Virginia S., Ina F. (reporting) Translator: Judith Green
A morning of indifference, contempt and hostility at the Qalandiya checkpoint.
There were already long lines when we arrived at 5:50 and we found all 5 inspection booths were open.
A bit after 6:00, it turned out that one of the turnstiles - once again, the one at the end of the right-hand lane - was out of operation. We got the attention of the policeman on duty. We told him that the turnstile did not open and asked him to announce this to everyone on the loud speaker, in Arabic, that this turnstile was not work so that the people standing in that lane would leave it and new people would stop going in. In return, we got screams from the policeman that he knew about the problem and he had already told people that the turnstile was broken, but it didn't help. (that is, the real problem was with the people and not with the turnstile).
We went to stand next to the broken turnstile to see what was the matter there. The people in line told us that turnstile had previously been fine, so they continued to stand in line with the understanding that the problem was actually with the soldier who was responsible for opening that turnstile. That he simply hadn't opened it (sort of a conspiracy theory; since, in a situation where you don't treat people as human beings with minimal respect, anything goes). Since we had seen with our own eyes that the responsible solider had pressed on the button to open that turnstile, and it nevertheless failed to open, we called the DCO office and asked them to make contact with the soldier and ask him simply to announce on the loud speaker that there was a problem with #1 turnstile so that people could decide where they preferred to stand. We didn't hear any such announcement afterward.
Meanwhile, the order in the lines was totally chaotic and the young people took out their frustration on each other, by pushing next to the entrance to the 2 other lanes, while the older more cautious men moved away from the lanes lest they be injured in the chaos.
Finally: after a break, the broken turnstile reopened! The next time, and then got stuck again. In that situation, nobody knew what to do - to wait in the same lane, or not to leave it, to join the end of the line of one of the other lanes, at a time when all of the lines had extended beyond the roofed area. And the lines continued to spread beyond the roofed area of the checkpoint until the time when we left,at 7:30.
The Humanitarian Gate opened at 8:00 and again whenever a lot of people stood next to it.
At 7:20, an elderly man entered the checkpoint, apparently quite sick; the whites of his eyes were yellow. He wore a surgical mask, and leaned on a young man on either side as he slowly made his way, one step at a time. It was difficult to watch someone in such a condition, with no choice other than to come to the checkpoint by foot and to wait there until they opened the gates and the turnstile. We accompanied him to the Humanitarian Gate. The people there made way for him up to the Gate itself, and we saw the soldier from the DCO who was responsible for opening the Gate stand there with his back to us (and to the sick man), talking with a Palestinian woman who had already passed through the Gate. We don't have any complaint. This was the soldier whom we already knew was quite responsible and even helped people who turned to him for help. The problem was simply to turn his attention to a situation which required immediate treatment.
Not far from him, a policeman was standing as well as a guard. But their eyes and ears failed when we tried to get their attention. All we wanted was to ask them to bring the sick man to the notice of the soldier. They simply ignored us. Then we called the Humanitarian Hotline to ask them to contact the solider on his mobile phone, but they transferred us to the DCO line at Kalandia, which didn't answer. In the end, we did what we should have done at the beginning: we simply screamed at the top of our lungs "There is an elderly man here who is very sick. Please come to open the Gate for him!" The soldier heard and came.
Recently, we heard from the IDF and the police pleasant reports about the improvement in service at the Kalandia checkpoint and plans for further improvement in the coming months. But then, you spend a morning like this at the checkpoint and you can cry from discouragement and anger. They claim that we, the MachsomWatch women, interfere with the work of the police, guards and soldiers at the checkpoints. And the truth is that this morning we did try to interfere - with the atmosphere of indifference, the contempt and even hostility showed towards the Palestinians who are going through the checkpoint, by the police and (as the people who go through here every morning tell us, over and over again) - by the military police who man the inspection booths. It is not pleasant to stand there and shout, and we try to relate respectfully to the soldiers and the police, with the hope that they will treat us respectfully in return. But how can one not shout in the face of total lack of responsibility of the people running the checkpoint, toward their own work, which has such a drastic effect on so many people who just want to get to work or to the hospital or to school in time. Shameful.