Friday is an especially festive day for all. This year Ramadan and Sukkoth are perfectly timed together to highlight everyone's needful prayers for liberty, livelihood, calm and health.
Qalandiya Checkpoint has changed its appearance. Reinforced units of army, civilian police, special units and Border Patrol stand behind metal barriers placed all around. Behind the barriers Palestinians crowd, waiting, men on the right, women on the left. Everyday problems of permit-seeking, studies and work have all been replaced by one shared desire: to pray at the holy sites of Haram al Sharif and al Aqsa on Temple Mount.
The soldiers and policemen are there to select by three criteria those wishing to enter the terminal: ID color (green and orange for Palestinian residents of the West Bank, blue for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Israel), age, and a special license for prayer. Occasionally they allow a Palestinian through because he looks "old enough", just to see him turned back a half-hour later. At the checking 'sleeve' he is found to be 3 months short of the permissible entry age...
The usual ritual of 'denying prayer' works more smoothly than in previous years. This year the Jewish Holiday of Sukkoth coincides with the third Friday of Ramadan, while thousands of Jewish Israelis make their pilgrimage to the Wailing Wall to pray and tuck their request notes in the cracks between the Wall's ancient stones, an old tradition. On such an occasion special screening of the Palestinians is conducted in order to keep as many of them as possible as far as possible from the sacred ground. Clearly in what concerns prayers, one cannot possibly compare Jews whose prayers ascend directly to the True God and Muslims whose faith we do not recognize.
The official instructions publicized prior to the Ramadan month:
Free access to all men over 50 years of age;
Free access to all women over 45 years of age;
Passage with special prayer permit to men ages 45-50;
Passage with special prayer permit to women ages 35-45;
Sweepingly denied passage: men under 45 years of age;
women under 35 years of age;
On the first Ramadan Friday - coinciding with the second day of Rosh Hashana Jewish Holiday - only men over 60 years of age were in fact allowed entry. Only at 11 a.m. were the instructions altered, and 50-60 year-olds were also allowed entry.
On the second Ramadan Friday - the Eve of Yom Kippur - all access was denied;
On the third and fourth Ramadan Fridays, the original (pre-Ramadan) instructions were in force.
First Friday of the Ramadan month, 2007. Special deployment of the Civil Administration, army and police are noticeable at the checkpoint but not everything is coordinated. In spite of the Civil Administration's announcement about men over 50 and women over 45, in actual fact until 11 a.m. only men over 60 (who are now GSS-prevented) were allowed entry. After 11 a.m., the instruction changed and 50 year-olds - men and women - were allowed entry without special permits. (Bethlehem, 14.9)
The Terminal itself was nearly empty; few people passed, for very few were allowed entry from Qalandiya, and only blue IDs were allowed to cross the checkpoint. Outside, across the road that surrounds the terminal, behind the police barriers, hundreds stood at two points (eventually they numbered over one thousand) - men, women, elderly and children. Toddlers held in their parents' arms, old people waiting in groups in the sun, in the shade, pleading for permission to enter. They came to participate in the prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque, and were not allowed in. Only a select trickle, holding blue (Israeli residence) IDs who managed to make their way through the crowd, were permitted through the police barrier and proceeded to the terminal. In spite of the hurt, anger and frustration in the air, people crowded together in tense silence. On the policemen's side there was a constant threatening bustle: dozens of police officers in full array with clubs, plastic face shields, special overalls, bullet-proof vests; mounted policemen; water cannons; what appeared to be rubber-coated ammo spouts mounted on a vehicle. Every few minutes, police and troops were seen scurrying in one or another direction. (Qalandiya 21.9)
Attention - army humanitarian hotline
At 16:30 everything was quiet. Here's how misleading an apparent calm can be:
A father and his 7-year old son arrive at the checkpoint - they live in Qusin - and are sent to the detainee pen, as is a 11-year old boy on his way home from Tulkarm. The 7-year old covers his eyes with his hands and his father says they have just been to the hospital to treat the boys' eyes. He asked to use the special humanitarian side line because of his son's condition and even presented the relevant medical documents. The checkpoint commander accuses him of evading inspection and refuses to listen to any explanation. Only at 17:15 was the father's ID number communicated to the brigade for a check. Our calls to the army hotline are of no avail.
18:45 - a last cab crosses the checkpoint on its way into Nablus.
19:10 - the father and son are still detained. We call the chief of the DCO for the second time and he claims he had been informed that they had been released long ago. We gave him the father's cell phone number so he could hear this firsthand.
19:20 - the father and son proceed home on foot, there is no taxi to be found by now, an hour and a half after the fast is officially broken.
In the meantime, at 17:00 the 11-year old boy asks to be let back into Nablus, to go home. The commander instructs him to phone his parents and tell one of them to come to the checkpoint. The child says they have no phone. The commander says: "Then let him go to wherever he came from". The child walks over to the vehicle checking post and pleads, but the commander puts a stop to this. At the army hotline we are told that without an ID number (an 11-year old boy! ) they cannot help. The sun has set and the child wanders about the checkpoint between the two control shacks, looking frightened and miserable. His jaw quivers in an effort not to start sobbing. We appeal again to the chief of the DCO.
17:30 - One last pedestrian hurries through the checkpoint and is willing to take the child under his protection. The commander refuses and repeats his suggestion that the boy go back to where he came from. The kiosk owner tries to explain that he has nowhere to go because he lives in Nablus and that is where his parents are. He suggests we take him with us to Huwwara Checkpoint, where entry into Nablus is unhampered. The Checkpoint commander overhears this and threatens to phone Huwwara CP to prevent the child from entering.
18:10 - darkness falls and the checkpoint is empty, but for ourselves, the detained father and his ill son, and the child. Apparently by intervention of the Chief of the DCO, an instruction finally arrives to let the child through. He is afraid to walk on in the dark and the kiosk owner offers to walk with him to the taxi station on the other side. The commander points his gun at him, shouting: "None of you gets in there!" We stood and shouted to the child to run into the dark until he was out of our view. We saw headlights and hoped that the driver picked him up. At our next shift we met a student who had witnessed the episode and reported that the child did finally get home safely. (Beit Iba, 16.9)