Qalandya checkpoint

Needless to say, checkpoints will be a major focus for us. Remember that in Tulkarem, checkpoints were stone blocks on dusty roads with a couple of soldiers behind them, and may be a watchtower, an earthmover, or a couple of jeeps. You could talk to the soldiers, and well, it was inhumane, yet it had a human dimension. Round Jerusalem and Bethlehem these checkpoints have morphed into airport terminal-like structures with sophisticated security equipment, x-ray machines, electronic everything. The soldiers sit in reinforced iron cages, and shout through loudspeakers.

With the building of the Separation Barrier, 70,000 Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs found themselves on the wrong side of the Wall facing the problem of how to get to their work, school, hospital, holy places and extended families. As gaps in the Wall closed, they were gradually funnelled through a few ‘terminal’ checkpoints, now hugely overcrowded.

Qalandya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem opens at 4.45am (luckily the first call to prayer from a mosque very adjacent to my ear wakes me at 4.30). Workers queue early to be sure of getting to work, since the time it can take to pass is unpredictable. EAPPI has started liaising with the UN and we now count numbers for their statistics. Over 2,000 people (mostly men) pass Qalandya between 5 and 7am, and another 500 before 8. They go first through three main lanes into a turnstile, then into a holding pen before waiting in another line for baggage x-ray and permit checking. At times it is orderly but as soon as a soldier stops a lane or people push in, there is panic. While it may be true that Palestinians don’t have the queueing gene we Brits have, it’s the uncertainty that creates the most chaos, and leads to further panic. There is also a Humanitarian Gate for women, children and older men, so they can avoid the first turnstile crush which sometimes looks life threatening. (The Hillsborough disaster has flashed through my mind on several occasions) The age limit for this gate used to be over 50 for men but the day we arrived, it rose to over 60 without any warning. The waiting over-50s were turned away and sent to the back to the main lanes. It is hard to watch.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9