Qalandiya

Nov-11-2003
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1500 to 1800. . Watchers, R. H., A. K,
M. K., N. O., and G, supplemented by two Danish journalists, Sara
and Eva

A freezing cold, wet and utterly miserable watch. The tone was set
throughout by a very unpleasant and aggressive volunteer, who, by
sheer force of personality dominated the entire check-post,
commander and all. At the end, as traffic slowed to a trickle of
perhaps one pedestrian every three or four minutes, he was
whistling the Star Spangled Banner, lingering lovingly over the
final phrase : "In the land of the free and the home of the
brave!"

This volunteer's attitude was apparent immediately on our arrival
when our Danish guests produced a camerainfo-icon which she politely put
back in its case when she was told (incorrectly, as far as we are
aware) that she could not photograph. The volunteer then told the
soldiers to move us away from the check-post exit. "You are
disturbing us in our work," he shouted. "If you don't
move off immediately, I am simply shutting the check-post. And then
you'll be responsible for making 'them' (waving to the waiting
Palestinians) stand longer on line!" And with that he made as
if to halt traffic through the control, glaring triumphantly at us.
We moved!

The days "rules", we learned from the softly spoken duty
commander, Iyhav, were to honour permits issued on or after 7
October, to grant more or less unimpeded passage to men over 50 and
women over 40, and the usual humanitarian cases.

But this is the land of the free, where rules, too, can be freely
flouted, by some people. After some while of routine check-point
life, a man, perhaps in his early forties, was refused passage even
though all his papers were in order, including his 'tasrich' which
had the magic date of 7 October. Ronni then began the usual
frustrating round of telephone calls, to no avail, this was
apparently the time of day when the entire staff of every military
office in the area goes to eat. Finally, one of the offices charged
with guarding the rights of the individual did answer and agree
that permits from 7 October were being honoured. Iyhav took the
phone from Ronni and heard for himself, but was not convinced. He
made his own call to another mysterious authority and eventually
returned to us. All was in order, the man could proceed. No
apology, no reason for being held up for over three-quarters of an
hour, out in the rain and the wind towards the close of a cold
Ramadan fast-day. Truly, the home of the brave!

Over on the fairly long line of cars, progress was slow but steady.
The average wait did not seem to be overly long, and it took
between two to four minutes to check the papers and the boot of
each car or the contents of the trucks.

As we watched, a porter came by, puffing hard under the weight of
an over-loaded hand-cart piled high with brown manila envelopes and
packages. "It's the mail," one of the soldiers told us.
"Yes, truly, it turns out to be quicker to transport the mail
like this, more or less by hand, than to load it on to a van and
drive through the check-point! He has all the necessary papers, and
everything's in order. We're used to it. We are slowly returning
them to the middle ages," he quipped. A few minutes later, the
porter came back at a run in the opposite direction with an empty
cart, mission accomplished, the mail (at least on this leg of its
journey) delivered. And here he was again, now southward-bound,
this time his load was some piece of electronic
equipment.

Back at the check-point, as the lines of pedestrians grew ever more
thin ( the weather seemed to have seriously damped down all
movement), two young men, and two young women had been caught
trying to evade the soldiers by crossing through the
"Tora-Bora" quarry. Inadequately dressed against the cold
and wet, they stood shivering at the side, their IDs confiscated
for "checking". According to the soldiers, one of the men
was well-known to them for his frequent attempts to make a run for
it through the quarry.

The soldiers made no bones about it-- what was at stake here was
not the "need to check", as is so often claimed, but the
insistence that "they've got to be punished, taught a
lesson!" The logic is hard to follow-- one of the four is
well-known for his "illegal" crossings and has presumably
been "punished" in this manner more than once, so clearly
the punishment doesn't work, so why will it work
today?

Meanwhile, the soldiers and their detaineesinfo-icon have struck up an odd
friendship-- they are all, after all, the same age and presumably
have similar interests and outlook. There are smiles and laughter,
and the volunteer turns a blind eye to the fact that no one is
seeing to it that "refuseniks" do not slip through
southwards.

We try again to persuade the soldiers that enough is enough and
that the IDs should now , after half an hour, be given back.
Suddenly, the volunteer is yelling as he points to us: "Get
away from them, don't talk to them. Get back to watching that no
one gets through. Why are you talking to them?!"

Another volunteer comes over: "You know that you are
interfering with our work of keeping out terrorists. It'll be your
fault next time there's a terror attack! What have you get to say
about that, eh! Has your son served in the IDF?"

A soldier who has no idea who we are or why we are here refuses to
accept the "Letter to the Solider" offered to him, who
knows, perhaps this is seditious material.

Iyhav has gone off "to think about" Nora's proposal that
he lets the group of four leave at five thirty. It is almost six.
We look for the group. They have gone to eat. They'll be back later
sufficiently punished (?) to pick up their IDs. It is time to call
it a day, another day in the home of the brave