Translator: Charles K.
On International Human Rights Day they refused our request to open the humanitarian gate at the Qalandiya checkpoint.
But, up to that point, we’d been favorably impressed by conditions at the checkpoint. From 05:30, when we arrived, until 06:30, when we were about to leave, the lines were relatively short (and never extended past the canopied area – which was good, because it was very cold). The revolving gates at the end of the three narrow fenced corridors (which everyone calls “the cages”) opened frequently, and people went through the five inspection stations at a reasonable rate (we timed with a stopwatch people going through the various corridors; it took them from 20 to 35 minutes each).
A policewoman arrived at 06:10, but when we asked her to open the humanitarian gate – because a woman, and then a man with a small child were waiting there, and other women who were in the lines leading to the fenced corridors were watching to see whether the humanitarian gate would open – she refused, saying “it’s not necessary; there’s no congestion.” A few minutes later the DCO officer emerged; we spoke with her about the policy regarding the humanitarian gate. We tried to explain that it should be opened not only to relieve congestion on the other lines but also so women could avoid being crowded together with men in the narrow corridors – much less to enable children to avoid the “experience” of going through the cages. But the policewoman and the DCO officer didn’t back down, and told us (and the guy from Blue-White who also made a similar request) to “be serious.” A few minutes later an additional policeman arrived and said, in an annoyed tone, that if they open the humanitarian gate they’d have to assign the fifth inspection station to people using it (something we hadn’t requested, nor did we understand why it would be necessary), which would lengthen unjustifiably how long others trying to get to work on time would have to wait.
We felt torn. On the one hand, that inspections have been faster and people have moved more quickly through the checkpoint as a whole in recent weeks (on Tuesday mornings, at least) is worth noting, and praiseworthy. On the other hand, the function of the humanitarian gate isn’t clear any more. If it’s only to create a fourth lane when the others are congested – as we were told – and if one of the inspection stations is dedicated only to people going through the humanitarian lane, then it’s true that some people get priority – women on their way to work, for example – which isn’t fair to the men waiting on the other lines.
But if the gate serves other purposes – making it easier for the elderly, respect for women who don’t want to be jammed among the men in the cages, concern for children – its use isn’t necessarily linked to how crowded the checkpoint is. We’re afraid that if we don’t insist on the right of those groups to use the humanitarian gate when they want to, it won’t be used at all. When those in charge of the humanitarian gate see “congestion” instead of people, we fear for its future.
At 06:30 people began freely going through the leftmost corridor. As we were about to leave, a man approached us for help; his work permit had been confiscated at the inspection station and he was sent back. When we asked whether he had any idea why, he said that a distant relative had been killed in Yatta, near Hebron, two weeks ago, and he himself had been jailed for 12 days and released without a trial. He appeared broken. He said he’s a contractor, he has workers and heavy equipment waiting in Jerusalem (he works in Pisgat Ze’ev), and has no way of getting to the workers or the machines. When we told him about Sylvia and gave him her phone number, he said he’d heard of her and that he’ll call after 08:00. As usual after such incidents, we left Qalandiya with very heavy hearts.