Qalandiya, Tue 16.8.11, Morning

Avital T., Ina F. (reporting)

As soon as we exit our car at 06:20, we are approached by a man who complains that there is a new Civil Administration officer on duty (whom he names) and that, as a result, there is a mess this morning at Qalandia.  Indeed, the lines extend well beyond the covered waiting area, and a group of people are standing by the Humanitarian Gate but there’s no sign of the Civil Administration officer in charge of operating it. We phone the DCO to inquire about his whereabouts, and he arrives at about 06:25, opening the gate.

Long, slowly moving lines persist well beyond the three caged passageways until 7:20, although all five checking stations are open. We are also informed by a woman that the checking station for holders of Jerusalem (blue) IDs, on the other side of the vehicle checkpoint, is closed.

At 06:35 the Civil Administration officer chooses to inform us that he must leave and will return in ten minutes. For the next half hour, a large group of increasingly distressed people ― including a number of elderly women and a couple with an appointment at Hadassah Hospital for their infant ― stands before the Humanitarian Gate. As the “10 minutes” drag out into 20 and the crowd and its impatience grows, we call first the DCO and then the Humanitarian Hotline in Beit El, to no avail. At 7:03 a cheeky (as soon becomes apparent) security guard enters the checkpoint and announces that the Humanitarian Gate is “closed.” We explain that people have been waiting for up to half an hour for the officer who promised to return and operate it. But the security guard simply barks at us: “Closed, closed, closed. Can’t you understand?” – and seems to quite enjoy the consternation of all the people affected by this news.  Everyone ― the elderly, women and children ― begin to run toward the lines leading to the first turnstile; only the young father stands firm, shouting at the security guard and at us. The security guard then tells us to go join our friends in Ramallah. We reply that we hope his own mother and grandmother are never dependent upon his sense of decency.

Almost immediately thereafter, we note a delegation of officers, including the CA duty officer and the ranking CA officer of the Jerusalem Envelope, approaching the checkpoint. When we shout out to them that people have been waiting by the Humanitarian Gate for up to half an hour, we’re assured that it will now be opened.  Still, no one is in any hurry to relieve the stress, and it remains closed for another few minutes. One cannot avoid the feeling that this additional delay is designed to demonstrate who’s boss around here (in generic terms) and that the boss answers neither to distressed Palestinians nor to human rights monitors.

There are still about eight people in each of the three cage-like passageways when we  leave at 7:30 but few new people are arriving. A man we call later in the morning reports that it took him 1 hour and 20 minutes to traverse the checkpoint “because I was lucky and stood on a fast-moving line.”

As part of the “complaint-a-day” program, Hannah might consider filing a complaint about events at Qalandia this morning, which demonstrated the Civil Administration’s utter disdain not only for our Palestinian neighbors but for its own commitment to operate a Humanitarian Gate at this checkpoint during regular hours.