Crowded atmosphere and violence at Qalandiya checkpoint
The Worst Ever
Apparently we tempted the fates when we reported on a decrease in the number of people passing through the checkpoint since the beginning of Ramadan. This morning it seemed that all the people who did not come during the past few weeks arrived simultaneously today. All five checking stations were open when we arrived at 5:30 a.m. but the lines reached to the outer edge of the parking lot. Progress forward into the checking stations seemed particularly slow but we were not able to judge how slow because 10 minutes after we arrived the line discipline broke and everyone ran into the shed, rushing the entrances to the “cages” – and the mob scene continued until about 7:15. Only then did lines begin to reform, and even then they extended out to the kerb of the parking lot. The soldier who began his shift at 6:00 took care that the lines waiting to enter the checking stations remained long. But this did not solve the unbearable pressure on the entrances to and within the cages.
People filled the (steadily disappearing) benches and also sat outside in the parking lot to escape the airless and sometimes violent atmosphere in the shed. Two hot arguments broke out: the first occurred very close to the Humanitarian Gate, where at that moment women with infants were standing, and grew more menacing until one of the security guards intervened from the other side of the bars and ordered the two men – who were at any rate not entitled to pass through the gate – to move away from there. The second occurred at 7:15 and sounded (from our position at the moment just outside the entrance to the shed) like a genuine brawl -- many of the men outside, upon hearing the noise coming from the shed, ran inside to witness the event – until a number of men dragged and pushed the opponents out into the parking lot and managed with difficult to separate them. We are accustomed to seeing the physical struggles that take place at the entrances to the cages, but I believe that this is the first time that we have witnessed a brawl in the seven years we have been monitoring this checkpoint.
One point of light: the Civil Administration NCO who was stabbed while standing near the Humanitarian Gate a few months back has returned to work and faithfully carried out her duties accompanied by two security guards. She began working at 6:15 and when she left before 7:00 she turned over the key to the gate to one of the security guards, who continue to open it each time a group of people gathered in front . This was a particularly difficult morning because of men who were not entitled to go through the gate nonetheless stood nearby it, at the expense of women both alone and with infants. But the NCO and the security guards worked quietly and calmly to direct them away from the area of the gate.
At 7:15 we noticed that lines had begun to re-form inside the shed, the last of these being the one leading into the cage on the left (which is always the cause of trouble). And because this line was actually the shortest at 7:50, we joined it and 55 minutes (!) later passed through the security check and left.
A few months back we were told that the situation at Qalandiya would get worse before it gets better because of the renovations. But these have not yet begun on the pedestrian checkpoint, so we are forced to conclude that in the future we can expect a situation even more daunting than the one we witnessed this morning.