How to Deal with Checkpoints in the West Bank: Nearly all volunteers and students who spend time with the Excellence Center in Hebron will experience passing through Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank. Most foreigners have no prior experience going through such passages, the closest they have ever come is passing through security at an airport. Many will be intimidated by the process and fearful of being detained or harmed. The reality however is, that these checkpoints are relatively minor inconveniences for foreigners. Here we will explain to you to process you will go through when passing through checkpoints set up by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Since vehicles are not generally stopped at checkpoints going into the West Bank from Jerusalem, the first experience most foreign volunteers at the Excellence Center will have going through checkpoints is when they visit the H2 section of Hebron. Hebron is divided into two sections, H1 which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and H2 which is controlled by the Israeli military. In the Old City, an imaginary border divides the city and alleyways are blocked off by checkpoints lined with barbed wires and gates.
Going through this checkpoint is relatively simple for foreigners. A revolving door of iron bars allows people to enter H2. It will lock, but the soldiers will generally unlock it once they see you. Don’t make sudden movements or conceal your hands when passing through and, if in groups, don’t huddle by the door. Once you pass through the soldiers may ask where you are from, if it is your first time in H2, and if you have any weapons or sharp objects on you. Sometimes they will ask to see your passport and visa. When you pass by the Cave of the Patriarchs there is spot where several soldiers are stationed. Generally, when they see foreigners they ask where they are from and what their religion is. They will direct Jews and Christians to the Cave of the Patriarchs’ Synagogue, and Muslims to the Ibrahimi Mosque.
On the road between Hebron and Jerusalem there is another type of checkpoint that foreigners may encounter. It is a gated roadblock set up by the IDF to control and monitor movement around the West Bank. Generally, the gates are open, however if the soldiers see foreigner in a vehicle they may direct it to pull over and ask questions. A similar checkpoint stands outside of Jerusalem. If taking the bus from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, volunteers can expect to be pulled over. Generally, while Palestinians have to exit the vehicle and wait in line to present their papers, foreigners can stay on the bus.
When passing through any checkpoint in the West Bank it is important to obey all instructions and not display any hostility. Whatever your personal feelings are, don’t communicate any displeasure with Israel or any rudeness toward the soldiers. You will find that most of the soldiers are just doing their jobs and, while they may ask you questions, they are generally friendly, or at least indifferent, towards foreigners. If asked what you are doing in the West Bank, just say you are studying Arabic and volunteering with an NGO as well as touring famous sites in Israel. Even if you feel scared, intimidated, or offended by the process, just remember, 99% of these checks pass without incident.
Passing through checkpoints in the West Bank manned by armed soldiers is intimidating to everyone, but by following the steps outlined above, staying calm and polite, and being truthful, foreign visitors to Palestine should have no difficulty.