Qalandiya - crowding and congestion, long lines in freezing cold

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Chana Stein (translating), Ronit Dahan-Ramati (reporting)

A hard start to the year: crowds, collapse of queues, freezing cold. No sign of opening the new section in the near future.

05.15. Dark and freezing cold. Smell of smoke in the air from the little fires people make to keep warm while waiting for their transport. Large groups at prayer both next to the parking lot and at the Israel-side entrance to the checkpoint.

Inside the shed, in addition to the beigel seller and the falafel stall, is a cigarette stall set up by a young boy. The queues are contained within the shed. This seems to be today’s policy – to admit many people through the turnstiles each time, so that lines form in the ‘slalom’ area before the checking stations. Thus the lines waiting to enter the cages are kept inside the shed.  But this means that there is a long wait between one opening of the turnstiles and the next, because otherwise the checking stations can’t keep up with the speed. As the morning advances, more and more people arrive and then the queues do reach beyond the shed. In the end, when the turnstiles open, there is a sudden rush and the lines collapse. Again there is the awful sight of people piling on one another, pushing and shouting … a dismal start to the new year.

Meanwhile many gather at the humanitarian gate, waiting for its customary late opening. When it does open the people entering there find it difficult to fit into the crowded lines in front of the checking stations. They wait at station no.5, where the line slowly advances.

We went out to buy tea at Iman’s now improved kiosk at the end of the checkpoint area. When we returned we saw that two officers of Military Police had arrived – but this did not improve the situation. We asked the D.C.O. officer when the new building was likely to open. In the past they spoke about a December opening – now the estimate is only in March …

Soon after 7 o’clock the lines are once again formed and the area in front of the humanitarian gate is empty – and the D.C.O. staff leave. But all the time more and more people arrive and turn to the gate – women, pupils, people with babies. We tell them it is closed, but some wait there and when they final leave others come. At one point we phoned to ask that the gate be opened and were told “We will try.” Shortly afterwards the D.C.O. soldier and guard arrive via the shed. The former comes to open the gate, while the guard remains behind. Loud calls “Bro, where are you?”  and the guard makes his way through the crowd to join him. When they are there, immediately the ‘entitled’ who had been waiting in the regular lines rush to the humanitarian gate, and there is once again pressure there.

At about 7.40 we joined one of the lines. Once we past the turnstile we waited in the slalom area to pass at checking station no.1. Passage took 30 minutes.