Qalandiya - The New Via Dolorosa

Virginia Syvan, Ina Friedman (reporting)

The New Via Dolorosa

We arrived shortly after 6 a.m. and it took us a while to figure out how to reach the entrance to the new bridge built over the vehicle checkpoint, which is now the only way to enter or leave the pedestrian checkpoint. Apparently the Occupation has a logic unique to it, which has only a  weak resemblance to humane logic. It turns out, as was reported here two weeks back, that in order to access the bridge by foot from East Jerusalem--that is, reach either the steps or the ramp leading to and from it--one must first pass through an unpaved area that in winter will turn into a sea of mud. The same is true for people approaching the bridge from or on their way to the stations for buses and taxis. But let’s assume, for now, that the reason this is so, is because work here has simply not been completed and there’s a plan to plant grass, flowers, and trees and pave paths among them lined with benches. That still doesn’t solve the serious problem that exists for the handicapped. It turns out that the ramp built for their needs is on a rather steep slope, with a 180-degree turn in the middle, and Lord help those advancing in a wheelchair or pushing a wheelchair up it. If there is an alternate possibility enabling the handicapped to reach the checkpoint, we will be glad to hear about it.

At the entrance to the pedestrian checkpoint, we immediately saw that those entering it wear masks only when they reach the area inside manned by soldiers. Neither do they maintain an appropriate (or any) distance while standing on the lines that are created by the way in which the checkpoint is being managed. That is, instead of enabling a constant stream of people into the building, as in the past, the soldiers in charge of the flow locked the turnstiles leading into the checking area every 5-8 minutes or so, thereby creating static lines both outside (for the sake of argument, bearable) and inside (very problematic).

According to people regularly selling their wares near the checkpoint entrance, this situation began at the start of the week (two days earlier) and may be due to a new team of soldiers who are unfamiliar with the system. This phenomenon, of a change in arrangements for the worse, was common at the old checkpoint after almost every changing of the guard (every few months) placing new soldiers in charge. Now, however, the repercussions are more serious given the health demands.

When the stream of newcomers greatly reduced toward 7:30, and the lines outside the checkpoint had disappeared, we too entered to pass through. To our regret, however, we chose a line inside that was very short when we joined it but, because the turnstile into the checking area wasn’t opened for more than 5 minutes, it grew long by the time we could enter. From there the transit was perfectly normal. We did note, however, that the security guards standing about a meter away from the checking machines were not wearing masks. Not a great example for the rest.

On our way out, while we were already on the bridge, we watched from a distance an incident whereby a man was evidently walking in the direction of the vehicle checkpoint from the north. This is a hugely sensitive area in which a number of Palestinians have been shot because the soldiers or security guards stationed in the checkpoint perceived them as terrorists coming to do them harm. Fortunately for the man (and everyone within sight of him), this time a number of security guards ran toward him shouting, reached him, and lowered him to the ground. People standing next to us on the bridge began to video the event on their smartphones (we didn’t due to the distance from it), and we hoped that no knee would be put into action. Very quickly, though, the man was brought to his feet and accompanied by the guards in the direction of the security offices. When one of them saw they were being filmed from above, he shouted at the people to stop, and the incident concluded.

As we continued over the bridge, a woman who appeared to be in her thirties or forties walked alongside us and expressed distress. She told us that she is a cancer patient and that the climb up to the bridge was very difficult for her. Again we ask whether there are possible alternatives not only for people in wheelchairs but also for those who have difficulty walking up the stairs or the ramp, either because of a physical or health handicap or due to age. Since we know that all the changes and improvements at Qalandiya have been made for the sake of the Palestinians who must pass through, it’s hard to believe that this segment of the population was not taken into account when the bridge was planned as the only way for pedestrians to enter and exit the checkpoint.