Jerusalem – two gates to the city...
NORTH – QALANDIYA
Qalandiya Checkpoint – Jerusalem’s northern gate – is under full Israeli civil and military control. To the north of it lie two neighborhoods that are officially inside the Greater Jerusalem municipal territory, inhabited by about 20,000 Palestinians, bearers of Israeli Identity Cards. They are residents but not citizens of the State. They pay city taxes to the Jerusalem Municipality and are entitled to all rights/privileges of the rest of the city’s residents. Since 2001, the once improvised checking post that was Qalandiya has turned into a permanent crossing terminal to control and limit the entry of Palestinians from Ramallah to East Jerusalem. With the erection of the Separation Wall around Jerusalem, Qalandiya Checkpoint has expanded further into a principal terminal through which thousands of Palestinians travel on a daily basis.
Friday – a day of rest and prayer for Palestinians. The first sensation welcoming us at the ‘terminal’ is the pungent stench of urine that hovers around the people waiting in line. The floor is filthy and littered, the toilets in shocking condition. On Friday – no workers, hence, no cleaners.
Palestinians await passage in two lines. The humanitarian line is closed today. So are the DCO and post offices. We join one of the waiting lines and experience being caged between the dense metal bars. Claustrophobia and humiliation combined. “Worse than beasts” say our fellow standers-in-line, and we couldn’t agree more. The waiting Palestinians depend upon the pace set by the soldiers seated in the glass cubicle. Around us people are headed for prayer. A very elderly lady and her spouse show us their special permit, received only for this Friday, enabling them to go to pray at the Mosque. Naturally they had to stand in the same line another day to obtain the permit. This is what they are forced to do every week. Sometimes they are issued their permit, sometimes not. A matter of luck, she says.
At times the loudspeaker, screeching so as to be hardly intelligible, directs some of the people waiting in a certain line to another lane – the soldiers are highly amused. Y. gets to the checking pane and displays her blue ID to the soldier. “What are you doing here? Where are you from? So you like Arab...”; N. shows him her “bereaved family member’ card. He stares at it long, and says no more. We have proven that we belong to the collective. (Qalandiya, June 11th, 2010)
SOUTH – BETHLEHEM CHECKPOINT
Unlike Qalandiya Checkpoint, situated within the Greater Jerusalem area, Bethlehem Checkpoint (“Rachel Crossing”) is a ‘border crossing’ between Israel and the Palestinian Authority area (Area A). It is supposed to serve tourists and the Palestinian holders of entry permits to Israel. The checkpoint’s planners made sure Rachel’s Tomb would remain within Israeli territory and turned it into a fortified bunker, the access to which is in between two high walls. Millions of shekels were spent on constructing this ‘terminal’. Responsibility for the checkpoint lies in the hands of the Israeli authorities. On the Jerusalem side this is quite evident, while on the Bethlehem side total havoc reigns. The checkpoint installations and its equipment were planned to provide ‘security’ but project just the opposite: fear, entrenchment and aggressiveness.
The Palestinian side:
We reached the checkpoint at its Palestinian side at 4:45 a.m. The waiting line stretched all the way to the middle of the taxi park. Hordes of people inline. The barbed wire coils above the passage ‘cages’ have long since been torn and tattered and many hop over the fences and push their way into line hoping for a briefer waiting time. The crowd tolerates this ‘infiltration’ – or has become accustomed, or afraid of bullies. The “humanitarian’ line was crowded to bursting. The turnstile did not open for about 30 minutes. Inside it a midget-woman was caught who naturally could not proceed nor retreat, and all her cries for help and our phone calls were to no avail. When the turnstile finally opened she could hardly stand on her feet.
At 6 a.m. the line was still very long. We called the ‘humanitarian’ hotline time and again, they promised to help but nothing changed. Attempts to contact DCO representatives at the checkpoint were pointless. Later we found out that the Druze have a holiday, so the DCO rep. is on leave at home, and his colleague out of the country.
At 6:30 the line still wound all the way back to the parking lot, but the ‘humanitarian’ line had emptied.
There are no words to describe the horrifying filth of the place. Countless people have turned to us pleading to do something about it – and we are helpless. The thought that so many people go through this hell every single day...!
The Jerusalem side:
Before we even entered the checkpoint, we got a grim update on the state of things this morning. A long line stretching both on the Palestinian and the Jerusalem sides. The exit hall is full to bursting, four counters are open and every pedestrian is meticulously checked.
An 18-year old boy and his father are dismissed back to Bethlehem with the typical hand gesture. Denied entry. The boy suffers from leukemia and has undergone a bone-marrow transplant at Hadassah Hospital. He must get to the hospital. He wears a surgical mask, is pale, weak, can hardly stand and wait and his father props him up to prevent him from falling. The father tells us his blood count is low. The boy nearly faints. But! There is some problem with his magnetic card. Although his permit is valid until May 19th, a phone race begins: to the humanitarian hotline, from there to DCO Etzyon. The boy’s condition worsens. He sits on the floor, leaning against the wall. The soldier-girl chases him away but he does not budge. He cannot stand. We call again and again, warning that the fellow might die here if they don’t hurry. All the while one of the private security guards yells that we are ‘disrupting their work’. Suddenly the loudspeaker booms out an order not to let anyone through until we get away from there. After 20 minutes of phone calls and begging and warnings, the boy and his father cross the checkpoint. A woman-officer informs the father that if the magnetic card is not updated, he would not be let through next time. How can the boy go update his magnetic card? He cannot even stand on his own two feet.
The humanitarian gate is not open today. That is part – but only a part - of the problem. This has been happening more and more often lately – that this humanitarian gate serving women, the elderly and the ailing remains closed. (Bethlehem, May 24th 2010).
This is the daily ‘fiber of life’ that the State of Israel grants the Palestinians living under its Occupation.