In search of proof that “West Bank” Palestinians have indeed been consigned to a big open prison — as many complain — no spot is more evidence-laden than an Israeli checkpoint. The largest of Israel’s hundred or so checkpoints, Qalandiya — between northern Jerusalem and the road to Ramallah — is a masterpiece in population engineering. Israeli Machsom Watch activists keep an eye on what happens there, and at other security barriers throughout occupied Palestine.
I visited Qalandiya last August, in the closing days of Ramadan, in the company of three N
Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch members — Tamar, Roni and Vivi. Click on the audio button beneath the photo above (large file). The atmosphere was relatively calm this particular Friday, although we heard reports someone got beaten. Thousands tried to enter Jerusalem to worship at the al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), Islam’s second holiest shrine. Many were turned back, after hours of wait beneath a blinding sun.
The Jewish State honors freedom of worship, Israel claims. For Israeli citizens — twenty percent of whom are Arab — this is largely so. For the West Bank’s 2.5 million inhabitants, getting to exercise their right is another matter. Without a proper pass, it’s basically impossible.
In the course of attempting to pass through Qalandiya (not to mention other checkpoints throughout the West Bank), Palestinians are often yelled at, pushed, beaten, insulted or threatened. One person tells me here that his friend’s U.S. passport got ripped up before his eyes. “We will make a mess of your face,” Machsom Watch activist Roni overheard one Israeli soldier say today to a peaceful but insistent Palestinian trying to get through the checkpoint.
But like Kafka’s unwitting supplicant in “Before the Law,” those who do manage to get through the first tier at Qualandia may well be turned back at the second and third, where they must move single file through a steel and barbed wire-enclosed cattle shute (my term). Machsom Watch activists call this remarkable structure “The Cage.”