Only four checking stations were open when we arrived at 5:30 a.m. (the fifth opened at 6:20) and the lines into the checkpoint reached to the end of the parking lot. The soldier in charge of opening the turnstiles, so that people could approach the checking stations, was very stingy in allowing people through. Thus a steady buildup of tension was palpable. It peaked at 6:00, when an altercation broke out at the entrance to the left cage – which is always a magnet for violence because of queue-jumpers—and the line discipline collapsed altogether. For the next hour, men fought each other at the entrances to the three cages, while most people simply milled around the shed. Lines began to form again only at about 7:00.
The Civil Administration soldier arrived at 6:18, together with a security guard, and began to operate the Humanitarian Gate. This was quite a challenge, at first, as many men who are not entitled to go through the gate were milling about in front of it hoping for a chance to slither through. As the soldier checked some of the permits, the security guard stood between the gate and the inner turnstile, turning back all those who were not entitled to pass through. As the three main lines through the cages began to form again at 7:00 or so, there was less pressure on the Humanitarian Gate, with only women, teachers and school pupils, and people headed to the hospital approaching it, and they were immediately allowed through. The soldier, whom we had never seen before, was quite friendly in his interactions with the Palestinians.
We, however, were approached by one angry man after the next, essentially serving as lightning rods for those who run the checkpoint and the people of Israel, as a whole. One young man summed up the situation at Qalandiya as “collective punishment.”
“We live in Judea and Samaria,” he began (and it’s upsetting to hear a Palestinian using that terminology). “We come here every day, essentially to work in the houses of the officers and even of the soldiers. We’re building the State of Israel. And what do we get for it? Look around you. We’re treated like animals.”
“This occupation is a cancer, but it won’t last forever,” another, who was denied passage through the Humanitarian Gate, warned us. “This is our land, and the day will come when we will take it back!”
It’s been a while since we’ve heard such an outpouring of rage at the poor management of the checkpoint and the humiliation entailed in the daily grind of getting through it. Of course, because the lines had vanished, we couldn’t gauge how long it took people to transit the checkpoint. But due to the shouting and pushing and climbing and whistling that went on for the better part of an hour by the entrances to the cages, the morning seemed endless.
At 7:25, when the lines were mostly contained within the shed, we joined one and were through the security check and out the other side in 30 minutes.