The End of the Humanitarian Gate?
When we arrived at the checkpoint at 5:00, new arrivals were entering freely through one of the three “cages” and lining up at the five opening checking stations, creating long lines at the entries to the stations but no tension as a result. This free flow – due the fact that the soldier in “aquarium” was asleep -- continued until 5:20, when he woke up and closed the carousel at the end of the cage. He soon opened it again, generously allowing people through. However, this situation ended at 5:30, when long lines extended out of two of the three cages, and the soldier (for reasons unknown) was opening the carousel of only one of them.
Unable to establish contact with him, we called the Civil Administration (Matak) line to ask the soldier on duty there to contact the soldier in the aquarium and ask him to open both carousels. But we fell upon a considerably hostile and nasty young man who essentially told us to mind our own business and hung up. (Before he did so, we asked and received his name, though somehow think it is an Israeli version of the generic John Smith. We will register a complaint, however, at the soldier’s obstructionist behavior.) We also noticed that no one was lining up in the third cage – the one whose carousel at had proved problematic in the past – perhaps because they knew from experience that it was problematic again.
Just after 5:30 a policeman came out and began to direct the opening of the carousels. From then on, the flow moved fairly regularly, so that the two cages had emptied by 6:30. We believe that the free entry of people to the checking stations between 5:00 and approximately5:30 contributed considerably to this situation.
On the other hand, the Humanitarian Gate was not opened at all this morning, although at various times people were lined up in front of it. At 6:15 we called the Civil Administration line to ask that the soldier or officer in charge of the operating gate be sent out but were told by the same obstructionist soldier who answered earlier that the CA representative was at the checkpoint and that we should talk to him/her. When we explained that this was precisely was the problem – the CA soldier had not come to the checkpoint to open the gate – he simply repeated his contention that he/she was. When I asked to speak to his commander, the conversation came to an end.
We then called the Humanitarian Line to explain the situation and were politely told by the soldier on duty that all he could so for us was transfer us to the CA line at Qalandia, where we had twice met a blank wall. (And given that, what, we wondered, is the Humanitarian Line for?). We then tried to get the attention of the policeman ensconced in the aquarium to ask for his help in bringing the CA soldier out to open the gate. But he did not deign to come out of the aquarium to speak with us, and we could not hear his answer. When a policewoman arrived, at about 6:20 we asked her to help get the soldier in charge of the Humanitarian Gate to come out. She replied: “He’s on his way.” When more time passed, no one appeared, and a security guard came out, we asked him about the CA soldier – for after all, it is his job to protect this soldier when he opens the Humanitarian Gate – but he would not speak with us.
At that point, the group of women lined up at the gate at various times simply gave up and joined the line through the cages. We were particularly anxious to speak with the CA soldier in order to help a man who had been turned away at a checking station earlier in the morning. His family reunification permit had expired the day before, and he had acquired a permit to visit his family in Nazareth and go to a medical appointment there later this morning. But the new permit stated he was entitled to enter from 15.4.15 through 25.4.15, and today was the 14th. His magnetic card showed that he was 60 years old, so that, according to the latest policy, he did not require a permit to enter Israel – which he knew. But he had been turned away nonetheless.
When, despite our repeated calls and efforts, no Civil Administration (CA) soldier turned up, the man took the initiative to ask the policewoman for help. She, in turn, called for a CA soldier to come to the checkpoint and deal with the issue. Once a CA officer finally arrived, there was considerable consultation about how to solve this onerous problem – you’d have thought that the poor man, who had recently had open-heart surgery, was the reincarnation of Osama Bin Laden – and finally it was suggested to him that he not show his new permit at the checking station but merely produce the card showing that he was 60 years old, which, by itself, should get him through. If it did not, he could return to the policewoman and hope for the best. While she was there, we asked the CA officer why no one had come to open the Humanitarian Gate that morning. She snippily told us that it was not necessary to operate the gate because there was no “pressure” today. “Do you see anyone standing here?” she snapped, pointing to the gate. We told her that people had been there at various times earlier but after wasting their time there had simply had given up --at which point she turned her back on us and walked away.Which again begs the question: Is there a policy on the opening of Humanitarian Gates, especially regarding their operation to ease the passage of women? And if so, can we receive some written evidence of this policy to bring to the checkpoints in case of need?
We also cannot help but ask whether there is a new policy in the Civil Administration (or at least in the Jerusalem Envelope) to pursue an obstructionist course in the operation of the Qalandia checkpoint. For example, at a recent meeting of human rights organizations with, among others, Civil Administration (DCO) officers regarding the Qalandia and Shuafat checkpoints, we were told that a CA soldier or officer would be present to open the Humanitarian Gate beginning at 5:00 a.m. Yet one of the CA soldiers with whom we spoke about this new policy at Qalandia said he had never heard of it – and, indeed, we have never seen a soldier or officer arrive before 6:00 or 6:15. This morning, moreover, no one came out at all -- and none of the people standing before the gate were given an explanation, so they stood there wasting their time in vain. And when we called the CA line to clarify the situation, we were lied to and rebuffed.
So we’re forced to wonder: Is this the end of the Humanitarian Gate? Or are the people entitled to use it just going to have to learn to live with the caprice of hostile Israelis who are supposed to be serving their needs but abuse them instead?