Checkpoint 300 controls travel between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Thousands of Palestinian people pass through it daily under the surveillance and questioning of rotating Israeli Defense Forces personnel.
Observers with Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel also report for duty here; they count the numbers who travel and note the treatment commuting workers receive. Additionally, many international visitors to Palestine pass through this checkpoint, with some arriving as early as 5 a.m. to observe firsthand the daily mix of humiliation, danger, desperation and boredom experienced by Palestinian workers who travel this route for jobs in Jerusalem.
The time required to travel via Checkpoint 300 can take multiple hours each way. Many begin showing up at 4 a.m. These workers rarely spend time with their children, who are still asleep when they depart in the morning and back in bed when they return home. Most who walk through the checkpoint corridors and turnstiles mention the term “cattle yard” to describe the method of moving thousands of people through long, narrow cages. The environment of Checkpoint 300 is oppressive, demeaning and dehumanizing.
Thus the idea of Church of the Checkpoint. The mission of this ministry is simply “being the face of Christ in a broken place.” People from around the world are invited to the visit the checkpoint to pray, offer readings, sing songs, and promote healing and reconciliation.
While there is some uncertainty about who officially started Church of the Checkpoint, the group’s website, designed by Rev. Catherine Alder of the United Church of Christ, offers more information and videos that show what Palestinians endure each day moving through the checkpoint.
Praying at the checkpoint
For those pilgrimage and study groups traveling to Bethlehem, I urge you to pause for public liturgy at this checkpoint. Stop to worship before entering the checkpoint on either side of the separation wall, or after being allowed through the turnstile. This is an especially fitting in light of this year’s Week for Peace in Palestine Israel theme of “God has broken down the dividing walls.”
You might also read the powerful words of peace champions such as Jesus, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King Jr. Or a passage from the Kairos Palestine document, Kairos USA Call to Action, or your own denominational material focused on justice for Palestinians.
Likewise, those of you who lead tours or conduct educational briefings in Palestine are encouraged to place Checkpoint 300 on your itinerary and include a time of public worship there. If you can, let us know what you learn, see, and hear. Share with us ways in which the experience changes you and those with whom you share the experience. If possible, take a photo of your group. Then send these to me at Kairos USA (email@example.com) and, with your permission, we’ll will share your experience with the Kairos community.
Remember, as you worship at the Church of the Checkpoint you redeem the space. You display solidarity with Palestinians in protest against pervasive military control of their free movement.
Below I offer a prayer that you might use at the Checkpoint 300.
A Church of the Checkpoint prayer
Your presence is here, O God. You are here despite the ugliness of iron bars.
You are here despite the stares of uniformed guards.
You are here despite the metal turnstiles, daily bruises, scarred psyches and broken hearts.
We see you in the faces of workers desperate to reach their jobs.
We see you in the crowded proximity of so many bodies, following a route designed to cause friction and fatigue.
We see you in the lowered eyes of women bringing their children to medical appointments or commuting to reach their workplaces.
Into this place we bring our prayers. Into this place we bring words of truth. We listen for the Spirit who calls us to love and to steadfast faith. We see faces of strangers and pray that we may somehow display support, solidarity, respect and commitment. Bless, strengthen and renew them, O God.
Bless the international workers who monitor the travel here.
Bring a new spirit of dignity and compassion to military guardians of oppression; show them a better way.
Accept our own prayerful repentance for the complicity of our government in this scene of brutal diminishment. Sow within us the abiding fire of determination to bring change. Turn our tears into solidarity. Allow our memories of this place to live within our moral imagination until the day there is reconciliation with true justice. We claim this space as sacred space for healing, reconciliation and peace. All this we pray in your holy name, O God. Let it be so.