Qalandiya, Fri 18.9.09, Morning
Last Friday of the Ramada month, Evening of Rosh Hashana 5770
Friday morning , on the way to pray on the Temple Mount, an announcement about closure of 1000s of Palestinians coming to carry out the religious commandment of praying there. Buses were sent back, permits of those who came all the same were torn up and people were send rudely back. In spite of the laws which "fall" on them with no warning of a change of procedure, in spite of the fast and the son, 100s were standing in front of the checkpoint, men and women whom refused to accept this.
"Maybe they will change the order during the morning? Maybe all the same they would be allowed through?"
I am here for the first time at the checkpoint of Qalandiya. The pictures and the reports of Tamar from the previous week brought me here even though it is the day before a holiday, to join Dafna and the Jerusalem group.
The sight of the walls and the barriers of the checkpoint from north to south, the long way we have to take to get to the checkpoint, the block of cages which meet our gaze and the way that the Palestinians have to go to get through the turnstiles. The screeching of x-ray, biometric installations and more turnstiles in the area of the parking lot which is next to the refuges camp of the Palestinians.
In honor of Ramadan two more barriers have been added for those coming to this famous checkpoint just before the parking lot. Women and men stood in two separate areas. The lines are met by a wall of cement blocks and between these border police with arms and shields. Shades have been put up for them in the holes between the cement blocks. There, every man and a woman with their IDs checked and this precious permit to pray on the Mount is limited by age. Men over 50, women over 45, children companion with their parents. Boys above age of 13, girls of 14. Those who hold Blue id's (East Jerusalem.) They, it seems can pass. But today because of the sudden closure with no previous warning has more limitations for those coming from afar. The special permits for the prayer have been cancelled and people who came early in the morning are pushed back slowly or by the pushing back of the sleeve up to the hole of the two cement blocks. "Go back, Go back," shout the soldiers continuously through the megaphone.
The BP and the military police in a strong line carry out the procedure of checking and the sending back of the people. Those who went through the first barriers to the line of cement blocks in front of the big barrier were checked again, IDS and permits. And those who get even there are also turned back.
"Why do they make a closure even now when things are quiet." "What do they want, that there should be no terrorist activity, in this way" "I have to lose my work permit just like that?"
Now and again a "judging captain" passes and asks those who have been sent back and refuse to accept this and stand at the cement blocks fasting in the hot sun, "So which of you has a request?" Most people take no notice of this. "Look and see what he does with the requests," they say to me and I see that request after request is checked back and returned to the owner
Ram, a young man tells us that his ID and permits were taken from him more than two hours ago by R., the commander of the DCO in the area, He saw him put them into his pocket. I ask R. In his pocket are many permits. (The commander did not tear them up but also did not give them back so that the Palestinians should have no reason to come again until the end of Ramadan to bother soldiers at the checkpoint). One green ID. Why is it there? The man R, suffering from the fasting stands in the sun. The ID is returned but the permit has vanished. What was written in this permit? : permission to work in Israel for another 4 months." We again turn to R., as R had seen him put it into his pocket. But he waves us impatiently away. "He can go the DCO at my expense. It will not cost him anything." So then R whose story I believe, one amongst 100s, will have to miss a day of work and ask for a new permit and who knows what other troubles are awaiting him. Lack of knowledge, uncertainty, boasting bureaucracy which is so characteristic the military procedures at Qalandiya.
An old woman, accompanied by her blind son of 27 has managed to pass the first line with him, holding his arm and he comes after her with the help of his stick. 3 soldiers go towards her...a captain, an accompanist and a border policeman. In her eyes there is a plea to let her pass. The captain (seems to be a reservist) explains and asks, lifts a phone to headquarters. They are still 3 people facing and old woman and her son and her eyes. The answer they get is a refusal. "Go back" and they are sent back, fasting here under the sun.
The men continue waiting, angry but not losing hope. "Maybe the order will change during the morning?" one says.
At a distance from them at the foot of the shade of the wall many people sit. They came at 5.00 or 6.00 and they wait. There is only shade there, no comfort.
In the women's line are 100s waiting to pass though they have been refused already,usually because they are too young. They wait fasting, under the son. They wait at the cement blocks in one line and then another and another.
The same two lines of the cement barricade which have been put up before the parking lot in front of the main checkpoint. The same 10s of armed soldiers. The rifles are at the ready .Ambulance and teams of the Palestinian emergency services with wheelchairs waiting to help in an emergency. Many photographers and media people at every possible point, people of foreign organizations and also teams from the United Nations. "Hope for Palestine" on the walls. The painting of a young boy aiming a catapult, underneath is teams of photographers.
12.25 The muezzin calls to prayer from the refugee village. Sign from the people waiting. Boys of 8-13 begin throwing stones at the soldiers on the other side of the checkpoint. The soldiers quickly chase them away. The soldiers declare the checkpoint closed. Only humanitarian cases and those who have blue IDs are allowed to pass. In the few minutes the fences are taken down, the shades for the soldiers, irons are packed on to an army truck with great efficiency. More soldiers arrive, take off their helmets, some have gas canisters, rifles on their shoulders and form a line and according to the pace of the retreat go back behind the cement blocks. Behind them appear more and more soldiers, everything to the line of women. I do not know where to put myself. I move between the women. They are bitter because they were not allowed to pass. They say they will wait here until the evening but they start moving backwards. I sit despairing and sad with my friends next to the paramedic B. from Beylin and his friends who are known to the Jerusalem group. B. says that today there were fewer people than usual because rolling checkpoints had been put up on the West Bank and a bus of those going to the prayers had been sent back because of the closure.
On the way back to Dafna's car we have to stand as the Palestinians do at the first checking area. The line grows longer and the loudspeaker announces that another post has been opened. We go to the other post but the turnstile is blocked. "Is there no one with whom one can speak?' I ask in the upward direction. No one is to be seen. Everything is closed by buttons, the fences, cages, turnstiles.
"Put the bag into the x-ray device. Give your ID." Damn! Where is it. For a moment I am panicked At least the language used is in Arabic. We are going back to the car in silence. It's Rosh Ha' Shann Eve. Pots have to be put on the stove.
End of a year and its curses.