A very crowded morning at the Qalandiya checkpoint but M., the policeman, doesn’t understand what people crossing are complaining about: You see the soldiers in the booths are working – do they look like they’re playing backgammon? The shed is only faintly illuminated, most of the fluorescent bulbs aren’t working. Physicians go through the humanitarian crossing, but not nurses. Can the doctor work without a staff??? asks a male nurse who was turned back. A heart patient complains he wasn’t allowed to go through the humanitarian crossing – if you’re sick don’t go to work, they told him. Who’ll support the family?
This week we picked up Violetta, a young woman, a journalist from Germany who’s visiting Israel. Her paper has a journalist stationed in Israel; Violetta came to visit. She toured the West Bank with Daniela, and that’s how she came with us to see how the checkpoint operates during peak hours.
We arrived at Qalandiya checkpoint relatively late, at about 05:25, and were met by long lines that already stretched to the parking lot. Four of the five inspection booths were open. Only at 05:45 did the fifth open, after M, the policeman, was already there along with the blonde female policewoman. The lines kept lengthening.
The condition of the bathrooms is terrible, like in the past, only the women’s bathrooms are open, with no running water. The cake seller complains about the lighting in the shed, most of the fluorescent bulbs aren’t working. Only the row closest to the cages is lit.
Violetta interviews a person employed in the American school who speaks English well. He can go through the humanitarian crossing and is waiting for it to open at 06:00. He tells her about the troubles he and his colleagues have every day. He asks to remain nameless. Later she interviews someone else, on the regular line, who complains about the situation. It will take more than an hour to cross today. The lines stretch far into the parking lot. I took Violetta outside and showed her the long lines and the heavy traffic at the plaza and before it, on the way to the vehicle checkpoint.
The lines grow longer and longer. When one of the people waiting asks M. to hurry up the inspections, he replies, “You see the soldiers are working; do they look like they’re playing backgammon?” At least this time it’s said with a smile, not shouted aggressively.
Toward 06:00 the DCL officer arrived along with two female soldiers in training. They came to open the humanitarian gate. We know that officer; he usually behaves politely. This time M., the policeman, accompanied him and rigorously inspected the IDs, the documents and the permits. A male nurse complains he’s not allowed through. He usually goes through, but not today. Physicians are allowed to go through the humanitarian crossing, but not other medical staff. How can a doctor work without nurses, he wonders. I’m going to work, aren’t I, to help people. “Does he think I come from Hebron?” he adds with a laugh (also in Palestine it seems the “northerners,” those from the central West Bank, feel somewhat superior to their southern brothers from Hebron…).
A heart patient also tries to go through the humanitarian gate. The regular line is difficult today and dangerous for him. They often let him go through even though he lacks the required permits. Today he’s refused. M. told him, “If you’re sick – stay home. Don’t go to work.” A statement appropriate from someone who can easily allow himself to lose a day of work, knowing he’ll be paid nevertheless and entitled to sick days. But a Palestinian who misses a day of work won’t be paid, and who’ll provide for his family?
Later we even saw the officer let someone through the humanitarian gate when the policeman wasn’t beside him. He had already gone through the gate and the revolving gate beyond, and was on his way to wait at the inspection booths, but then M. arrived (who apparently knows the man), rebuked the officer, “Why did you let him through?”, approached him and inspected his documents. Apparently he’s not entitled to use the humanitarian crossing, according to the rules, and M. is no shirker and makes the effort to send him back through the revolving gate and the humanitarian gate so he’ll have to wait on the regular line. The officer gives up, enters the “aquarium” with his trainees, leaves M. to handle the humanitarian crossing. I wonder what the young female soldiers learned today…
Slightly after 07:00 they no longer opened the humanitarian gate, and sent everyone to the regular line. At about 07:20, when the lines finally shortened, we also got joined them. It took us 20 minutes to go through. Violetta, who stood on a different line, was delayed. It turned out there was some problem with her visa; they told her she was supposed to have some additional document in her passport. But the soldier made a phone call, received authorization and she went through.