Palestinians began using the first hi-tech crossing on Wednesday, the first of 11 such military checkpoints. They
say the new military checkpoint appears to make Israel's occupation more permanent.


Israel says it hopes the terminal will protect Israeli occupation troops stationed at the roadblocks, while making the daily passage for thousands of Palestinians more dignified, according to Colonel Tamir Haiman on Wednesday, the Israeli army commander for the area.

The project is designed to eliminate contact between Palestinian civilians and Israeli occupation forces at the military roadblocks.

The Defence Ministry said the 11 checkpoints will cost about 200 million shekels ($46 million).

Reasonable security cost

Even though Israel says it plans to phase out Palestinian labour by 2008, the terminal's expense is a reasonable security cost, Haiman says.

Israel says the move will
eliminate contact with its forces

"Three years is a long time," he said. "Any one of them could carry a bomb, which could ruin the whole process and take us back to war."


Military roadblocks have created constant friction between Israeli occupation soldiers and large crowds of Palestinian civilians, who are often held up for hours and at times prevented from getting through.

The checkpoints themselves have become targets, and some Israeli officers say they often create more problems than they solve.

Humiliation


Captured bombers have cited the humiliation at roadblocks as a motive for launching attacks.

According to Israeli human rights group B'tselem, the number of military checkpoints in the West Bank has dropped from 73 to 29 in the past year, while 24 military checkpoints have cropped up along the line between Israel and the West Bank.

Palestinians say the route of the barrier dips into the West Bank to encircle some Israeli settlements.

The new Efraim checkpoint at the exit of the Palestinian town of Tulkarem employs five times as many personnel than the one it replaces.

Usama Amar, 30, said he crosses into Israel daily to work as a house painter. On his first trip through the new checkpoint, he passed through a metal detector, following signs and directions from a soldier in a bullet-proof booth.

Magnetic resonance scanning


Next Amar had to undergo magnetic resonance scanning, monitored from a control room upstairs.

"The new design just seems to institutionalise Israel's occupying position"

Usama Amar,
Palestinian labourer

Then an inspector used biometric technology to match Amar's new magnetic ID card to the back of his hand.

Haiman added, if he raises suspicion, he would have been directed by intercom to enter a new blast-proof cell.

Exiting the checkpoint, Amar complained: "The new design just seems to institutionalise Israel's occupying position." A father of four, Amar said he makes 10 times more money in Israel than he would in the West Bank.

His long-term goal is an end to Israel's occupation. "If it takes five years or 100 years, one day Jews will not live on this land," he said.