Virginia Syvan, Ina Friedman (reporting)

Simply Harrowing 2

The truth is that the details are already well known and it’s almost possible to do cut-and-paste from earlier reports.  Last week we wrote on the journey from hell to paradise in seven days. Today we made the entire trip back and also reached a new record for those of us who have been coming Qalandiya each week for years and years.

The lines reached halfway to the road when we arrived at 5:30 a.m. Only four of the five checking stations were open, and the progress forward was achingly slow. At 5:50 we went to the end of the lines outside the shed to find a person with an easily identifiable piece of clothing and we began following him to determine how long it would take him to reach one of the checking stations.  Half an hour later he arrived at the entrance to the shed, perhaps 15 meters from his starting point. But we couldn’t follow him any further because at 6:25 the line discipline broke and the crowd rushed forward to the entrances to the three “cages” and the mob scene of shouts, roars, whistles, pushing and fighting to squeeze into the cages began. Only toward 7:30 did the lines form again. More on this below.

At 6:15 a security guard arrived and opened the Humanitarian Gate . A Civil Administration soldier showed up shortly thereafter and operated the gate properly through the end of the shift. When we asked him, the soldier told us that checking station #5, which usually services the people going through the Humanitarian Gate, was closed because its metal detector was out of order. (It opened at 8:45.) But this point was never made clear to the Palestinians arriving at the checkpoint, so that from time to time they filled the “sleeveinfo-icon” leading into checking station  #5, waiting in vain for it to open and wasting precious time until they simply gave up and moved over to another of the four sleeves. As the morning went on, this situation created more serious problems, because the “refugees” from #5, who had already lost time there, did not want to go to the end of any of the other lines and, at least in sleeve #4, created a mob pushing toward the turnstile at the station’s entrance and periodically to loud arguments.

Meanwhile, the situation at the entrances to the three cages also deteriorated after the change of the guard in the “Aquarium” (control booth) at about 6:20, because the woman soldier who began her shift then spent most of her time steeped in animated conversation with the security guard (now seated inside the booth) and barely paid any attention at all to her job. Even when the people waiting in the cages shouted or roared for her to open the turnstiles, her conversation with went on and on without her paying attention to her task. To the men waiting  squashed together inside the cage closest to the booth, who could see what was going on inside, this situation was particularly infuriating.

In short, at about 7:20 the lines began to form again, and we joined one of them at about 10 meters from the entrance to one of the cages at 7:30. It took us half an hour to reach the entrance to the cage and another half an hour to exit the cage and join a line in one of the sleeves leading to a checking station. Altogether, the turnstile at the end of the cage we went through opened four times in the course of one hour, approximately once every 15 minutes. We spent another half  hour on the line leading into the checking station for a total of one and a half hours waiting on line between 7:30 and completing the security check at 9:00.

This is a personal record for us at Qalandia but from our conversations with people around us, as we stood on line, we understood that it was hardly an uncommon experience for those who go through the checkpoint daily, especially in recent weeks.

This leads us to repeat conclusion and warning we published a few weeks ago, namely:

In our view, the failed management of the of the checkpoints should be regarded as a strategic  failure, because it embitters the Palestinians who must pass through them day after day to the point where it encourages feelings of vengeance against the soldiers (and Israelis in general) and causes enormous harm to any hope of a common future with the Palestinians, either as neighbors over a border or as citizens of a shared state. What we experienced this morning was simply harrowing.