"Where do you think you're going? Turn back and don't come here again."
A bad Friday morning at Qalandiya.
9:00 The sun is shining. After having read the report about the terrible traffic jam at the exit from Qalandiya, we decide to leave our car before the checkpoint. We walk between the Arab taxis waiting for passengers (?). The drivers are friendly to us. When we enter the terminal, the line is not long. Two sleeves and three inner lanes are open. A Swedish volunteer is happy to see us. Later on a Canadian volunteer takes over. A young woman with a baby in a cart and two more children reaches the line. The sleeve is too narrow for her to pass through with the baby in the cart. She has to fold the cart and pull it behind her while carrying a few bags in her hands. She hands the baby over to his "big" brother – a 6-7 year old boy. Next to him his younger brother, maybe five years old, is standing. The four of them move forward very slowly. There is no humanitarian line on Fridays. When the family reaches the end of the line, the three children pass through the checkpoint while their mother is stuck behind with the cart and the bags. We measure the time it takes to cross – an hour. No doubt, the children will remember their encounters with the Jewish democratic state.
The line is getting longer. We are told that the soldiers at the check posts are not in a hurry, quite the opposite. They have time (until their release from the army). It's kind of abuse – the people explain. A journalist from Ramallah is standing in our line. We ask her if people are not afraid to cross at Qalandiya in these stormy times. She answers that they are used to it. It's their reality.
9:30 One army policeman is sitting in the bunker. When we need to talk to him he isn't prepared to answer. He "sees" us, but he doesn't speak Arabic, and as he says, "I hardly speak Hebrew". He can't help people because he doesn't understand what they say…and there is no one else to speak to. A father with two daughters asks to be let through check since they are on their way to the hospital. The soldier answers that they will be taken care of. Evidently, he was right because they don't come back. The policeman opens an additional sleeve so that those not permitted to cross will be able to get out. However, people waiting in the long lines notice the open passage and move over to stand there. A man who has been sent back gets stuck. He can't get out. He's a big man and the sleeve is narrow. After some shouting and pushing he manages to squeeze his way out.
10:00 Beyond the sleeves a troubled woman is walking back and forth. We are told that she is ill and has asked to go back. The soldier/policeman cannot open the humanitarian gate. We call the DCO. The soldier tells us it's not our business. The police is in charge. We demand that somebody come; the lines are long; there is only one soldier in the bunker and he isn't able to help; the soldier at the DCO persists, he has been told that everything is o.k. and that there is a female officer at the checkpoint! But we are here, and the lines are long. A sick woman has to return but cannot do so, and we don't see any female officer anywhere. Of course, the soldier explains to us that he knows that everything is o.k. and that everything is being taken care of.
Suddenly, an energetic officer appears. He tries to "organize" things. There is no key to the humanitarian gate. Those who need help will have to join the ( long…) line. This is also what he tells the heavy old woman leaning on her stick who asks him to open the gate. "Today it's closed." We get desperate and call Hanna Berg. After some time she returns our call promising that a female officer will arrive to take care of things. Hanna, thanks.
10:15 Due to personal reasons we have to return to Tel-Aviv. We join one of the lines.
10:35 We have passed the first turnstile and are now being squeezed in the sleeve. Some people having been checked and ordered to return are coming towards us. A man speaking Hebrew explains that they are tourists From Amman. They received their visas in Amman and were told that they would be able to visit Jerusalem. The local agent has taken their passports and left them with photo copies of their passports and with the documents from their crossing at Sheikh Hussein. (After they talk to the local agent they explain to us that their passports have been taken from them, since, otherwise, they as tourists might remain in Israel. Would that be legal?) The female soldiers who check them don't let them through and explain to them what they have to do, who to turn to, what's not o.k. We call the local agent who says they should go to the checkpoint at Hizme. There it will be o.k. We are not sure. Beyond the sleeve, we notice that the female officer has arrived. She is talking to the people on the other side of the fence. Maybe they will open an additional lane? We're already far away.
So again – Hanna, thanks.
While waiting in line we hear the loud voice of a female soldier. Everybody understands. At the check post, she is shouting and talking very rudely to people, mostly in Hebrew spiced with useful words in Arabic. She is holding an ID card belonging to a woman who has been waiting for an hour in the crowded line. Angrily she shouts at her: "How old are you?!! How old are you?!! How old are you?!! How old are you?!!" Evidently the woman has tried to "lie to her". She's not 60 years old. But the soldier doesn't just tell her to move back, she keeps shouting at her even though she knows her age "How old are you? How old are you?" She wants the woman to admit that she "hasn't behaved well". She keeps on until the woman pleads guilty. When we arrive at the checking we are being treated just the same. Democracy or not? Michal is told to take off her shoes and to return to the window, where she has to stand like a little girl being reprimanded by the soldier who has noticed that Michal does not really approve of her behavior. The soldier locks the last turnstile and does not let us through until Michal tells her in a loud voice what really bothers her. Michal says that everything is fine, since behind us, a long line is being delayed, and people who have been waiting an hour already are in a hurry to be in time for prayer which starts in 15 minutes. "Did you have a good time, was it fun", she shouts at Michal. Her friend, another female soldier, is angry: "Now, you're not complaining but later, you will write bad things about us, won't you?" We will.
11:15 We have got what we deserve, the turnstile opens and we escape from this bad place as fast as we can.