Virginia Syvan, Ina Friedman (reporting)

Lines breakdown, day after day

Only four of the five checking stations were open when we arrived at 5:30 (the fifth opened later in the morning), and one of the three “cages” leading to the stations was blocked (apparently it’s turnstile was out of order). The two lines leading into the shack were, relatively speaking,  not that long,  though they grew longer as the minutes passed and progress forward remained slow. At one point it appeared that even one of the four open checking stations was not operating, although a long line of people was waiting before it.

In any case, at 5:50 the line discipline broke, young men rushed forward to the entrances to the cages, and the next 70-or-so minutes were spent pushing, climbing, roaring, whistling, and fighting one another at those narrow entrances.

Men came over to tell us that the same had happened each day this week (it had also happened two days last week). 

One teacher, who consistently arrives at the Humanitarian Gate at 6:00 and often engages us in conversation, told us that a policeman on duty yesterday would not allow teachers to go through the gate. His school called the Civil Administration DCO to complain and was told, he said, that the matter would be handled. It was not, and as a result he did not arrived at school until 10:00 am.

Others told us at length about the sanctions they suffer when they arrive late for work, which is an obvious consequence for men who are reluctant to join in the melee by the entrances to the cages in the hope of getting through the checkpoint at a decent hour.

That the mob scene has become a regular morning event at Qalandiya suggests a sharp rise in frustration and also that something is wrong in the way the checkpoint is being run. The progress forward in the early hours is always much slower than it is after 7:00 a.m., for example, and it’s not clear why. 

It’s always a punishment to stand on long lines every morning, day after day, to get to work. But when the lines evaporate, the struggle to get into one of the cages with men pushing from every side, and even from above, is brutal and humiliating.  When we encourage people to tell their bosses to complain to the authorities about the conditions at the checkpoint – making it an economic issue – they tell us that their bosses don’t care; it’s just easier for them to dock the pay of late-comers or send them home minus a full day’s pay.  One hears these things and can only wonder at the perseverance that prevents these men from sinking entirely into despair.

The Civil Administration officer and two security guards arrived at 6:05 to operate the Humanitarian Gate, sending back the many men who were gathered there but not entitled to come through it. All the others passed through immediately upon arrival and joined the lines waiting in front of the various checking stations.

As had happened last week, the lines through the two cages began to form again at about 7:00, though there was still a struggle going on at the entrances to the cages. We joined one of the two lines, about 10 meters from the entrance to the shed, at 7:15 and passed through the security check half an hour later.