We reached Qalandiya at 3:40 PM. A group of 4 people was standing at the entrance to the northern shed, an impressive man about 6 ft. tall and three women, one of them quite young and sitting in a wheelchair. Near them was a large pile of valises and bags. We immediately guessed that they were returning to the Gaza Strip after medical treatment in the West Bank. It turned out that they had not yet collected their transit permits but had been told that the documents were waiting in the DCO offices. After they got organized, I accompanied the man to the DCO passageway at 4 PM, but the soldiers on duty blithely told him that the DCO was closed for the day and that they should all come back tomorrow (this to people who had just been released from hospital, had hardly enough money to pay for their journey back to Gaza and where were they supposed to spend the night in the bitter cold of winter in Jerusalem?). Luckily, just at this moment two policemen appeared! When we told them what the problem was, one of them assumed responsibility and said he would take care of things. Within minutes the man and one of the women were allowed into the DCO offices where they were issued permits for all four. In the meantime, a polite and smiling female officer (who also spoke Arabic) came and opened the humanitarian gate, allowing the girl in the wheelchair and the third woman to enter the CP. At this point it looked as if things were under control and progressing nicely. The man returned to the northern shed where he organized the trip to Gaza and loaded all the parcels into the taxi which set out to cross through Qalandiya CP to pick up the passengers from the Jerusalem side of the terminal. By this time it was about 4:30 PM and the people were getting a bit nervous because the transit permits were good only until 7 PM. We began to look for the officer who had helped the girl in the wheelchair enter the CP so that she would open the remaining gates to Jerusalem, allowing all to reach the loaded taxi. But the officer was nowhere to be found. We phoned headquarters (where no one answered the phone), the medical hotline (where they told us our problem was not in their jurisdiction but that they would try to help [to no avail]) and, in the end out of desperation, Hannah Barag who continued to accompany us until the end of the saga. Meanwhile, the four from Gaza got in line in Passageway 1 while Hannah tried to get those responsible to send someone to open the gates and let the invalid through. (Hannah spent ¾ of an hour on the phone just trying to get them to open the humanitarian gates!) At this point, one of the Palestinian men standing in line with us suggested that I enter the passageway with two of the Gazans and that we explain the problem facing us to the soldiers on duty in the hope that they could solve the problem. The first two Gazans passed through the CP while I explained things to the soldiers. I was then asked to leave the passageway before she would take action. After I returned to the line in the passageway I could just see the soldier trying to communicate something in pantomime (apparently the PA system was not working). In the end we understood that she was telling us that the gate operated electronically and that we had only to pull it in order to open it for the girl to pass through. We did so and the last two Gazans went through on their way to the waiting taxi and home. Just about this time the helpful officer returned. It was now 5:30 PM.
What can we learn from the above saga?
a) There appears to be no fixed (and widely known) procedure governing the actions of soldiers serving in the CP. (If there was a procedure, someone might have explained quickly and quietly how we and the Palestinians should act in order to solve the problems and facilitate their passage.)
b) In the absence of an established course of action, passage through the CP is a matter of luck – of whether the Palestinian attempting passage meets up with someone who is able and willing to help him navigate the obstacles.
c) The Israeli administration of the Occupation is clearly presented as inefficient, ineffective, degrading and insulting.