A crowded morning at Qalandiya Checkpoint, a tough policeman sorting out the waiting lines
We arrived at the checkpoint around 5:15 a.m., after parking on the Israeli side. 5 checking posts are open and there are 3 relatively short waiting lines beyond the pens. Later the lines would grow longer and shorter every time the turnstiles at the end of the pens would be opened. The bagel and cake vendors are here as usual, but the coffee stand is not up yet. Around 5:40 Policeman M. arrived, and went inside to sit by the soldier on duty inside the ‘aquarium’. At this point order was being kept.
An elderly woman arrives, moving with difficulty, and asks about the humanitarian line. We explained it would be opened only at 6 a.m., and that she could make her way into the line waiting to get into the pens. She prefers to wait, but when other women arrive she joins them and takes her place at one of the checking posts. We heard a woman-soldier telling someone on the loudspeaker that his permit is for 7 a.m. today, and she will let him in, but in the future he must come at 7. Later in the morning not everyone was treated with such patience… A bit later the policeman announced on the loudspeaker, in Arabic, that elderly people arriving without permits would only be able to enter after 8 o’clock.
At 5:50 the waiting lines were already spilling into the parking lot and this is how things stayed for a long time. For some reason we found there were more people than usual today. The 5 checking posts were open the whole time and had people crossing at a reasonable pace, and still the lines grew longer. Towards 6 o’clock people were already waiting by the humanitarian gate, which had not yet opened. An elderly man trying to pass without a permit was made to go back through one of the turnstiles. The policeman exited the ‘aquarium’ and repeated the former announcement that elderly people without permits would only be allowed in after 8.
The policeman returned to the ‘aquarium’. 6 o’clock came and went and the humanitarian gate had yet to open. The people waiting by it tried to point the policeman’s attention to this. He did not react. We did see him speaking on his radio unit, however, and he then put on his bullet-proof vest and leave. When a security guard came they went over to open the humanitarian gate. Men were carefully inspected. Whoever was not permitted through was sent to wait in the ‘normal’ line. Men and women eligible to cross without permits due to their age were required to wait until 8 o’clock. Most of them went over to sit and wait on the benches. At times they tried to find their way to the normal waiting line. Those whom the policeman saw doing so were required by him to leave that line and wait until 8.
Only at 6:20 a woman-officer and DCO soldier arrived. Now the officer began to operate the humanitarian gate, at times with a security guard and at others with the policeman. She too sticks to the rules. People without permits are only allowed through after 8. Whoever is not eligible there is sent over to wait in the regular lines.
The regular line is long and exhausting, and so at 6:30 came the moment when (apparently because the turnstiles were opened for one moment too long) the lines collapsed. Again a human pile formed at the entrance to the turnstiles, people shoving and yelling. When this happens, the elderly and many others retreat. Many try to get through the humanitarian gate. But the policeman and the officer are tough and do not enable exceptions to the rule. People must have complained to the policeman about his tough behavior, for at some point we heard him say to someone as he pointed at us, “there’s the complaint-officer for the Palestinians”. An acquaintance of ours among the people who had tried to get through and were rejected speaks with us and says that the problem lies with the youngsters who begin shoving, in fear that they will not make it to work on time.
The policeman went over to the fence near the entrance to the pens, whistling and calling out to the people to line up in an orderly manner. He tells them that if they don’t, the turnstiles won’t be opened. Then he threatens to confiscate permits of anyone pushing in line. Then he goes to the turnstile at the end of the pen close to us, and takes the permits of two young men. He claims they were among those shoving and are therefore punished. They are made to turn back without their permit and not allowed to cross. “Wait, it’s your work day, not mine”, he scolds them. They come out, desperate, and hurry to call their employer or friends, in order to tell them they’ll be late. We suggested they should not nag the policeman about their permit but wait patiently, for we’ve already seen cases where permits had been annulled or torn up. Eventually he requires another two fellows who he thinks were shoving to back up to the end of the line. When they do not cooperate, the policeman clarifies that if they try to get through, he will take their permits as well. They remain standing, now in a more-or-less orderly line near the entrance to the pen. But when the line seems to begin moving they reconsider and back up. They’d rather wait another 15 minutes now at the end of the line than take the risk of having their permit confiscated. And then who knows when they’d cross.
As people line up again, the policeman again demands of elderly people without permits, rejected from the humanitarian gate, to get out of line and wait for 8 o’clock. We saw at least one elderly man turned back from the checking posts and sent to wait. 7 o’clock is gone by and the lines were still long and spilling into the parking lot.
Only at 7:30 did the lines get shorter. The coffee stand was now up, the bagel and cake vendors have already left, and we saw a street sweeper arrive at the parking lot with his broom and pail.
At 7:45 the lines are only a bit beyond the pens. The policeman called out to the two fellows whose permits had been taken. He returned them while threatening that if they shove gain their permits would be cancelled. Then the elderly people without permits waiting on the benches were permitted to enter the humanitarian gate. After this, it was closed and would not open again today. All people are sent over to the regular line which is no longer long. We join them. The soldier at the checking post is surprised to see us: “What were you doing in Ramallah?” We clarified that we had not been in Ramallah, only at the checkpoint, and he was satisfied.