BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Circa) - In the pitch black, Ameen Jebreen unloads a cart full of snacks and beverages. It’s quiet now, but in a few hours, this parking lot will be filled with thousands of people queuing to get to work.
Jebreen, 38, lives in the Palestinian village of Tekoa. He wakes up at 1:30 a.m. each day to sell tea and other goods to the workers who pass through Checkpoint 300.
“Inside the checkpoint, it's a terrible situation,” Jebreen said.
Checkpoint 300, a major crossing point between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, serves as one of the main entryways for Palestinians trying to get to the other side of the Green Line, the border that divides the Palestinian territories from Israel.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and today exercises full military control over the 2.5 million people who live there. Palestinians can’t travel in or out of sovereign Israeli territory without first obtaining a permit.
Roughly 60,000 Palestinians have permits to enter Israel for work and can do so at one of 11 checkpoints located throughout the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Another 38,000 are estimated to work in Israel illegally. Depending on security, Palestinian men and women who live in the West Bank can enter Jerusalem for a day without obtaining a permit.
At Checkpoint 300, some 8,500 Palestinians, mostly men, line up on the Palestinian side of the crossing every weekday morning. Many arrive as early as 3 a.m. to reach their jobs on time. Some travel from as far as the city of Hebron, which is over an hour away.
"My night, it's my day, and my day, it's my night."
Unemployment across the Palestinian territories is around 29 percent. To work in Israel where opportunities are greater, especially in construction and agriculture, Palestinians living in the West Bank must pass through one of these checkpoints in the morning and return before the day’s end. The next day, they start the process all over again.
The checkpoints have long been a source of tension, the sites of stone throwing demonstrations and stabbing attacks against Israeli security forces by Palestinians. In response to outbreaks of violence, Israel has revoked entry permits. Last summer, in what human rights groups called collective punishment, authorities denied permits for 200,000 Palestinians who had been granted special permission to visit the Holy City during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
B’Tselem, a Jerusalem-based organization that opposes the Israeli occupation, has documented dire conditions at checkpoints throughout the West Bank, including overcrowding and long lines. Even during Ramadan when many workers are fasting, the group says Israeli authorities do nothing to alleviate the suffering at the checkpoints. The United Nations has documented cases of Palestinians dying en route to the hospital after being denied passage into Jerusalem.
At the end of his shift, Jebreen packs up his cart and drives home to get some sleep before his children come home from school. He's hopeful one day they'll live in a world without restrictions on their movement and their dreams.
“If I have a chance to become president of the two governments, one day I will mix the two people together,” Jebreen said. "We should live together in peace, in love, in freedom."