Fifty People Detained at Qalandiya Checkpoint
I passed through Qalandiya checkpoint today on the way back to Hebron.
As the bus reached the Ramallah side of the “terminal” the passengers got out and walked towards the pedestrian gates. When I had passed the turnstiles I saw that around fifty Palestinians were waiting at the checkpoint. To get to the Jerusalem side they had to walk through another turnstile, put their possessions through a metal detector and follow instructions shouted at them from Israeli soldiers sitting behind reinforced glass. The soldiers behind the screens control whether this area is open or closed. As I entered, the area was closed and an old man was isolated between the turnstiles with the soldiers.
The soldiers behind the glass barked instructions at him in Hebrew and in English through a crackly microphone. Either the old man was hard of hearing or could not understand either of these languages. The soldiers told him to put his wallet and ID card on top of the metal detector. The confused man tried to put his things through the metal detector and was met by a shout from the soldiers.
By this time the number of people waiting to go through was increasing rapidly. The people waiting tried to shout to the man and explain to him what to do. The man became increasingly confused and tried to come closer to us so that we could explain. He was called back by the soldiers.
Eventually the man was able to do what the soldiers wanted and proceeded through the metal detector to the second set of turnstiles and to the Jerusalem side of the terminal.
The number of people waiting was still increasing but the soldiers took their time until there was a huge frustrated, angry crowd on the Ramallah side. It included a frail man, recovering from an eye operation, who got caught in the metal turnstiles as the soldiers operated them from behind the glass.
This kind of humiliation is an everyday, banal occurence at Qalandiya checkpoint for those with permits to pass through. For others, Qalandiya, flanked on either side by the apartheid wall and other checkpoints, separates them from their family and friends whilst keeping them confined in ghettos.
The Wall Must Fall
Inside Qalandiya Checkpoint on the 3rd Friday of Ramadan
from the Machsom Watch mailing list. by Roni H, 13th October 2006
When we arrived at 9:20 at Qalandiya and heard the shooting of tear gas and stun grenades, I called the Civil Administration’s hot line and received the succinct answer: “when Arabs run riot, the army has to shoot “.
Inside the checking area hell was breaking loose. About 600-700 densely packed Palestinians (maybe even more) and dozens of soldiers. It was difficult to breathe in the crowd that pushed against the turnstiles. The soldiers waited on the other side of the turnstiles and caught every man who looked younger than 45, checked his ID and pushed him back to the north. The impression was of a gigantic wrestling match, with the soldiers carrying clubs in addition to their usual arms. Some of the men tried six times to pass and six times they were sent back. Even to those who were already 44 no “discount” was given.
The uproar was enormous when the loudspeakers announced at 9:30 that “only women and man above 45 can pass. Permits are not valid because of the closure”. Several men turned to me, shouting excitedly: “Yesterday they announced in the media that men over 40 and holders of entry permits to Israel will be able to get through and now, when we have come all the way from Nablus and have passed 6 checkpoints they change the rules!”, “Is this the way you respect freedom of religion?”, “What do I have an entry permit for, when they do not respect it when there is closure. More that half of the year there is closure!”, “Only once a year we want to pray at the Al Aqsa mosque and also this is forbidden! Why is a man of thirty excluded from the prayer?”, “Is this the way you want to make peace?”, “We’ll never forgive you for not letting us pray at the holy mosque in Ramadan”. I could ! sense a wave of hatred rolling through the crowd.
When I heard the midday [Israeli] news later that day, I could not believe my ears: “Men over 40 and holders of entry permits were allowed into Jerusalem.”
The “waiting room” was crowded with hundreds of people, when at 10:00 about 20 border policemen entered, positioned themselves along the back side of the room and tried to push the younger men out of the checkpoint area. Some of them pretended to be on their way out, but made instead a fast U-turn and returned behind the soldiers.
A man with an eight year old child told me that his 10 year old has been lost and that he might be already on the other side waiting for him. I tried to call somebody from the police (although it was useless under this circumstances and it was impossible to hear one’s own voice) but realized that now I have lost this man in the crowd and could not find him again.
Because of the jostle, women could not get to the turnstiles and gathered at the left side of the fence separating the waiting from the checking area. We tried all together to call the attention of the soldiers so that they will give them an alternative way to pass through. Women in wheelchairs and women with small babies were afraid to be crushed by the crowd. At last, at 10:10 a passage on the left hand side was opened for the women and quite a number of them could get through. Their teenage sons though, if they looked over 15, were sent back. Several men tried to join the women but the soldiers screamed at them and pushed them back brutally. In order to frighten the people with a terrible piercing sound the soldiers were beating the metal walls of the passage with their clubs. Nothing helped. Everyone wanted to go through. At 10:30 this passage was closed.
In the meantime, some border policemen had positioned themselves at the entrance to the waiting area and did not let anybody in who appeared to be less than 45. Time was running out. The prayers were to start at 12:00 and the way to the old city is long and rife with additional checkpoints. Even men with Jerusalem IDs could not make their way to the turnstiles where hundreds of people were still crowded. They did not give up hope that at the last moment the gates to Jerusalem will be opened. To express their protest against the holdup they broke out into the chant “God is the greatest”.
Twenty border policemen came menacingly from one man to the other and checked their IDs. When they came across a male younger than 45 they tried to push them out of the checkpoint area – without much success. The men were adamant. Outside, a cordon of soldiers alongside the parking lot prevented the entry of additional Palestinians. Nevertheless there were men who got through the cordon and then through the entrance check and then even through the first turnstile only in order to be sent back at the last station! The anger was growing. “Israel understands only force and violence!”, “Just imagine that only one of all these thousands of people will loose his nerves and become violent!”. At 11:15 three shots were heard from outside. Because of the late hour some people were left frustrated and sad. At 11:30 a group of about 30 soldiers started again to beat against the metal walls of the waiting room, making a frightening noise and to swing their clubs over the heads of the people. Followed by the threatening soldiers they ran out in fear from the blows. All of a sudden the checkpoint was empty.
Next Friday, the last one in Ramadan, the unequal battle between civilians whose only desire is to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Israeli army who want to control the religious life of the Palestinians, will be even more vehement.