Since 2001 we have observed dozens of army checkpoints on paved and unpaved roads in the West Bank, the Jordan Valley and along the Separation Fence; Civil Administration offices which grant permits to Palestinians; and military courts trying Palestinian prisoners. We stand at the checkpoints observing the behavior of soldiers and Palestinians without interfering, intervening only when soldiers behave offensively to Palestinians. Then we try to speak to the soldiers themselves or telephone...
Qalandiya, Fri 12.9.08, Morning
three kilometers south of Ramallah, in the heart of Palestinian population. Integrates into "Jerusalem Envelope" as part of Wall that separates between northern suburbs that were annexed to Jerusalem in 1967: Kafr Aqab, Semiramis and Qalandiya, and the villages of Ar-Ram and Bir Nabala, also north of Jerusalem, and the city itself. Some residents of Kafr Aqab, Semiramis and Qalandiya have Jerusalem ID cards.
A terminal operated by Israel Police has functioned since early 2006. As of August 2006, northbound pedestrians are not checked. Southbound Palestinians must carry Jerusalem IDs; holders of Palestinian Authority IDs cannot pass without special permits. Vehicular traffic from Ramallah to other West Bank areas runs to the north of Qalandiya.
Click here to watch a video from Qalandiya checkpoint.
Second Friday of Ramadan
The instructions and the preparations were like those of last week. There was free passage only to men who were 50 years and above and to women over 45 years of age and to children. Because the Muslims, as opposed to Jews do not end their year, the month of Ramadan is tied to the month of Tishrei with the passage of Elul, and therefor, there is no effort to adjust the regulations regarding Fridays of Ramadan with the general closure rules regarding the Jewish holidays. All those who have reached the "silver age" are allowed to cross, but many younger people are left with no chance of praying in Al Aqsa.
A young woman, whose husband is an American citizen, returned crying from the soldiers who blocked her way. "What kind of democracy is this? asked her angry husband. A woman who was just a few months short of her 45th birthday tried to pass, but the soldiers diligently checked the day of her birth. Women under 45 tried their luck in one lane and then in another, but in vain. Some of them sat on a rock or on the concrete blocks and started reading their Korans. If one were to disregard for a moment the surroundings of the checkpoint, the scene was not that different from the prayer arrangements and the books of psalms from which Orthodox Jewish women pray in buses and waiting offices, but it would be safe to say that they would not appreciate the comparison.
Qalandiya was blocked from the hill at the junction at which the road splits into the road to the checkpoint and the road to Ramallah, and from the Ramallah side from the external pillbox of the wall. As a reslt, there was no approach to the parking lot and the buses. Transits and private cars parked at every possible place along the side of the road for several hundred meters. The approach to the checkpoint shed, the only place with some shade in the entire area, was only for those passing for security checks. People were left standing in the morning sun for hours, neither eating or drinking.
On the side of the hill, there was a line of about 10 soldiers checking i.d.'s and after some meters at the entry to the parking lot, there was another check. On the wall of the checkpoint stood a sharpshooter. On this side, there were 10's of people at all times. A group of women who were not allowed to cross waiting on the side for hours in hopes that the evil decree would change. It did not change. The soldiers were bothered by the women who refused to come to terms with the reality. "I have no power over them" shouted one. You're wasting your time, a second one said. Two army jeeps placed themselves in the area that the women vacated (with the assistance of the loud noise from their motors) and nervous, waving motions of the driver.
On the Ramallah side, there were many more people. Between 10:00 and 10:30, there were several hundreds, among them many young people who could only look and turn around, but it was possible, that in a short while, they would want to confront the soldiers. Four sharshooters were stationed in pairs on the walls of the checkpoint, there was a line of soldiers pressed together, one next to the other at the stand where people wished to cross. A second line, less crowded, was some meters further in as a second checking point. There was a feeling that at any moment, something could happen. In spite of that, at the same time, many people passed and at a certain point, a general command was given to a large group and tens of people ran through to the parking lot for the third (and last) check through the checkpoints. Those forbidden passage who came near the blocked off area bother the soldiers and were repeatedly pushed back. Also, a man stood them, apparentlyh in his 50's, who had a blue i.d. (he showed it to a soldier) and was allowed to cross but he did not want to. He wanted to be with those who were forbidden to pray in Al Aqsa and to participate in the demonstration. He said to a soldier who wanted to drive him away: "I'm standing here and I will not break any law" For a moment, the soldier was placated, but when he came to disperse some young people, he also pushed the man who could have been his father. Another soldier drove away a child who scarcely came up to his waist with an angry look which in itself could scare away the boy. We head shouts of "Let us pass". A line of soldiers went between those waiting in an effort to distance them.
Around 11 o'clock, the situation calmed down. Many passed the meanwhile. About 100-200 people remained. Now, there was just one line of soldiers checking. In the middle of the empty parking lot, small groups who were allowed to pass arrived, and a soldier stood with a megaphone, and every time that he saw a woman drawing near, he shouted in Arabic: "Women to the left" The women were sent to circumvent the waiting shed from without, and then the crossed via the turnstile to the checking point, while the men passed the checkpoints in the "regular" way through the enclosures, the turnstiles, and the inspection stations..
At about 11:45, the passage was closed because, in anycase, it was too late to to get to prayers at Al Aqsa, but what to do with those who wished to walk on the holy soil of Jerusalem. Women especially pushed more and more to allow them to cross. One soldier turned around with his rifle drawn and stun grenades in his vest. The Brigade commande said a half hour earlier that they would use ammunition" in accord with the needs" At last, they agreed to renew passage, but only about 150 people remained who were not of the "proper" age. In the shade of the wall, stood several young people from Jenin. At 3 in the morning, they left their city. At 6-7, they got to the checkpoint. The distance between Jenin and Jerusalem is about 100 kilometers, but because of the checkoints, it takes hours. About 30 buses left Jenin, most of whose passagers were elderly and able to cross. The youn people hoped that in spite of everything, they would admit everyone. But, rather than being at the walls of the Old City, they had to be satisfied with the modern walls of Jerusalem.
Click here to watch a video of these events.
As time went on, the soldiers lost their patience with those who were not allowed to pass through and who continued standing opposite them. Again and again they pushed women back, grabbed them in the back or by their arms and others shouted out threats.
At about 12:30, more and more people started to leave, perhaps in order to attend prayers in the mosque nearby. Several tens of people remained in the place. An elderly man, traditionally dressed went up on the rock and started preaching. A soldier pointed a camera attached to his rifle in order to record who was leading what was going on and perhaps to record inciting words.
At 12:45, they started to pray , led by the preacher. Four rows of men and two rows of women opposite the concrete blocks, right under the noses of the sharpshooters and the police fences from both sides with all the cameras focused on them. Among those praying was a man who did not want to exercise his right to go into Jerusalem while others were not allowed in. 10-15 young people who were here all morning did not pray, but stood by the side. One of the sharpshooters pointed toward them, almost as a game. "What, What" they shouted and for a moment, moved back. Afterwards,
they made a movement mimicking the movements of the two soldiers who went out to move them away. Within a moment, they came near again.
At 13:00 the prayers ended as 15 women still stood opposite the soldiers and asked to pass. The soldiers started to collect the fences. At 13:15, about 20 soldiers went out with their rifles on the ready to the parking lot toward the 20 or 30 people that were still there and made them move away. The young people stood several meters in front of the soldiers. "In a little while, they will be throwing stones" said one of the soldiers. They. did not throw any. A bulldozer moved two concrete blocks in order to open the road to the parking lot. The soldiers moved back, and went back with their weapons because the crowd did not move even one centimeter.
At 13:25, A ribbon was stretched across the road that leads to the checkpoint Another Ramadan exercise ended. An Angel truck with loaves of fresh bread passed. The rifle of the sharpshooter without work was pointed toward them. Later, it turned out that this was not the end of the day's events. Some young Germans crossed the checkpoint at around 15:00. They reported that there were crowds of people who were returning from the prayers when someone threw a stone and the soldiers went into the crowd with their guns on the ready. The situation was on the verge of an explosion although they did not fire any bullets afterall. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to be there also when people return from their prayers.