The eve of the second holiday of Passover. Two days of closure. Two more days of closure.
Not many Palestinians come to the checkpoint during a closure.
A drowsy soldier, who’s probably bitter at having to spend the holiday at this lousy place, presses distractedly on the button that opens the gate, and closes it. Opens and closes it, opens and closes it again.
Minutes passed, people waited, time oozed by, the soldier doesn’t care. His minutes seem to creep by. Minutes, hours – they’re all the same to him; so are all the people. Some pass before him, others arrive. He presses and releases the button. He’s in no hurry.
He admits them three at a time. Three, then closes. And waits. And opens, and closes. And even when the rule of three separates a child from his mother – the child’s inside, the mother’s outside, both of them panicking, the soldier doesn’t hurry to reunite them.
“What can we do? – They have the button,” a man says, an experienced old-timer.
He’s right. They have that button and all the other buttons. The button that opens, the button that closes, the button that fires, the button that detains. Buttons and more buttons, and they have them all.
But the real truth is not so visible: the fact that the DCL offices where Palestinians obtain (or not) crossing permits are closed for four days in a row. When the days the offices are closed for the weekend follow immediately upon the days they’re closed for the holiday those needing their services stand helplessly before the locked doors and the insensitivity.
Nor is the sign, blue letters on a gray background, any help:
Weekends and holidays
Call the DCL at:
Someone picks up, but has no answers.
One man learned that the hard way. His infant daughter, “who’ll be one month old in three days,” was scheduled for an operation at the St. John Ophthalmic Hospital in East Jerusalem; she was to have been admitted Monday, during the holiday. The father came to the Qalandiya checkpoint to obtain a crossing permit for his wife to stay with the infant in the hospital, take care of her, nurse her. But the offices are closed. Holiday eve. Closure. He called the phone number on the sign, called the health liason officer, called Physicians for Human Rights. “Go to the Zeitim checkpoint,” they told him. “They’ll give it to you.”
He went to the Zeitim checkpoint, but those offices are also shut because of the closure. He stood outside waiting, telephoned again to everyone he’d already called: “It’s being prepared,” they told him. Hours passed. He didn’t eat or drink, just “stood chain-smoking,” he said.
All the operators told him nothing’s standing in the way of the permit, it already appears in the computer, but they’re not the ones who print it out. The Palestinians know if they don’t have a piece of paper in hand – there’s no permit. He kept waiting.
And after trying again and more phone calls and more discussions they promised that everything was arranged, that he and his wife and baby should come tomorrow, during the holiday, and the soldiers would let them through even if he doesn’t have a piece of paper in hand. I promise, says the officer.
That night he was troubled by doubts.
And the next morning something incredible occurred – the soldiers at the checkpoint knew about it and let the mother and infant through without a piece of paper. What goes without saying in every normal human society seems like a small miracle under occupation.
We thank Husam Liftawi and Amal Zeida, of Physicians for Human Rights, who spared no effort to help open the way for one infant “who’ll be one month old in three days” and her mother.