A terrible morning at Qalandiya
We arrived at 5.25 with a young German visitor, whom we picked up in town. We drove through Pisgat Zeev so as to show him the wall dividing the Arab neighbourhoods of north-east Jerusalem. We explain that conditions at the checkpoint can vary from day to day. It is raining when we arrive (on the Israeli side) and we rush inside. Inside 5 stations are open and there are already long lines. Whle we explain to our guest what is happening, he is astounded when the lines suddenly collapse, giving way to a heap of men shouting and pushing.
As usual in such cases, those who want to avoid the pushing move back and fill the benches. Women can no longer fit into a line. Women and elderly begin to gather at the humanitarian gate which is expected to open at 6.As it happens, today there is no policeman/woman and the soldier in the booth, who operates the carousel does so for very short times. (when there is a policeman/woman, they usually indicate when to open and this is usually more efficient.)
Today was the worst we have seen at Qalandiya for a long time. Our visitor could see the checkpoint at its worst – three times during our watch the queues collapsed. Each time it took a while for the lines to re-form. But when the carousel opens for just a very short time, people become very frustrated and start pushing. Today the situation was aggravated by the rain which made people crowd into the hut for shelter.
The humanitarian gate opened late, as usual. It was opened by the DCO woman soldier and the policewoman, afterwards joined by a security man.Many people were waiting and the policewoman closed off checking station no.5 from the other stations, so as to serve those coming from the humanitarian gate. But this station could not cope with the pressure and, in addition, closed altogether for some (to us)unknown reason and took a while before it was reopened. One man complained about the DCO soldier and said that she doesn’t do her work correctly and causes chaos in the lines. We have to point out that from what we had seen there is no basis for this complaint.
When the sun came out for a moment we went outside to show our visitor the checkpoint for vehicles and the entrance to Qalandiya itself, and to drink tea at the kiosk. Rain quickly drove us inside again.
At 7.30 it was announced that the humanitarian gate would no longer open, although the DCO soldier was still present and the lines were still chaotic. This made a number of people who were entitled to the humanitarian gate, and others, joined the lines, while some people as they arrived approached the humanitarian gate as usual.
Then a man of 55 arrived, whose legs simply could not support him. He was supported – or carried – by his twosons who were also carrying packages. His wife came, too, and it was clear that he was being taken to hospital. It was a hard sight. They approached, step by step, with the man almost collapsing each moment and the sons doing their best to support him. People made way for them and they stood among those waiting at the humanitarian gate. At first the soldier and policewoman did not notice them among the crowd. But as soon as they did, they opened the gate. After this gate there is a carousel which the man could obviously not pass. The soldier and policewoman opened the gate next to this carousel and then accompanied the man and his sons, carrying their parcels for them, accompanied, too, by the security man. The mother stayed behind and watched them. The soldier, policewoman and security man accompanied them past the checking stations until they had gone right through (There, too, are carousels with gates alongside that need to be unlocked.)
During the time that the soldier and policewoman were away helping this man, the soldier in the booth once again did not move enough people through the carousels. Although there were very short lines at the checking stations themselves, the carousels weren’t open enough. When the policewoman returned, she once again took control of “streaming” (as they call it) and the situation improved, but meanwhile another collapse of the queue (the third this morning) occurred.
Only after 8.00 we joined the lines that had once again become orderly and shorter. It took us 20 minutes to pass. Outside we met rain again, returning to heavy early morning traffic jams. We thought about the Palestinian workers who passed this ordeal and now, tired and wet, are hurrying to a hard day’s work.