It was a quiet day at Qalandiya. At Isawiyya, the road going up from the village was controlled by the military police, who directed the traffic without examining permits. In the Shuafat refugee camp it was a different world.
05.00 Qalandiya Checkpoint
The checkpoint was open for workers to enter, meaning that two “sleeves” (enclosed passageways) were open and the incomers arrived at a run from the car-park into the sleeves. They waited until the turnstiles were opened and then entered at a run towards the inspection area. This was repeated again-and-again. There was already no crowding and everything was calm and quiet. There were groups of worshipers at various places in the area. The pastry-seller hoped for buyers. Ronit, who accompanied us (we were at Qalandiya for the first time), told us that this was unusual for Sundays or in general. At about six a.m. the queues lengthened and a third sleeve was opened.
At 06.17 we entered the queue to leave the checkpoint. It took us a quarter of an hour to pass, like the workmen at our side. This was an experience that we don’t have at the checkpoints in the center of the country. No-one approached us for any kind of help.
From there we travelled to Isawiyya to a road-block in the area of French Hill. A number of policemen directed the traffic in both directions; we didn’t see that inspections were being performed. A truck with goods was turned back and the driver was told to arrive at another entry, from the direction of Ma’aleh Adumim. We did not ask why.
07.30 The Shuafat Refugee Camp
07.44 We entered the checkpoint on-foot, through the path that leaves the camp. 50-60 women, men, children and babies were squashed inside the entry-space, and also students and school-children, and everyone who needed to exit the camp towards the town. This was an initial basic experience. We have already been going to the checkpoints for 15 years, but we (or at least I) have never stood in a checkpoint together with Palestinians and waited for the conqueror to open the turnstile. There are two openings in the room, which enable an exit through turnstiles towards a continuation of the inspection. Only one opening was in fact open, and we were told that the second one is never opened.
The turnstile which serves those coming out, was opened once every few minutes for one person at a time. The large crowd stood like one block (without a defined queue) and everyone waited quietly for his turn. It was amazing to be inside this patient queue. No-one complained or even made an exclamation. From time-to-time someone went outside for a smoke. If you are good at arithmetic and if you have a calculator you can understand that that you still have many hours to stand here until you see the light.
This exhausting standing for a long period is the essence of the Occupation. You stand like this and an unendurable anger inside you intensifies. To my sorrow, the Palestinian who stood beside me had learned to endure this, and he was smiling. Only one young woman started to shout at the youngsters who tried to jump the queue, but no uproar developed because it was clear to everyone that she was right. After you stand-and-stand like this, time loses its meaning. You don’t know if it is a minute or an hour, or whatever.
After an hour and a quarter of standing, our turn arrived. Annelien and I, and another woman were pressed through the gap in the turnstile which ejected us on the other side where there is a room for inspecting belongings (the magnometer wasn’t working). The soldiers’ window is where you have to present your permit and have your bags examined. You should ask the soldiers there what came out of my mouth . . . .
Annelien, who was so happy to come out, that she had already managed to forget how hard it had been to stand in the queue (like how one forgets one’s pain immediately after the birth), and I stood furiously opposite the window and started to shout at the soldiers with all the anger which had accumulated inside me : “You should be ashamed of yourselves ! you are treating human-beings like animals! There are women here ! Children ! Human-beings ! And so-on and so-forth, in all kinds of variations. It was not in the least planned, but it burst-out of me like a volcano. The soldiers stood and listened and didn’t answer. But maybe yes. It seemed to me that the Palestinians also stood and listened.
I don’t know if I have succeeded in conveying the Essence in this report. So here it is again : standing like this in the queue with the Palestinians was many times stronger than all my efforts to imagine the situation during recent years.
This is not something that human-beings are supposed to suffer and be silent about.
Addition by Annelien: Shuafat checkpoint
The procedure that vehicles exiting the camp have to stand at quite a distance from the inspection station caused traffic-jams at the cross-roads from all directions. Vehicles entering the camp were stuck, together with buses which conveyed school children who were late for their lessons. The children waiting for the jammed buses gathered around us. And they read with interest what is written on our tags, but it was clear that the conditions of their forcibly humiliated lives are leading them and their families along a narrow passage with no hope at it’s end.
Anyone who wants to know if the checkpoints prevent terror or create it, is invited to visit Shuafat during the hours of the morning.