Reasonable morning in Qalandiya

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Chana Stein (translator), Ronit Dahan-Ramati (reporting), Shira, Ben and Emily (3 American visitors, dropped from Birthright tour).

05.30. Dark and cold. Groups gathered around small fires.

Inside the shed there were hardly any queues and five checking stations were open. We were glad to see the beigel seller once again present: the falafel counter was open, and the tea kiosk is now moved to a new place.

In fact, conditions were reasonable and we could have left before 7, but our visitors naturally wanted  to see the surroundings and to photograph. After dawn we took them towards Qalandiya refugee camp and to see the graffiti on the wall. We then went to the very orderly kiosk near the entrance for public transport.  There Iman explained that he is in charge of the parking lot there (the private parking lot owned by his family). The year is coming to an end, but still no sign of the new building’s imminent opening.

When we returned we found security guards already there, but no D.C.O. officer. Indeed there was no need to open the humanitarian gate. At one stage the guards went out of the shed in the direction of the vehicle checkpoint.

Our three visitors had come to Israel with Taglit which has now opened its lists to people up to 30 years of age. They started by travelling north. According to them, when they saw the wall they started asking questions. As the answers seemed very one-sided they asked if they would also hear other points of view. The tour organisers (and their financial sources) did not like this. And so, when they returned to Tel Aviv, the three were thrown out of the program. They were given the choice of being taken directly to Ben Gurion airport to return home or – if they wanted to remain – to take their baggage and leave.  In this case they would be responsible for their own accommodation and upkeep, and for paying for their flight to the U.S.A. It was claimed that they had disobeyed the conditions of their contract with Taglit, but when they asked what clause, they received no answer. They decided to remain to discover on their own other aspects of the country, and thus they reached us.

After 7 we joined one of the short lines. It turned out that Taglit had taken from all the group the visa chit that one gets on entrance to Israel, which one must return on exiting, and had not yet given them back. From past experience we knew that this was likely to cause a problem at the checking station. So Ronit went first with the two girls. Ronit passed without difficulty, but she could not manage to persuade the soldiers to let the visitors through. Then the soldiers suddenly found it necessary for Ronit to show membership of Machsomwatch – which she did by showing her (impressive) bag. In the end, Ronit fetched the car and drove through to the Palestinian side of the checkpoint, picking up Chana and all three visitors and we drove via Hizmeh – a checkpoint used mainly by settlers and where Jewish-looking carloads are not examined. But while they were waiting for Ronit’s car, in the shed a woman arrived in a wheelchair with a caregiver. They had been told that someone would come to open the humanitarian gate. Chana phoned and was also told that help would be coming. The man accompanying the woman said that they are used to this and someone does come in the end, but sometimes they have to wait a very long time.

Jaba checkpoint after A-Ram was manned but traffic was not delayed in either direction. Luckily the road to Hizmeh and afterward was reasonably traffic-clear. During our drive, one visitor was told by e-mail that his medical insurance issued through Taglit had been cancelled … let us hope that today their visa slips will be returned to them so that they can continue with their plans to visit festive Bethlehem this evening.