so I have no work and no income for three days. I will manage, I don’t think it is fair but what can I do,” Al Qaisi said.
With employment levels at over 18 percent in the occupied West Bank, many Palestinians seek work in Israel in order to provide an income. As work permits for Israel are hard to come by for Palestinians, work in Israel is highly competitive, leaving workers vulnerable to having their employment terminated if they arrive late at work.
As an alternative, workers will be forced to either miss work or wake up earlier to make it through the al-Zaytuna checkpoint. Mohammed al Azza plans on waking up three hours earlier for work because of the closure.
“I’ve actually never been through the al-Zaytuna checkpoint before, I am nervous about the crossing because if I am late to work it can be very bad,” al Azza said.
On normal days al-Zaytuna serves less than half the amount of workers that Bethlehem’s checkpoint 300 does; which in itself can barely handle the 4,000 to 6,000 workers it serves daily. That mass of workers will now be detoured to the other, smaller checkpoint, putting more stress on an already faulty and at times dangerous system.
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