The busiest morning in Qalandiya

Chana Stein (translating), Ronit Dahan-Ramati (reporting)

05.30. A late start, because of road work on route 1. On the Palestinian side were long lines, extending far beyond the shed. The youth (or, rather, child) who sells cakes outside was back after some weeks’absence.  The beigel seller was there, and the tea kiosk was open – and of course the lights have not yet been repaired!

As usual lately, only 4 checking stations were open, the 5th opening at about 6. The queues were orderly, though advancing slowly, the end being nowhere in sight. At 6 the soldier in the aquarium was relieved, and the sixth checking station opened. By this time there were many waiting at the humanitarian gate. Now and again the women waiting there despair and go across to the general queue, where the men let them in at the cage’s entrance.  The men, of course, don’t have this option. A guard and D.C.O. officer arrive only at 6.30 – just after our second phone-call..

We went outside to check. The lines reached about half-way to the road. From a distance, at least, the traffic checkpoint seemed to be ‘reasonable.’  There doesn’t seem to be much progress on the building front, and we wondered why it was necessary to destroy the whole carpark so long in advance of building.

 As we stood later at the tea kiosk, a youth asked us “why aren’t they ‘streaming’ the people.” (That is, the locals have picked up the jargon used by the police and guards controlling the checkpoint. ) Just then the policewoman arrived, and she and the guard started telling the soldier in the aquarium when to open the carousels.

A woman and  an older man arrived, with 5 children, apparently on their way to a consulate.  The man is the woman’s brother and has come to help her. Because of his age he does not need a permit – but catch-22 – he can enter only after 8 o’clock. We advised the woman to use the humanitarian gate and the man to join the general queue, in the hope that when he reached the checking point he would be allowed through. People in line also advised this, and let him in at the cage entrance. So the woman and the children went through the humanitarian gate with the assistance of the guard up to a checking station, the man went the normal way – and, as he didn’t return, we trust they succeeded.

We chatted with an old man who had come already before 6.  His wobbly legs hardly support him. He took a piece of carton, placed it over a stone rubbish-bin and leaned against it. When the humanitarian gate opened, he was not allowed to enter. Apparently he was waiting for the D.C.O. to apply for a magnetic card. Again he approached the gate.  The policewoman and guard tried to help him, explaining that the D.c.O. would open only at 8.30. The policewoman asked him why he wanted a card which would cost him money when, without one he could pass without a permit – and reach his work in Givat Zeev quickly without traffic jams. He told us he worked in construction, which rather surprised us, considering his physical state. It turned out that he assists builders:  prepares tea and coffee, arranges tools, etc., earning 120 shekels a day.  He needs an income, he explains, “we don’t have national insurance or pensions.”  

At one point we heard the sound of heavy equipment outside. We went to look and, indeed, there was big bulldozer at work at a section of what was the parking lot, now behind a metal fence. So apparently there is some work going on! Meanwhile, inside and out the lines continued. Only at about 7.30 did they shrink enough to be inside the shed. At 7.40 we joined a line, and noticed that then the humanitarian gate closed. Immediately afterwards a woman arrived with a babyinfo-icon in her arms, a boy of about 11, and grandma. When they found the gate closed, we invited them to come in at the entrance to the cage. When the carousel opened, the mother and baby got through, but not the boy or grandmother.  All our efforts to signal to the soldier to open the carousel for them failed. He did not understand our gestures and did not bother to open his window so as to hear us.  Passage took a long time in spite of the late hour – it took us 45 minutes till we were through.