Bethlehem, West Bank — On a bleak and rainy morning, the Israeli military checkpoint in Bethlehem looked especially depressing: rain-soaked concrete walls, a loose tin roof clattering in the wind, and Palestinian workers running across wet gravel into a cage-like narrow corridor to cross into Israel.
That’s the sight that greeted two dozen Christian visitors to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Their visit to the checkpoint was part of the third Christ at the Checkpoint conference, organized by the local Bethlehem Biblical College. It was a scene designed to move the Christian visitors — from the United States and around the world — to consider what the conference sponsors say are Israel’s violations of human rights in what Christians term the Holy Land. This year, 600 people attended, including dozens of American students of theological seminaries. What they saw is changing their minds.
British volunteer Michaela Whitton guided the morning walk to the checkpoint. As an “Ecumenical Accompanier” based in Bethlehem, Whitton escorts Palestinians who report harassment from Israeli soldiers and Israeli Jewish West Bank settlers. She details what she says are Israeli abuses to the UN.
“The checkpoint isn’t on a border,” Whitton told the group. “It’s two kilometers inside the border, and it is illegal under international law.”
Leah Ennis, a 26-year-old from the Reformed Church in Churchville, Pa., was stunned.
“It’s incredible that some people have to go through the checkpoint all the time,” she said. “It seemed a bit intimidating with the huge walls, and going through these long corridors.”