Qalandiya - Friday Shift

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Virginia Syvan, Ina Friedman (reporting)

Friday Shift

Following the recommendation of a Palestinian friend we went to the Qalandiya Checkpoint on a Friday and at 9:00 a.m. rather than 6:00 a.m. because Friday is the Palestinian day of rest and people are therefore transiting the checkpoint at a later hour in order to visit family, pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, go shopping, and the like. When we arrived just after 9:00, the parking area on the Palestinian side of the checkpoint was already much fuller than it had been the last time we were there, at 6:00 on a standard workday, when there is a strong flow of workers through the checkpoint.

Upon reaching the checkpoint building itself, we immediately saw that only one of the three entrances to the building was open, despite a steady flow of people arriving to pass through it. After about 10 minutes, when we saw that the "slalom" (the wavy, narrow route that leads from the open porch to the entrance to the building) was beginning to fill up, we got as close as we could to the turnstile at the end of the route, leading into the building itself, to see what was going in in the relatively small "waiting room" from which one finally enters the hall of the security check. And what we saw dismayed us: The room was almost entirely full of people—all but crushed together like sardines—at the height of the Omicron epidemic! Since the turnstile through which people enter the waiting room is controlled by soldiers who can see the situation there and regulate entrance to it, we could not fathom the logic behind the decision to allow it to become so unconscionably crowded.

Consequently, we decided not to insert ourselves into this health-threatening situation and, rather than go through the security check (for the sake of thoroughness) we returned to the parking lot on the Palestinian side. It was already after 10:00 and the lot was almost entirely full so that any West Bank Palestinian who intended to reach the checkpoint by car, park it (because cars with Palestinian licenses cannot enter Israel), cross through the pedestrian checkpoint (with an entry permit), and continue on to East Jerusalem by bus or taxi—let's say for noontime prayers at Al-Aqsa—would have great difficulty finding a spot to park anywhere around the checkpoint.

Instead, we took the roundabout road to the Hizme Checkpoint (for Israeli vehicles only) to Pisgat Ze'ev, the Israeli neighborhood closest to Qalandiya, to look for a spot to park on the way to our usual, early-morning shift. From there we would take a taxi to the checkpoint and back, due to the sore lack of parking spots on the Israeli side of the checkpoint and the exasperating traffic jams on the only ways back to East Jerusalem at the time our early-morning shift usually ends: through Qalandiya's vehicle checkpoint and on the road to the Hizme Checkpoint.