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Virginia Syvan, Ina Friedman (reporting)

The orphaned Humanitarian Gate

The Qalandiya checkpoint is neither built nor equipped to accommodate the number of people who may 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.

Despite only four of the five checking stations being open between our arrival at 5:30 and 6:10 a.m. (when the fifth opened), and congruent slow pace of advance through the cages, the lines did not extend beyond the first row of cars in the parking lot – when we checked them again at 6:25, as well.

The Humanitarian gate was opened at 6:00 and each time a number of people gathered in front of it, until 6:25. But when we re-entered the shed at 6:25 (after the above check), we saw that the soldier responsible for the gate was gone. We asked the policewoman on duty why the gate was not being opened and she mumbled that the soldier had gone somewhere and would return in a bit. And we explained this to the people who had gathered by the gate. From then on, people slowly abandoned the line by the gate and joined those going through the “cages” until, close to 7:00, the policewoman on duty told those still waiting in vain at the gate, or had recently reached it, that it is closed and will no longer be opened.

In the past the soldier responsible for the gate has been called away for emergencies and returned after a while.  This time, the gate was abandoned at 6:25 and left orphaned – although in the past it has been operated by a representative of the police and/or by a security guard in the absence of a DCO soldier.

This is another example of one’s inability to forecast what awaits those who pass through the checkpoint from one day to the next, sometimes from one minute to the next. Cynics would say that this is part of the system, to keep people off balance at all times. We see it, at the very least, as an expression of contempt for the people who have no choice but to pass through the checkpoint through no fault of their own.

Requests that we have been asked to relay:

To drill holes in the metal ceiling of the shed in order to allow the release of accumulated cigarette smoke (requested by an elderly gentleman who suffers from heart disease and has difficulty breathing under the prevailing conditions at the checkpoint).

Regarding the new rule allowing people 50 (women) and 55 (men) to cross through the checkpoint without a permit but only after 8:00 a.m. We’ve been told of a kind of “Catch-22” insofar as people who work  are not being given permits because of their age (i.e., they do not need them), but as a result they are not allowed through the checkpoint before 8:00 and thus cannot get to work on time. We have heard this complaint mainly from women who are engaged in private homes or in institutions in East Jerusalem. If this is true, it pays to give this aspect of the permits regime a second look.

We understand the rationale behind steering people without work permits away from the checkpoint during the morning rush hour. On the other hand – what can you do? –people who are allowed through without permits come before 8:00 anyway, and then (in the best of circumstances) they are forced to sit on the cold benches sometimes for hours. At the very least, we hope the Civil Administration would take more energetic steps to make the 8:00 a.m. restriction known to the Palestinian public. We have asked that a large sign be posted to this effect by the entrance to the checkpoint, and the great difficulty in meeting this request was politely explained to us. Really, now. What, we wonder, would Herzl have said about this?

At 7:10 we joined a line at the entrance to one of the “cages,” and even from this opening position it took us 30 minutes to pass through the checkpoint.