Qalandiya, Tue 25.10.11, Morning

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Ina Friedman (photographing), Nava Jenny Elyashar (reporting)

Translator:  Charles K.

A young woman with three little children tries to cross and fails; cf. the appendix at the end.

About 80 people wait outside at the only revolving gate that’s open.  Three inspection booths are open inside.  About 120 people on line there.  Every 10-12 minutes, about 100 people are sent in for inspection.  There’s congestion within, but almost no line outside.  People get in line for the second revolving gate – but it doesn’t open.  The soldier yells in Hebrew that the middle lane isn’t operating.  But newcomers keep going there nevertheless, then begin shouting when it remains closed.  The soldier yells in Arabic.

The line in the shed still isn’t long.  About 120 people wait in the inspection lanes.  240 people entered for inspection during the past half hour.

Meanwhile an additional inspection lane opens – 4 out of 5.  People ask why the revolving gate in the third lane doesn’t open – after all, only the second revolving gate is stuck.  Ina makes a call and very soon, maybe because of the shouting and maybe because of her call, the third lane also opens.  I stand next to it, exposed to a serious danger of nicotine poisoning.  Dozens of starlings land on the iron points of the bars and the wire fence, conversing cheerfully.  Everyone else is frozen from the cold and silent.  The laborers toss their bags of food through the bars so they won’t be crushed as the lines advance.

Now there’s already a very long line reaching to the parking lot in front of the two open revolving gatesinfo-icon.  About 120 people waiting on line and more than 80 at the humanitarian gate that hasn’t opened yet.  People are become increasingly agitated.  During the past half hour, 260 people entered for inspection.
Shift change, and the fifth entry lane opens.  The checkpoint is now operating at full capacity but the humanitarian lane still hasn’t opened.  At 6:15 Ina calls the humanitarian office and reports that about 100 people are waiting on the humanitarian line.  A female officer arrives, at 6:25 the gate opens and the 140 people waiting go through all at once.  About half of them don’t appear to be humanitarian cases but no one inspects their documents and everyone enters.

120 people on line and another 50 at the humanitarian gate.  During the past half hour, 500 people have crossed into the inspection area.  The area inside is crowded and congested.
Two men crossed in 45 minutes.  One from 5:45 to 6:30, the other from 6:15 to 7:00.

The line has shortened.  325 people entered for inspection during the past half hour.
Women and children hurry back and forth between the regular line and the humanitarian line, because they don’t know whether the latter will reopen.  This wastes time and leads to confusion.

It’s almost empty outside.  300 people entered for inspection during the past half hour.
Angela, one of the ecumenical volunteers, got on line in the shed at 7:15 and came through inspection only at 8:05.  A total of 50 minutes, at a time when there was no congestion at all.

We left the checkpoint through the vehicle crossing – crawling along for ten minutes until the inspection was completed.

Appendix:  The mother and her three sons
As we noted above, this wasn’t a particularly crowded morning at the Qalandiya checkpoint.  Most people managed to go through in 30-45 minutes, even during times when it was more congested.
A woman with three young sons wasn’t so lucky.  They were stuck at the checkpoint for an hour and a half.
We first saw them shortly before 7:00, when the humanitarian crossing was empty and closed, standing in the middle of the long line that wound from the parking lot to the revolving gates.  By chance she had chosen to stand at the farther gate which, as it turned out, only lengthened her wait.
Her sons captured our hearts.  They were about 3, 4 and 5 years old, attractive, wearing identical sweaters, moving around their mother the whole time, and she constantly had to insure she didn’t lose sight of them and at the same time keep her place on line.

I recalled how, many years ago, I’d go out with my first two sons, when they were 3 or 4 years old, who were also identically dressed, either from maternal pride or a desire not to make one jealous of the other (why did you buy him a new one, and I get his cast-offs…).  I was always tense, trying to keep the children from getting lost, from getting hurt…I’d come home with a splitting headache, and I hadn’t had to wait on line at the checkpoints.  You could see, beneath the mother’s apparent calm, how she really feels, wanting to finish this nightmare, to reach the other side.

The eldest son, as expected, took responsibility.  He closely watched the youngest, who was daring and tried to amuse himself by jumping and turning around in a way that was dangerous in the crowd at the checkpoint.  The middle son was a real devil.  He wasn’t still for a minute.  Running around, shooting out between the adults’ legs, an angelic smile on his face and the mischievousness of a little terror.  One of the sons picked up wrappers from the ground.  The mother, in the midst of the congestion and filth, didn’t relinquish her educational role.  She took him to a trash can, guiding his hand so he’ll throw the garbage where it belongs.  The young mother impressed me.

Suddenly the humanitarian crossing opened.  The mother hurried over, her three sons toddling behind her, through the mass of men toward the crossing.  But by the time she got there the soldiers had already closed it and entered the control room.
She then got on the line at the first revolving gate to be closer to the humanitarian gate if it should open.  We saw her and her sons standing quietly in the narrow, fenced passageway.  Ina, who was shocked by the sight of the small children behind what looked like prison bars, asked the mother for permission to photograph the children who were hanging on the fence, grinning at us cheerfully.  It seemed that, for them, the time at the checkpoint was exhilarating, a break in their routine.

At about 7:30 the mother and three sons went through the revolving gate and joined the line to inspection booth number 3.  Angela, the ecumenical volunteer, had also reached it.  
Bad luck continued to follow the mother and three sons.  While the other four inspection lanes operated normally, it shortly became evident that the line on lane 3 wasn’t moving at all.  The revolving gate remained closed for at least the next 25 minutes that Angela stood there, along with the young mother and her three little sons.

(A clarification:  It’s not easy to determine that a gate is stuck.  The revolving gate turns only every few minutes, and whoever is inside can’t compare how rapidly he’s advancing compared to people in other lines.  Each crossing is physically separated from the others by walls and windows.)

The men let the mother and sons precede them all the way to the front of the line, and told Angela to move forward to find out why the revolving gate isn’t working.
They all had a long, exhausting morning.  Some of the men began shouting and banging on the bars.  The female soldier emerged from the inspection room, looked, probably saw the mother and three sons at the head of the line, but turned around and returned to the room without providing any information about why the gate was stuck.  

Only then did the volunteer and the mother leave lane three and soon came out, through a different lane, into the autumn sunlight flooding over them on the other side of the checkpoint.
How different could everything be were it not for the war, for the occupation, the division – between them and us.