A particularly bad morning at Qalandiya
As we’ve been doing recently, we parked on the Israeli side and crossed on foot. At the entrance we detoured around a large group of people praying and went through. There are already lines on the Palestinian side at 05:15 even though all five lanes are open. The beigel and pastry sellers are already here, and Ayman’s coffee stand is open. They have more work when there are lines. At this time you primarily hear the birds chirping.
We were astounded to see that the signs above four of the five inspection lanes are red, i.e., the booths are closed. Is only one lane open? And if so, why are people standing in line so quietly and patiently? But quickly we saw that all five booths are open, but the signs hadn’t been updated. That, unfortunately, is all we have to report that’s positive this morning…
The revolving gate at the end of one of the cages, the one farthest from us, is stuck. We couldn’t see whether it’s blocked by a police barrier, as in the past, but people aren’t entering, they’re standing in two lengthening lines. It’s hard for us to understand how this hi-tech nation has so much trouble operating and maintaining simple mechanical devices. It’s so frustrating that later, when the situation became terrible, someone told us the army purposely breaks the revolving gate to make it harder for the laborers.
Two police officers arrived at about 05:30, and soon after they came the signs above the lanes turned green. Apparently they called the soldiers’ attention to the fact the signs indicated the lanes were closed. At this stage women were still allowed to join the front of the lines, nearest the revolving gates, as usual, so none waited at the humanitarian gate. The problem was that the crossing operated very slowly and people on line began getting impatient. And then, at about 05:40, when the revolving gates opened, many people began pushing into the cages and within seconds the lines became one huge pile of people, shouting and pulsing. The few women retreated immediately and went to wait at the humanitarian gate. Many others also moved back; the benches filled. People approach us. Some blame their compatriots for pushing, others try to explain. The congestion is because crossing proceeds slowly. People are afraid to be late to work and miss hours of work, or the entire day, or even their job. Sometime the employer’s transportation waits outside. Some have already come through and telephone those who haven’t to urge them to hurry, threaten to leave without them. And so, as soon as the revolving gates open the stressed people on line try to crowd forward and be first into the cages (just before the revolving gate) and the result is a pile of people. They tell us the lines outside stretch through the parking lot all the way to the road, and as we know two more buses will arrive at 6 AM filled with employees of Of Atarot.
Toward 6 AM dozens of people already wait at the humanitarian gate. A security guard arrives followed by P., the noncom, and the humanitarian gate opens. They check who’s entitled to go through. Whoever isn’t entitled must return to the regular line; as things stand now it will take him a very long time to go through. We stopped for tea, understanding we’re in for a long morning (though we didn’t yet know how long). There are already three people at Ayman’s stand serving the crowd, from the front also from the side. When we went back in many were still waiting at the humanitarian gate. The blonde policewoman had also arrived. We saw no cats today.
People speak with us. Complain about the situation. Complain the soldiers don’t pay attention to what they’re doing, are inefficient, are busy with their smart phones. Everything goes smoothly when they want it to, the crossing flows. Yesterday, for example, they say, everything was OK. One man, not very young, spoke to us. He works in the Mateh Yehuda regional council in Ein Rafa. He said once, when the shoving started, he also began pushing but his arm and his glasses were broken. Since then, when the shoving begins, he moves back and waits. He shows us people photographing what’s going on to show their employers why they’re late. We asked why their employers, particularly those with businesses in Atarot, don’t complain to the Civil Administration that their workers can’t arrive on time. One says the employers don’t care. If one worker doesn’t show up, another will. Others say their employers did complain, but to no avail.
Meanwhile P. lets one group after another through the humanitarian gate. A woman with a baby stroller needs P.’s attention, along with two other policemen, to ensure she’ll be able to bypass the revolving gates to the inspection lanes. One man complains to us about P., says it’s a mess when he’s here. We don’t know the basis for his complaint. Today, for example, the confusion started before P. arrived. He works quietly, as usual, politely and efficiently.
Very many people were still there after 7 AM, piles of people still pushing at the entrances to the cages, but orderly lines began forming again behind them. We went out for a short break. We saw a worker wearing a fluorescent jacket sweeping the parking lot. He seemed to be adding insult to injury, considering how much garbage lay all around. When we went back inside, at about 07:30, the lines were already orderly, but two people argued loudly at the entrance to the cages, their friends either trying to separate them or taking sides. We feared that as soon as the revolving gates open the pushing will begin again, but we were happy to see that didn’t happen. The crossing still went very slowly and lines kept forming at the humanitarian gate. “You see?” a woman says to me. Yes, I see. Another, who sees me making notes, says, “Write, write down what’s happening.” Yes, I’m writing, but it doesn’t seem to matter to anyone…
Things calmed down about 8 AM. P. left. A young cleaning worker who looked Jewish arrived, to clean and wash the floor of the aquarium where our forces sit. The lines were still long; people went to the humanitarian gate to find out whether it will reopen. We tried to ask. The soldier said he didn’t know. Others ignored us. But later a guard arrived with a key and he and the policewoman opened it again. Many immediately left the regular line and came over. P. also came back.
At about 08:10 there was a line only in the cages and it didn’t seem as if the humanitarian gate would open again today. We joined the line in the cages and then the line to one of the booths. It took a terribly long time. We heard the female soldier in the adjacent booth reprimanding people over the loudspeaker. Demanding to see the permit, not the magnetic card, telling them that whoever presents the card “will be kicked to the rear.” It’s doubtful people understood her, or why she wants this and not that. When our turn finally came they wondered who we were. After Chana explained we’re from Machsom Watch, and why we’re here, they relented. We still had to wait for them to key our ID numbers into the computer and for our images to appear on the screen before allowing us through. It’s not clear why they need it, and what the point is. The information wasn’t in the computer of the soldier in the booth; he read out the number to the female soldier in the adjacent booth and I saw my picture and information appear on her screen.
At about 08:30 we finally reached the Israeli side of the checkpoint. It was our longest shift at Qalandiya. We reached the city center only towards 09:00.