Qalandiya, Fri 26.8.11, Morning
Translator: Charles K.
11:30 We arrived at the Qalandiyya checkpoint. We’re from the Tel Aviv area and aren’t very familiar with the checkpoint. We go the wrong way and don’t take the left-hand crossing lane, which isn’t intended these days for Palestinians but only for security personnel, which is why it’s two-way. We enter through one of the open crossing lanes. We find ourselves literally in a cage. This is the next stop for Palestinians who’ve gone through the initial inspection in the outer parking lot where their crossing permits are checked and after they’ve waited in three narrow, crowded lanes. From the cage they’ll continue to the second inspection – parcels and IDs. Here traffic is one-way. A few minutes pass; we try to communicate with the soldier sitting in the shielded booth: we call his attention to a child who wants to go to the bathroom, and also ask how we get out of here. It isn’t easy to speak to him through the concrete wall behind which he’s sitting but, luckily for us, he’s used to reading lips. He speaks to us through a loudspeaker. Other than he, there’s no other representative of the checkpoint around to talk to. He says that there are no bathrooms here, and offers to make the revolving gate turn briefly in our direction so we can exit. But the lanes are very narrow, only one person wide. Why couldn’t they have been two centimeters wider, so people on line could breathe? But that’s obviously impossible.
We join the lines on our way out of the cage. We’re both jumpy. A feeling of pressure and anxiety caused by the unique architecture of this place: the high fences creating very narrow lanes, the revolving gates that turn only in one direction, the locks. The area is closed and locked. Those waiting on line tell us how long their morning has already been and their fear that ultimately, despite their efforts, and even if they get through, they’ll be too late for worship.
12:15 We came to the line of men in the parking lot. Most already crossed. There’s not much chance at this hour of reaching the Old City in time for worship, and the buses waiting beyond the checkpoint have already left. Few cross, some are turned back because they’re the wrong age (women must be over 40, men over 45). A shed has been added and a kind of fan that blows droplets of cool water. They help a great deal. It’s a significant improvement, compared to the terrible heat I remember from previous years.
12:50 We oved over to the women’s line. Some women are still trying to get through the checkpoint; most of the crowd waits for a worship service to be held here – that is, in the dirty parking lot. A few dozen people arrange themselves – men and women separately – on prayer mats. After prayer the “Olive revolution” group begins demonstrating, wishing to make the Palestinian’s voices heard in connection with the UN vote in September (we senmd our best wishes). They’re carrying national flags and a purple flag with the new movement’s symbol. They stand very near the soldiers, separated only by concrete barriers. What are they chanting? On the way back to Tel Aviv, Nora tells me that when she was a child they chanted “A Jewish state, free immigration.” They’re chanting their own versions of exactly the same slogan – I heard, for example, “Jerusalem, freedom, a free Palestine.” Their flags are literally in the soldiers’ faces. The soldiers are protected by full flak jackets, helmets, weapons. The demonstrators are exposed. It goes on for about half an hour. It’s clear that things will end with a tear gas grenade even though, momentarily, when the demonstrators announce over a megaphone that they’ll soon disperse, it seems perhaps that won’t happen. But nevertheless – a huge amount of gas is ultimately directed at the crowd. It’s huge because even if it wasn’t aimed at us, it makes our eyes and nose burn acutely. I see women bending over, covering their faces with handkerchiefs. We also flee. When we’re already at a distance we continue hearing tear gas being fired at the crowd. Some soldiers who also fled the gas cloud help each other cope with the pain and make fun of their incompetent response – “What kind of soldiers are we, covered in gas,” and “this is the last time; we get out in two days.” No sign at all of concern for what happened to those at whom the tear gas was aimed, whose pain is certainly greater