Qalandiya, Fri 20.7.12, First Friday of Ramadan, Morning
Translator: Charles K.
First Friday of Ramadan, 10:00 – 12:45
It’s not about those who crossed, but about those who didn’t.
We arrived at 10 AM. Hot. Very hot. There’s no way to get close to the checkpoint in a car. A light but constant flow of festively-dressed people walking from the checkpoint toward Jerusalem.
We don’t see the crowds at the checkpoint that we remember from previous years, which isn’t surprising given that the beginning of the holiday was announced only twelve hours ago; men aged 12-40 haven’t had time to apply for crossing permits.
We speak to a young man seated in one of the taxis near the men’s crossing. He’s handsome, wears a dress shirt. He teaches economics at Bir Zeit University.
“Your country claims to be a democracy,” he says to us angrily, in English. “Is this democracy? Every person has the right to worship at their holy places. Only we don’t. We’re all human beings, and all human beings are the same,” he tells us. “I don’t want to kill. Killing makes no sense. Imagine what our lives would be like if we didn’t kill. You’re not us, either.”
He notices our tag, reads what’s written. “What are you doing?” he asks. “What are you doing for my human rights??? I have a permit to enter Israel. I want to pray. In Israel, is praying forbidden? You claim your country respects human rights. Where are my human rights?”
It turns out that he has a regular permit. One which allows him to cross into Israel every day…except on Friday during Ramadan.
He needs a special permit in order to pray on the Haram al Sharif today, or be a few years older. He’s only 27.
“Why wasn’t I a threat yesterday; only today?”
We see a soldier at the men’s crossing motion to a Palestinian wanting to cross that he should speak to another soldier. The second soldier examines his green ID card, addresses the Palestinian in Arabic, returns his ID and allows him to continue to Jerusalem.
In response to our question, the soldier explains with a pleasant smile, displaying snow-white teeth, that the Palestinian was 39 years and 7 months old. He says he doesn’t make the rules but tries to implement them humanely. “We try to be considerate,” he explains. “After all, it’s their holiday.”
A minute later one of the soldiers sends over to him a father with a 13 year old son. “You see?” He makes sure we saw he also permitted them to continue to Jerusalem. “We let them cross even if they don’t exactly meet the criteria. We try. We’re not repressing them, we’re considerate. We occupiers behave morally.”
Suddenly the Palestinian five months shy of his 40th birthday – when he’ll no longer need a special permit to go through the checkpoint to pray – reappears. The soldier leaves us, hurries away with him to the one who stopped him from continuing.
“Take a picture,” he suddenly calls to us, pointing at an elderly Palestinian man bending to pick up a black helmet belonging to one of the armed soldiers stationed above observing the men’s crossing. But the camera was in a pocket and the absurd photo couldn’t be snapped.
We go toward the humanitarian crossing. It’s almost empty. A father and children are told to go to the regular crossing. They’re not a “humanitarian case.” The elderly and the ill are the only ones allowed through the covered passage rather than having to cross exposed to the burning sun.
We’re approached by a young female Palestinian TV journalist who’s been at the women’s crossing since we arrived:
“Look who’s here,” she says. “What do you think of our people? They have no money. No work. So they leave. Especially the young people. They have no future here. Only the elderly and ill remain. So who’ll be left to realize the dream of a state of our own?
Look around, see how the two peoples are becoming increasingly cut off from one another, the growing extremism on both sides; how is it still possible to consider the two-state solution? It’s enough to look at the settlements, all the new settlements, as well as the older ones, how they grow and expand, to understand there’s no room left for a Palestinian state. And the situation is only deteriorating.
All of us should come. Here, to the checkpoint. All of us. To stand here, not move. To remain. Like in Tahrir Square.
If only both sides – you and us – had exerted such pressure.
But our people are worn out after so many years. Tired. Who has the strength?
That’s why no one comes. And nothing changes – although, in fact, things do change. Everything’s becoming worse.”
An older Palestinian woman arrives at the checkpoint, carrying a prayer book. She forgot her ID at home. The first soldier she reaches, with a lower rank, lets her through. The next, more senior, stops her, sends her back.
The soldiers standing at the crossings inspecting the IDs proffered to them fulfill their bureaucratic role par excellence.
Empty bottles, cans, garbage bags are everywhere. A person who wished to throw them into a garbage can wouldn’t be able to do so. There’s not one garbage can in the entire area.
But why should there be? Does in matter that this is part of the Jerusalem municipal area? Does that mean the municipality is supposed to take care of it?
A man comes to the women’s crossing. The soldiers tell him, as they tell all the men, to go around, to the men’s crossing. But he – it transpires – doesn’t want to cross, but to talk to the officer. Who isn’t there. He says he lives in the house closest to the checkpoint.
“Whenever rocks are thrown at the checkpoint’s soldiers,” he tells the Border Police soldier who agrees to talk to him, “you fire tear gas at us.”
The Border Police soldier tells him he’s come on the wrong day.
“But all the officers are here today; I can speak to them all at the same time!” he explains.
The Border Police soldier is very understanding; the conversation continues. The man is married, with three children. “Every time something happens here, my wife and children leave the house.”
How often does it happen? Where do they go? He doesn’t provide additional information and returns home.
A person standing near by knows him. He tells us that yesterday another tear gas grenade was fired into the house. The wife and children didn’t manage to get out in time, so she and the small children went to Hadassah. They’d been injured – again.
It’s noon. Men and women are separated up to the last minute. Even though the flow of people crossing has been light the entire time, the men must go around by a much longer route in the burning sun.
A taxi driver, an old acquaintance, welcomes us.
“Aren’t you working?” Tamar wonders.
“I crossed, I crossed ten minutes ago and returned, just so I could really believe it,” he looks at us. “Yesterday I was a threat. Not today. Tomorrow I’ll be a threat again.” He grins, his smile only increasing the absurdity of what he says.
“See you next week,” Tamar says at the end of a conversation about other things.
“No, next week I’ll give the taxi to someone else and cross to the other side as early as possible. I want to meet friends. One day isn’t enough, it’s not enough time. Most of my friends are Jews – write that down, not Arabs. Jews.” He waves goodbye, turns around. “This Ramadan is good for us,” he says suddenly. “Five Fridays when we’re not a threat.”
At 12:15 people still don’t know when the special Ramadan crossings will close.
“We haven’t yet received an order,” say the soldiers. And an order – if anyone has any doubt about it – is an order.
A group of female soldiers stands behind the crossing, on the way to the checkpoint. One smiles at us; a conversation quickly starts.
“We do what we’re told,” one young woman says, “We’re in the army, we do what we’re told.”
“There’s the job, but there’s also the human being,” says Tamar. “You also have to think outside the box.”
“We’re not supposed to think. Our job is to not think. We do what we’re told.”
How can a young Israeli citizen speak such a sentence without shuddering?
The crossing closes at 12:30. Suddenly a group of Border Police soldiers arrive to stand between it and the checkpoint. All are in full gear, of course, armed, helmeted. The peaceful atmosphere becomes slightly electric – because of their presence.
Only a few more Palestinians remain. They’re directed to the regular crossing. We also leave.
“Did you see what happened? The ingrates!,” the Border Police soldier calls to us, the one who a few minutes ago had spoken to the man who’d come to ask the officers not to fire tear gas at his house. He passes us on his way back to the crossing. “We let them cross, the shits!” he yells, and disappears.
We try to find out from the formidable group of Border Police soldiers what terrible thing occurred. The soldier we asked doesn’t reply; a second, who starts answering, shuts up the moment he sees the expression on the face of the unit’s commander.
A Chinese photographer standing nearby says that some youths threw rocks at the soldiers.
Were it not for the oppressive heat we might have been able, on the way to the car, to compute how many soldiers, how many police, how many vehicles, how many water cannons, trucks, etc. were here, and how much it all costs us.