Qalandiya, Tue 20.9.11, Morning
The pace of progress through the five checking stations was so slow this morning that it’s hard to avoid the feeling, given today's date, that the long wait to transit the checkpoint was designed as punishment of the population for the Palestinian Authority’s upcoming moves at the United Nations.
Three lines extend to the edges of the covered waiting area and a crowd is waiting by the Humanitarian Gate when we arrive at 6:10. Two Civil Administration officers and an armed security guard enter the checkpoint at 6:15 but do not open the Humanitarian Gate for another 10 minutes. In the meanwhile, one of the officers questioned each of the men waiting on line and checked their permits. (This was the only time this morning that men’s ages or permits were checked at the Humanitarian Gate). The gate was finally opened at 6:25 and some 35 people went through. For the next hour, the gate was opened only at 15-minute intervals. At 7:00, for example, no fewer than 122 people went through it at once. At 7:15, 32 people were allowed through, leaving 20 still waiting behind it. Between 7:25 and 7:52, 65 people were allowed through the gate at intervals of less than 15 minutes. But at 7:52 the CA officers and bodyguard leave the checkpoint, and the gate is not opened again.
Meanwhile, by 6:25 the lines leading into the three cage-like passages extend out into the parking lot. The carousels have not been opened for 20 minutes (between our arrival and 6:10 and 6:30), and we can see that the pace through the sleeves remains agonizingly slow. When we ask one of the CA officers about this, rather than relate to our comment about the pace at the checking stations, he brushes us off with the reply that more people than usual have come to the checkpoint this morning. At 6:30, with the carousels at the end of the cage-like passages already locked for 20 minutes, the lines extending into the parking lot, people becoming very restive (roaring and whistling for the carousels to be opened), the CA officers ignoring our efforts to talk to them again, and the situation threatening to become explosive, we call the deputy commander of the area, who refers us back to the CA officers on the scene.
A minute or so later, the three carousels open and the lines are reduced by half. At 7:00 about 100 men are allowed through the carousels. As the hour grows closer to 7:30, more people are allowed through at once– 121 at 7:34 and another 60 at 7:36 – apparently in an attempt to clear the passages well before 8:00. Nevertheless, the pace through the sleeves remains at a crawl – and, together with the crowding, tension rises to the point where a fight breaks out among some of the men on the line in Sleeve 4. At 8:00, 70 people – including women and students, as the Humanitarian Gate is now closed – are again on line within two of the three passages, and at 8:10 all three passages are filled with people. They were emptied five minutes later, but when we leave at 8:20, they are quickly filling again, and there are still long lines leading into the five sleeves (though the pace there seems to have picked up a bit).
A man at the end of a line whose number we take at 6:10 later tells us by phone that he exited the checkpoint at 7:30 (1 hour and 20 minutes). Another, whose number we take at 7:30, reports that he exited at 8:35 (1 hour and 5 minutes). At 7:30 our colleagues from the EAPPI program of the World Council of Churches share with us their figures that between 7:00 and 7:30 this morning, 187 men exited the checkpoint, whereas their average number for that half hour in the morning at Qalandia is 300.