Same mess, different day
Once again we note that the Qalandiya checkpoint is not built or equipped to handle the number of people who pass through it on a standard weekday morning on their day to work, school, in addition to hospitals, etc. Therefore traversing it, whether on foot or by vehicle, becomes a daily punishment.
We arrived at the Qalandiya checkpoint at 5:20 a.m., at the close of a dramatic night in the nearby Qalandiya refugee camp, including exchanges of fire during an IDF operation to find two soldiers who had entered the camp in error and were trapped there.
But at the checkpoint, life went on as usual: The lines were already extending deep into the parking lot. All five checking stations were open. Timing the opening of the turnstiles leading into them, we found that they opened about once a minute to allow in three people each time. Nevertheless, when followed a randomly chosen man from the end of one of the three lines (deep in the parking lot) at 5:55 a.m., we found that it took him 40 minutes to reach the turnstile at the entry to the checking station he chose. We again chose a man at the end of the line at 6:35, but at 7:05 the lines dissolved into chaos, with a mini-riot at the entrances to the “cages,” and we were no longer able to follow our man.
The Humanitarian Gate opened at 6:10, with large groups lining up before it, and continued to operate satisfactorily until we left.
For the second time in the past few months, an UNRWA employee, who is a teacher but does not have the word “teacher” written on his permit – although he carries an UNRWA card identifying him as such – complained to us that the Civil Administration soldier will not allow him to go through the Humanitarian Gate (as teachers are entitled to do). The soldier explain to us (and to him) that the word “teacher” must appear on his permit in order for him to be eligible to use the gate. A woman on the same line (who is entitled to use the gate as a woman) told us she fell into the same category. We suggested to the man that the solution to this issue lies in contacts between UNRWA and the Civil Administration. But he replied that attempts through that channel were unsuccessful. Unfortunately, we did not have a better suggestion.
There was also a small incident when a very chatty elderly Palestinian, carrying an American passport but lacking a permit, who said he was on his way to the American consulate, was turned back three times – first at the Humanitarian Gate and twice after going through the “cages.” Although he was over the age of 55 -- and therefore did not require a permit -- the soldiers would not allow him to pass through before 8:00 a.m. and explained that to him each time. We attempted to calm him, especially because he impressed us as not being totally stable – and we made that comment to the Civil Administration soldier and the security guard with a request to take it into consideration if they had to deal with him again before 8:00. When we left he was sitting on one of the benches in the shed.
We left at 7:20, by which time the lines had formed again but no longer extended beyond the shed. The Humanitarian Gate was still operating at that time.