A particularly difficult morning at Qalandiya
The lines stretched far into the parking lot this cold, rainy morning when we arrived at 05:10. Only three of the five inspection stations were open; the lines moved annoyingly slowly. We twice telephoned the operations office to no avail (again they claimed they were short of manpower). The remaining stations opened toward 06:00, the humanitarian gate at 06:05. But the damage had already been done – long lines all through the fenced corridors and people upset.
At 05:25 the orderly lines collapsed; men began shoving each other and even came to blows at the entrances to the fenced corridors in order to enter first. It’s a young man’s game: the older men immediately withdraw so they won’t be caught in the congestion and be crushed at the entrance or in the narrow corridors between the bars which everyone calls “the pens.” But, as it happened, the victim this time was a young man who collapsed either at the entrance or within the corridor (it wasn’t possible to see where because of the surrounding crowd) and was taken away by others – at first to rest in the covered area and later (so he’d have air) to the sidewalk outside of the checkpoint entrance. We immediately spoke to the duty policeman who yelled to us to call an ambulance. It turned out the Palestinians had already done so; a Red Crescent ambulance came within 15 minutes despite the terrible traffic jam at the checkpoint.
Because of the incident we heard, of course, twice as many complaints and requests from those waiting about the unacceptable manner in which the checkpoint is managed and what the way it’s run says to the Palestinians (even without any additional harsh words from a soldier or policeman). We recommended to everyone who complained to us (there were many) to encourage their employers to write complaining about the operation of the checkpoint – to the army, the police and to the Ministry of Defense. Some liked the idea; others laughed at it bitterly – and we could only imagine how their bosses treat them.
A physician and two medical students approached us near the humanitarian gate, asking for help. They had permits to participate in a continuing medical education training course at St. John Hospital but the duty policeman wouldn’t allow them through the gate. I called the DCO soldier, asked why they weren’t permitted to go through the humanitarian gate and he allowed them to do so. I mention this only as a small example of the capricious, arbitrary manner in which the checkpoint is run, including how many inspection stations are open during rush hour and who’s allowed to go through the humanitarian gate.
For a few months now I’ve been reporting on the deteriorating situation at Qalandiya, and despite the reports and complaints that have been forwarded to the army there’s been no improvement. The report by European diplomats about the difficult conditions in East Jerusalem, which was published this weekend in Ha’aretz, only strengthens the suspicion (which the Palestinians have been certain of for a long time) that the poor management of the checkpoint is part of the policy of making the lives of Palestinians in the eastern part of the city – and in the West Bank as a whole - as difficult as possible, so that….what? They evaporate? As we were told by one of the people waiting: “If they don’t want us to come to Jerusalem, they shouldn’t give us permits. But they do give us permits, and then make us suffer like this every single morning. Why?”