We returned to Qalandiya after a long absence. First, there were all the holidays with trips abroad and then the complicated security situation occurred. Members who tried to reach the checkpoint two weeks ago were blocked by the Border Police at the turn to Atarot on road 443. Now, it seems that the situation has calmed down a bit so we decided to go back. Because of the winter time it was still dark and cold outside. We arrived at the checkpoint at about 5:20 after parking on the Israeli side. Five check posts were already open and the long lines reached the parking. The place was filthy. We greeted the beigel vendor and the people waiting in line. We didn't see the cake vendor but the coffee stall outside was already open. People said they were ok when we asked how they felt. Evidently, ok is a relative concept…
At first, the lines were organized. A female soldier and a policeman were in the aquarium. From time to time the policeman went outside telling the soldier when to open the turnstiles at the end of the fenced-off areas. Soon, a second soldier arrived. There seemed to be a lot of pressure at the entrance to the fenced-off areas and we feared the lines might be disrupted. And surely, at 5:40 the shouting and the pushing began. There was a large crowd at the entrance to the fenced-off areas. Old people together with others who didn't want to be pushed around moved backwards. The benches filled with waiting people. A woman whom we know arrived right after the confusion started. Usually, she joins the line at the entrance to the fenced-off area quite confidently but this time she had to wait on the side hoping that the humanitarian gate might open. She told us that lately the gate had remained closed. People told us that yesterday there had been a big mess too. They complained that even after you reach the check post it takes a long time before they let you cross. One of the soldiers was sitting on the bench outside the aquarium. He was smoking a cigarette while paying no attention to what was going on.
Meanwhile, many people had gathered at the humanitarian gate. They told us that lately it had remained closed. We spoke to a teacher at the English School who complained about being late for classes day after day. Somebody else told us that he works in Bet Iksa near Ramot. It's a 10-15-minute drive from his house to his job. The day before it had taken him 4 hours to get there. Today he had left home at 5 am. He has to be at his job at 7:10. It seemed today would be just as bad. You can't be late for work every day! A third person said that the day before he had given up and returned home. A woman speaking good English asked us why we hadn't come to the checkpoint lately.
5:55 – The policeman sitting outside spoke on the intercom and left. We hoped it was a sign they would open the humanitarian gate, but no. When it didn't open at 6:00 we called for the first time. The soldier who answered said that he was checking. At about 6:20 we called a second time and he answered that he was taking care of it. The women around us were skeptical. They hadn't opened the humanitarian crossing lately…Many women, old people, a man with his arm in a cast, a woman with a toddler with a bandaged eye in her arms and many others were waiting. Even though 3 policemen and a security guard were at the gate at a certain stage they didn't open the crossing. Only one policeman was kind enough to respond to the people. He claimed that they would open soon. Then he spoke on the intercom and left – we hoped to take care of things – but nothing happened. When we called a third time the soldier said that he was sorry, but the humanitarian gate wouldn't open.
Meanwhile the situation in the regular line was disastrous. Each time the turnstile opened, people began shouting and pushing. Many people complained to us. Some of them claimed that at least when police officer M. is present he makes order. Today, the policemen didn't care about what was going on in the covered area. At a certain stage, somebody who had evidently ordered a taxi minibus asked if anybody wanted to go to the Zeitim checkpoint. Probably, they had heard from their friends that the situation was better there. "Our" man who works in Bet Iksa accepted the offer. Of course, it meant an added expense, but maybe he would be on time for work today.
Women started gathering at the entrance to the fenced-off area next to the crowd of men. Each time the entrance opened we heard the women shouting as well. From time to time some of them managed to squeeze into the fenced-off areas at the unpleasant price of being pushed around among the men. Also, some of the men complained that this situation and the fact that the humanitarian gate didn't open violated the dignity of the women. Disheartened people called their employers to inform them about the situation and to apologize for being late still hoping that they would be able to keep their jobs and make a living. Some people took pictures with their cell phones. Many people turned to us in the hope that we would be able to help, that maybe somebody would listen …
"Why do they treat us like animals? We were born here just like you", somebody said. We didn't know what to answer. At 7:10, they began trying to organize the lines. People kept shouting at each other. Only at 7:20, did the crowd at the entrance to the fenced-off area turn into a line. Many women who had given up waiting at the humanitarian gate were joining. About 2 hours had passed since the confusion began.
Pupils hoping that the humanitarian gate would open arrived. They whistled at the policeman standing outside "Why do you whistle? Whistle at animals but not at people!" he reprimanded them. It's all right for us to treat people like animals, so why get insulted when somebody whistles at you….The pupils understood that the gate wouldn't open and joined the regular lines. Old people and women kept coming as well.
We went outside to get warm in the sun and breathe some fresh air. We had a cup of tea and joined the lines. It took us 45 minutes to cross .At last at about 8:30, we were outside on our way to the car and the traffic jams.
It's important to note that in spite of the nightmarish situation at the crossing and the great confusion, people were friendly towards us. At no stage did we feel threatened and we felt no fear whatsoever for our own security.