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Virginia Syvan, Ina Friedman (reporting)

A morning from Hell

The Qalandiya checkpoint is neither built nor equipped to accommodate the number of people who pass through it on a standard morning on their way to work, to school, to a hospital, etc., and so the passage through it turns into a daily punishment.

We arrive at the checkpoint at 5:30. It’s cold. It’s dark, even inside the shed (only 4 of the 12 light bulbs are working). Gradually the benches are also disappearing, precisely at a time when older people (50 for women, 55 for men) are allowed to pass through the checkpoint without a permit but not before 8:00 a.m. so that those who are unaware of this restriction (and there are many of them) spend hours on these vanishing benches. And even though all five checking stations are open when we arrive, the pace is slow and the lines reach the first tier of cars in the parking lot.

At 6:50 a policeman approaches and raises hopes that, like last Tuesday, he will assume command and attempt to manage the checkpoint. But it swiftly turn out that this week we have earned a punishment, for the policeman is our long-standing acquaintance M. (whom we have not seen for quite a while). Admittedly, upon arriving he directs the soldier in the “aquarium” when to open the turnstiles at the end of the three “cages.” But as soon as the two DCO soldiers arrive just after 6:00 to operate the Humanitarian Gate, he turns his attention to doing their job at the gate, because (one may conclude from his behavior) making Palestinians miserable is his favorite hobby.

Our experience has shown that the DCO soldiers are well trained to operate the Humanitarian Gate and for the most part carry out their duty with laudable efficiency. There is no need for a policeman to join them at the gate, especially when there are already two DCO soldiers carrying out that assignment. On the other hand, if the policeman insists on operating the gate according to his whims, it’s only fair to allow the soldiers to remain sleeping in their warm beds.

We should add that Policeman M. has a veteran reputation at Qalandiya. The moment he appears, the tension there soars, and people begin to hold him responsible (or so they inform us) of every problem at the checkpoint. This morning three Palestinians shouted at us (us!) in rage and frustration – a rare occurrence—two of them because of the behavior of Policeman M. Were we cynics, we would say that we earned the situation this morning for having written warm words about the management of the checkpoint and expressions of goodwill toward the Palestinians displayed last Tuesday morning. After all, we all --Palestinians and Israelis -- deserve today’s reminder of who we are and where we’re living.

The third outburst came as a result of the frustration over the long wait to get through the checkpoint. At 6:15 the lines reached the second tier of the parking lot and at 6:25 we began to follow a man who joined the end of one of the lines deep in the parking lot. It took him 55 minutes to cross through the turnstile into the checking station. Have we mentioned frustration?

At 7:40 we joined a line on the sidewalk just outside the shed. When we had advanced to inside it, we saw that the Humanitarian Gate had closed, although the lines through the cages still extended to outside the shed area. All together, it took us 35 minutes to pass through the checkpoint.