We returned to Qalandiya after a month’s absence because of holidays and vacations. We arrived at 5.15. Along the road there is a section without street lights and with no sidewalk. At this dark hour it is really dangerous. At the very last moment we discerned a man walking at the side of the road. The hamsin of the past few days had broken and it was very cold. Men were sitting around a little fire to warm themselves while waiting for transport.
We passed to the Palestinian side. And in Qalandiya there is no change … We are met by long queues stretching beyond the hut – this in spite of the early hour and the 5 checking stations’ being open. At about 5.25 a policeman appeared, but this made no difference to the lines. Indeed, they became longer as more and more people arrived. The policeman addressed the people on a loudspeaker, greeting them in Arabic and telling them that anyone without a permit (meaning elderly people) would be able to enter only at 8.00. He said something about the computer, which we could not understand. Meanwhile the queues stretched into the parking lot. The beigel and cake sellers said that this was the situation all week.
Our friend H. came to speak with us. He says that Mahane Yehuda where he works has returned to its usual activity, with crowds of shoppers. He introduces us to his son, a young-looking 27 year-old. Until recently he worked in the territories. This past year he got married and wants to raise a family. The miserable salary in the territories (1,800 shekels a month) isn’t enough to support a family, and so he is coming to work in Israel.
Meanwhile a crowd is beginning to gather at the humanitarian gate, waiting for its expected opening at 6.00.Towards 6.00 a policewoman arrives, but there is no sign of the DCO soldier who should open the gate. Entitled men wait there, women debate whether to wait there or try to be admitted to the regular queues (Usually men allow women to join the line just before entering the cage). The minutes pass and nothing happens. At 6.20 we phoned the office. The soldier who answered agreed with us that it was important to open the humanitarian gate, but he could not explain why it had not opened, nor when that would happen.
Only at 6.30 did the DCO woman soldier arrive. It took her a few minutes to ‘sort’ the people. Those not entitled were told to wait in the normal queue … which ended who knows where; older men and women without permits were told to wait until 8.00. (Some of them joined the regular line and , apparently, were let through, as we did not see them return.) Even after the humanitarian gate opened, the people (including very old, and children) waited a few minutes until the turnstile after the gate was opened so that they could go to the checking stations (there, too, are 2-3 turnstiles…).
We went outside to buy tea. In the kiosk we meet Iman whom we haven’t seen for a while. Recently his brother Muhammad has been manning the kiosk. Iman has meanwhile grown an impressive beard.
When we return inside there is a sudden scuffle at the entrance to the cages. It looks as if the queues – which have been orderly all morning – are about to collapse at this late hour (It is already nearly 7.00). Luckily this does not happen and we notice that every now and again there is someone who takes on the responsibility of controlling order in the line and preventing people from pushing in.
Only at about 7.20 did the lines shorten. We joined one and it took us 20minutes to pass. The soldiers at the checking station were surprised to see us and consulted among themselves to make sure that we were Machsomwatch and that we could pass. We were sorry that this caused further delay for the Palestinians who were standing with us at the same station. We apologised to them and went out to the traffic jams on the way to the city centre.