Al Jib (Givat Zeev), Qalandiya, Sun 4.8.13, Morning
When we arrived at Qalandiya at 5 a.m., the entrance was closed to traffic. Since it was early, we decided to begin at Jib to see what was happening there. The site was depressing. Although getting through the checkpoint did not seem to be a problem, we saw numerous workers sleeping on the ground on flattened cardboard boxes. They had obviously come through the checkpoint early in order to be available to work. Ronny gave them Ramadan greetings, but it could not have been a pleasant way to spend the last days of the holiday.
We then returned to Qalandiya and found the entrance to the parking lot still closed. We parked outside the checkpoint and walked through to the area of the carousels. Even before we reached the entrance, we heard shouting and those workers who had already gone through, told us that there were terrible problems; that there were many, many people and that the carousels were not opening fast enough to accommodate all the people passing through.
When we arrived in the entrance area, we found the entire plaza filled with people, including hundreds of women and many children. This day was the beginning of the celebration to end Ramadan (Eid-al-Fitr) and is celebrated as a holiday. It is also prior to Laylat-al-Qadr, the day in which Muslims believe their fate is sealed for the year and the time when they also believe the Koran was received. The last three days (at least) of Ramadan are very important in preparation for the end of the holiday.
It was clear that the check point was not prepared for the number of people who came to pass through to Jerusalem for the holiday. On Fridays during Ramadan, all women, men over the age of 40 and children up to age 12 are allowed to pass through Kalandia without permits, from 08:00. The same provisions should have been made for these last days of Ramadan. Instead, the soldiers and the police tried to limit the number of people; the women, older men and children were not supposed to pass through until 12:00. One of the young women we spoke with said the same rules applied last year, but the women were allowed to pass through much earlier, because of the large number that had gathered. Clearly, nothing was learned last year, so the women again came to the checkpoint very early in the morning, hoping that the gates would open long before 12:00.
The Humanitarian Gate did not open at all until almost 6:30. By that time the line was very long and people with medical permits were mixed in with women who wanted to get through the check point to be with family and to pray at Al Aksa. One young woman had a special medical permit issued by the Red Crescent that allowed her to pass through the checkpoint at any time and on any day. The policeman in charge looked at the permit and then screamed at her to go back. Ronny called over the head of the Civil Administration and showed him the permit. He apologized to the young woman and told her it would be difficult to get her through early, but he at least encouraged her to move up to the front of the line. A set of parents waited a long time in the Humanitarian Gate line in order to get to Jerusalem to get medical treatment in for their child who had cancer. Ronny again tried to help them but could not get the soldiers and security personnel to open the gate.
At one point, one of the three carousels broke down. The pressure to go through the other two was so great that a crowd of men broke through the main gate. The policeman in charge was furious and kept screaming at the people to move back or else he would take their permits away. He and other security guards then chained the gate together.
This police officer, who we have noted many times is an angry, unforgiving, coarse individual, lost control of the crowd because he had allowed too many people, in too tight and tense a situation, to accumulate. In his effort to show who was in charge, he refused to open the Humanitarian Gate early and had created the situation in which the main gate was broken.
Ronny and I noticed two young men who were about 14 or 15 years old and who were dressed very nicely in western-style suits. They were brothers, born in Canada, but who lived in Dubai. They spoke perfect English. They were sent to their uncle in Ramallah so they could experience Ramadan in Jerusalem. The boys were appalled by what they saw and told us that the people were being treated like animals.
This was one of the worst days we have witnessed. The lack of respect shown to the people at the check point was difficult for us to witness. It was hard to believe that the situation created today could happen in a Jewish and democratic state. It should be noted that next year, at the end of Ramadan, the rules that apply on Fridays, should be applied during the last week of special Ramadan celebrations. Then again, it would be wonderful if there were no checkpoints next year and no need for special rules.