A very difficult morning, on Human Rights Day, in fact, and when the head of the Civil Administration arrives for a visit.
We parked before the checkpoint and crossed on foot. Even before we went through the first revolving gate on the way to the Palestinian side we heard the noise: yelling, whistling and banging on the metal panels. It was clear a difficult morning awaited us.
The familiar, terrible sight of masses of people greeted us. Shoving, climbing over each other and on the fences in an attempt to push into the cages and advance to wait at the inspection booths. Whoever can’t or won’t push moves back. The benches, which on ordinary days (assuming there are any here) are almost empty, are filled with people sitting and waiting until it calms down. A group of men prays in one corner.
It was approximately 05:20 and only two booths were open. We were told one of them had just opened. People are anxious to get to work, afraid to be late. They said yesterday was fine, while today is terrible. We telephoned the DCL who claimed the delay was caused by a revolving gate out of order at one of the inspection stations. That doesn’t explain the fact that the remaining four stations (currently, three) haven’t been open since morning.
People complain, despairing. Wonder why they’re treated that way, everyone has a permit and wants only to work. Aren’t we working for you, they say. They tell us people leave here for everywhere in the country, some must reach Tel Aviv or Ashdod. If they don’t cross early their transportation doesn’t wait in order not to get stuck in morning traffic. They tell us an additional 100 people arrive every day at 06:00to cross – two full buses of workers at the Of Tov factory in Atarot.
05:25 A policeman arrived. Usually, additional stations open soon afterwards. Today it took about another fifteen minutes before the loudspeaker announced all the stations were open, but it actually took another few minutes until the remaining three stations opened one by one and then they updated the display from a red X to a green V. But as we already know from previous shifts, it’s already too late. It will take a very long time before the mass of people in front of the cages become orderly lines.
05:45 Now all the stations are open. Another policeman and a security guard arrive. Dozens already wait at the humanitarian gate. Shouting and shoving on the regular lines, whistling and banging on the metal panels. Each time the revolving gates are opened a pile of people pushes forward in an attempt to shove their way in and the noise increases. That’s what International Human Rights Day looks like at the Qalandiya checkpoint…
Just after 06:00 an officer and a noncom approached followed by another soldier, stand talking with the guard and don’t move to open the humanitarian gate. More soldiers join them, and when we approached we saw one of them had the rank of colonel. At one point a soldier went to bring the colonel a bulletproof vest, and he seems to be someone important to whom they’re explaining what’s going on. Only after 06:10 did they finally begin to open the humanitarian gate and admit some of the many people waiting there. Later another officer - a female major - a policewoman and guards joined them. Only later did we understand these were only preparations for the visit of an even more senior official.
At 06:30 there was still a heap of people in front of the cages, the benches were filled with people waiting until the lines became orderly, and many people were in the shed. We left for a “tea break” and found Ayman preoccupied at his coffee stand, with another man (maybe his father). He’s very busy because there are many people outside the shed who preferred to stay away from the disorder and some of them are drinking coffee and tea.
06:45 A large delegation of soldiers, police officers, at least one from the Border Police and guards. An officer with the rank of brigadier general in the lead. A., the police officer in charge, was also there, the colonel and the major from before, an additional brigadier general who, if I’m not mistaken, is A., the commander of the region around Jerusalem. There was also a photographer who photographed what was going on at the humanitarian gate, and the major wrote things in a notebook throughout the visit…
We’re near the fence surrounding the aquarium and the area where they’re standing, between the entrance to the cages and the entrance to the humanitarian gate. At one point the brigadier general comes over to us with his entourage and asks what’s happening. We replied that the situation is very bad today. On International Human Rights Day, in fact (they didn’t seem to be aware that it was today), the situation here is very bad. He introduces himself – David, the head of the Civil Administration, and we introduce ourselves (but note that Chana isn’t Chana Barg, whom he knows). We said last week had been completely different and asked why all five stations aren’t opened earlier. He replied that they’ll consider what we say, to which we responded that they already promised to do so many times in the past but it doesn’t happen. He said that the soldiers’ transportation was late today so they didn’t arrive on time to open all the stations. He said the explanation we were given about one of the revolving gates breaking down was incorrect, nor can he promise that transportation won’t be late in the future. We suggested the photographer take photos of the mass of people before the cages and not only the relatively orderly line at the humanitarian gate. He said they’ll photograph everything and see everything. And in fact they continued toward the area alongside the cages. We couldn’t see whether they spoke to the people waiting.
As the visitors moved ahead the DCL officer, the policewoman and a guard went through the humanitarian gate and brought people through from there. Most of those waiting crossed, a few were turned back and sent to the regular line.
As 07:00 approached the entourage left and the disorder more or less ended. Orderly lines formed at the entrance to the cages and some of those who’d been seated on the benches rose and got on line. An elderly couple arrives. They approach the humanitarian line, which is now very sparse. The man turns to us in English and thanks us for coming. He says it helps. We’re more skeptical than he, particularly in light of what went on earlier this morning. An officer and female soldier arrive with a bag of sandwiches for the soldiers, police officers and guards. A cleaner also arrives (something we’ve never seen at this hour). He sweeps outside the aquarium and then also within and even removes the chairs and washes the floor. We hope that’s not the only result of the high-level visit…
07:20 The lines lengthened while the floor was being washed, but now the soldier opens the revolving gates for a relatively long period of time, many people go through (to the next line, at the inspection stations) and the lines become much shorter. A man approaches us; the police officer had taken his permit at the humanitarian gate. He’s stressed, because he’s late for work and says he doesn’t know why the permit was taken. We approached the police officer and asked him. He agreed to speak with us, said the man isn’t blacklisted, he said the man knows why he took his permit (apparently he didn’t follow the policeman’s instructions) and it will be returned to him later. Meanwhile the lines had become much shorter and the humanitarian crossing closed. Pupils, women and elderly who arrived later were sent to the regular line. Another man whose permit had been confiscated by the policeman begs him to return it so he can join the regular line. The policeman relents and returns the permit. And just when he removes the permits from his pocket, the man who’d spoken to him earlier had walked off. Perhaps he’d have returned his also. When he came back we advised him to hang around, but the policeman refuses to return his permit.
07:30 An elderly man arrives in a wheelchair. He’s pushed to the humanitarian gate and pupils and women immediately join him. But the policeman comes out and tells them not to wait there. They went to get the key in order to admit the man in the wheelchair, but only he and his escorts will be allowed through. The others – they’ll go to the regular line.
At one point we joined the line to return to the car. While waiting we saw they’d opened the gate and admitted the man in the wheelchair. We also heard the policeman yelling at the man whose permit he’d confiscated, telling him to return at 09:00. Only then will he return it. We went through without delays and returned to the car at a relatively late hour and with a very bad feeling.