mounted policeThe ones who emerged relatively unscathed and in a state to continue after running this first gauntlet, crossed the car park to the next permit check. Whereas the men waited in the usual three lanes inside the checkpoint out of the sun (plus a ‘humanitarian gate’ for men over 60), the women and children, regardless of age and condition, were funnelled down a lane behind a metal barrier erected one metre from the back wall of the checkpoint. The barrier was set in concrete. The line moved painfully slowly, taking over an hour to reach the corner of the checkpoint where passes were checked again. The women then went through a turnstile to be frisked again with metal detectors before they finally emerged to get buses the Jerusalem side of the terminal. Their men folk had waited over two hours for them. Why conditions had to be so much worse for the women was unfathomable.

By 10.00 am thousands of women were being funnelled down this one narrow lane behind the inflexible barrier in full sun. The crush was unbelievable, there was real panic, again I thought of Hillsborough. Small children were in the middle and forgetting our ‘observer’ role, we dived in and helped medics pull kids out. One small boy emerged with a broken arm, another was badly concussed, others were gasping for breath. The metal barrier gave way under the sheer force of the women and the broken concrete caused more injuries. At this point, mounted police arrived to push the women back by riding into them. The OCHA official continually asked the commander to open the vehicle lanes to relieve the pressure and panic but on this Friday they stayed resolutely shut. When he asked why, the commander merely said ‘these are my orders today’.

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