This has been going on for fifty years - talk about necessary resilience
Palestinians in the West Bank have now spent 50 years under Israeli military control.
June 5, 1967 was the beginning of the six-day Middle East war, which ended with Israel’s army capturing the West Bank.
Fifty years later, 2.5 million Palestinians continue to live under Israeli control in the territory. But they are not Israeli citizens. Their lives are filled with checkpoints, walls, patrols, military posts and heavy restrictions on freedom of movement.
It’s 4:30am at checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem.
Ahmad’s alarm went off at 3:00am. That’s what time the 25-year-old from the West Bank village of Yatta needs to get up in order to get through the checkpoint and avoid being late for his construction job, which starts in Jerusalem at 7:00am.
“If you’re just a little bit late the checkpoint can be a disaster,” he tells us knowingly.
Each morning at 3:30am he creeps out of his house in the dark, leaving his wife and young son sleeping and makes his way to Bethlehem’s checkpoint 300 by shared taxi.
Now, Ahmad stands at the back of a massive crowd of men, slowly shuffling forward through a long caged walkway.
There are nearly 60,000 Palestinians who have special permits granted to them by Israeli authorities to work inside Israel; they can enter Israel via one of 11 checkpoints.
Thousands of these workers from around the southern West Bank converge here at this spot at the crack of dawn each weekday morning to cross into Jerusalem.
There are younger guys in hoodies and concrete-splattered jeans, and older men in carefully pressed shirts; everyone looks exhausted and half asleep.
The line quickly gets jam-packed. There’s panic as the surge of people pushes forward. People are pushing up so tight against each other there’s no room to move.
Those desperate to get to the front of the line faster climb up the sides of the cages and carefully walk along a thin concrete edge, precariously holding onto the bars that line the walkway. Others stand in line half asleep, pushed forward in the flow.
Alfred Khoury, 47, stands in the crowd, watching the spectacle around him with a look of exhaustion.
“It’s so depressing. We feel like animals. But these days not even animals get treated like this,” he says, angrily motioning at the cage. “It’s humiliating. Every day I’m here by 4:30am to make sure I’m in my office by 8:30am.”
At the front of the line, an Israeli soldier buzzes people through the turnstile, one by one. Once they are finally through, they rush through to the other side where groups stand waiting for mini vans to take them to work.
Others lie curled up on the sidewalk, trying to catch a few more winks before their ride arrives.
Two hours after we first spot Ahmed, he’s finally made it to the other side. He probably won’t return home until after 5:00pm.
“I don’t have a choice but to do this,” Ahmad says, shrugging. “The situation in Yatta is really bad. There are no jobs there!”
We ask what living under occupation means to him. “Please, let’s not talk politics,” he says, laughing. “Because tomorrow they might stop me and suspend my entry permit!”
It’s 7:30am and 16-year-old Palestinian Reem has begun the walk to school with her girlfriends. Home is a tiny village of 100 people called Tuba, in the south Hebron hills. School is in another small village on the other side of the valley.
The shortest route there involves walking two kilometres through the Israeli settlement of Ma’on. But the children, their families and local human rights organisations have reported numerous incidents of violence and harassment by Israeli settlers.
As a result, each morning armed Israeli soldiers escort the schoolchildren of Tuba on the journey in order to protect them.
“The other way is seven kilometres around that hill,” Reem says, pointing to the left of the settlement. “We are not allowed to walk through this shorter way without the escort of the soldiers. The settlers might attack us.”
Reem and her schoolmates walk past the settlement with an Israeli Defence Force armoured vehicle in front of them and two soldiers carrying M16s bringing up the rear.
Nathaniel, 22, is one of the IDF troops protecting the children this morning.
“We have to escort the students when they come to school and when they finish,” the young soldier says matter-of-factly. “I heard there were a few problems with the settlers here in the past.”
It’s 9:00am in Beni Neiem village and Ayman Abdullah is having a bad morning.
The Israeli army has set up a “flying” checkpoint at the entrance to his village of Beni Neiem and he was already running late for work.
In the occupied West Bank there is a complex network of established checkpoints but what’s delaying Ayman this morning is the pop-up variety. There one day, gone the next.
It makes life incredibly difficult to plan, says the 35-year-old father of five who works in a nearby stone quarry.
“What do I tell my kids?” he says sadly. “They always see the presence of soldiers. I try and tell them not to be scared. But this is not enough. They get scared because they expect the worst.”
Israelis say such spot checks are needed for security reasons. “We are looking for guns,” the young soldier giving orders tells me.
Palestinians label these sudden road closings and pop-up restrictions as collective punishment.
Ayman waits in the line of vehicles that are slowly moving forward, waiting for the soldier to motion that it’s his time to pass.
A young Israeli recruit points his M16 at Ayman and jerks his head. “Go!” But whether it’s the fact it’s still early or only the third day of Ramadan and he hasn’t had his morning coffee, instead of zigzagging through the traffic spikes the soldiers have laid out on the road, Ayman slowly drives forward.
A depressing, slow hissing noise can be heard as his car rolls to a stop.
He’s burst the front two wheels of the company car.
“You didn’t see the spikes!” the soldier says to him.
“No I didn’t,” Ayman says quietly. “I was looking at you.”
The soldiers help him change the tyre, telling me to make sure I get photos of them assisting.
Later that day, we speak to Ayman on the phone.
“It cost me $150 for the new tyres. I only earn $700 a month!” he says bitterly.
“The checkpoint was there again on the way home, delaying me by half-an-hour. We have no freedom and we always live in fear. We can’t live normally.”
At 10:00am, 26-year-old Salah stands out the front of Aroub camp, smoking a cigarette and waiting for the bus with a friend.
His village is called a “camp” because its residents fled here in 1948 when Israel was created. What used to be tents have now turned into a motley bunch of dilapidated houses and apartment buildings. But the name has stuck.
Over the road from the camp, an Israeli watchtower sits directly opposite the two main entrances to Aroub, one of which has been permanently closed by the Israeli military for the past 15 years.
Large concrete slabs block the road; here people can only cross on foot.
“On a daily basis the Israeli soldiers enter our town,” Saleh tells me, keen to chat but refusing to let me take his photo. “They detain. They arrest children.”
Saleh says he’s spent five years going in and out of Israeli jails for throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers during demonstrations.
“My two younger brothers were also jailed,” he says with a gleam of pride. “We were resisting the occupation. One of my brothers was arrested for the first time at 13. The other at 14.”
Saleh says he hasn’t visited Jerusalem, just 15 kilometres up the road, since he was 12 years old. He can’t get a permit, he says, but he dreams of going.
We asked Saleh if he’s stopped going to violent demonstrations since his release from jail at the end of 2015.
"What do you think? "he says, winking.
It’s 11:00am and in downtown Hebron 16-year-old Ameer is trying to balance a box of tomatoes, as his younger sister Yaraa wheels a market trolley.
Carrying the box of tomatoes is not an easy task at the best of times, but while going through a checkpoint turnstile it’s especially trying.
“I feel like I live in a prison,” he says through gritted teeth. Ever since Ameer was born he has had to walk past armed soldiers and pass through checkpoints to leave his neighbourhood.
He lives in what’s called ‘H2’, one of the most tense and heavily militarised parts of the West Bank. Here, 800 Jewish settlers live in the midst of 30,000 Palestinians protected by a large Israeli military presence.
For security reasons, whole streets in H2 that used to be bustling commercial areas are now closed down. Palestinians are only allowed to enter on foot but Israeli settlers are allowed to drive their cars.
“Sometimes they close the checkpoint and we can’t move. It’s very hard,” says Ameer.
We get buzzed in and follow the teenager through the turnstile. We show our IDs to Israeli soldiers and then go through a metal detector to enter the neighbourhood.
The long rows of barricaded shops and deserted streets make it feel like an eerie ghost town.
“I would like to move out of here,” Ameer tells us firmly. So where would he go?
It’s midday as we leave Hebron and drive back towards Jerusalem.
We encounter another ‘pop-up’ checkpoint just next to the Israeli settlement block of Gush Etzion.
Two soldiers stand by the side of the road, checking the IDs of drivers as they go past — but not all drivers.
In the West Bank, Israeli ID holders have yellow number plates. Palestinians have white and green. The yellow plates don’t get stopped.
“That’s just my orders,” said the young soldier when I asked, shrugging his shoulders.
An Israeli spokesperson said the explanation for the difference in how Israelis and Palestinians are treated “is very simple”. “Israeli citizens don’t spend their days trying to destroy the state of Israel. So they don’t need to undergo the same security checks and controls as Palestinians do.”
At Ofer military prison at 1:00pm, Anan has just finished visiting his little sister.
“She’s the first one in the family to go to jail,” he tells me through the fence, clearly a little embarrassed.
“She was arrested 40 days ago. She’s only 24 and has three kids including a seven-month-old baby. She hasn’t seen any of the kids since her arrest.”
Anan and his family live in Hebron. He says his sister was going through a checkpoint when the Israeli soldiers found a knife in her handbag.
So does Anan think she was going to carry out an attack? He leaves the question unanswered. “Life’s hard there,” he says quietly. “But it’s harder in prison. She doesn’t stop crying when we visit her.”
It’s 2:00pm and we’re at the Makassad Hospital in East Jerusalem.
If you’re a Palestinian from the West Bank and under 59 years of age, you need a permit from the Israeli military to enter Jerusalem.
Even if you’re the mother of a three-month-old breast-fed baby who’s just had brain surgery.
“When he got sick again and it was an emergency, I was the only one who could come with him,” says Um Raed, caring for her infant grandson Sajid.
Born with fluid on his brain, little Sajid and his mother Samera spent most of May together at the Makassad hospital in East Jerusalem as he recovered from his operation.
Last Sunday, they went back home to Jenin camp in the northern West Bank. Just a day later it was clear that Sajid urgently needed to return to the hospital. A stitch had broken and fluid was leaking from the baby’s head wound. But his mother’s permit had run out.
“At that moment when we needed to bring back the patient, she had no permit with her,” explains Sajid’s neurosurgeon Dr Hadi Dababseh. “Unfortunately he had to bring his grandmother with him.”
Um Raed tears up, as she describes how her daughter-in-law can’t be there to feed Sajid.
“He needs his mum to breastfeed him, he can’t take milk from this bottle easily, it’s hard for him. He was throwing up during the first few days, he’s not used to this milk.”
The grandmother says Sajid’s mother Samera is distraught at the separation from her sick newborn.
“When I call her on the phone she can’t talk, she cry all the time, she is going crazy without her baby,” says the grandmother. “She is his mother, what do you expect!”
Israeli authorities say they approved Samera’s entry two days after the baby returned to the hospital without his mum. The Israelis claim the hold-up was the Palestinian Coordination Office’s fault and they gave permission on humanitarian grounds once they became aware of the case.
Medical staff at Makassad are not exempt from permit issues. Hospital director Rafik Husseini says he has almost 20 staff who recently had issues with their permits.
“One of our senior nurses who’s worked here for 15 years had her permit recently suspended,” he says.
The director says a man with the same last name as the nurse had been charged with a security offence. He claims it took six weeks for her permit to be re-issued by the Israeli military.
It’s 4:00pm at Shuafat camp, where approximately 80,000 Palestinians live behind a huge eight-metre concrete wall.
The neighbourhood used to be part of East Jerusalem’s suburbs but since the “separation barrier” was built after the deadly second intifada, Shuafat camp has been physically cut off. Now there are only two ways to exit, both through Israeli checkpoints, and only one that allows entry into Jerusalem.
Residents spend their lives lining up, waiting, getting their cars searched and their IDs checked. In and out, everyday, past the giant concrete structure that encircles their lives.
“I feel like a bird in a cage,” explains 26-year-old Yaseen. He doesn’t stop to chat for long. He’s late for work. Again.
“We don’t live like human beings,” laments 26-year-old Firas, who’s on his way to his nursing shift at a Jerusalem hospital.
The camp, which is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city, is also notoriously underserviced and neglected by the Jerusalem authorities.
“Yesterday the power cut our five or six times, the running water cuts out. Ours is not a normal life,” says the young nurse.
Suzan, 30, is unloading her shopping from her sister’s car and is just about to venture through the checkpoint. She can remember what life was like before the wall was built.
“It was so much easier. Living like this is a disaster.”