Qalandia may refer to a refugee camp, a village, an airport, or an illegal Israeli crossing. All lie in the same area on the main road which connects Jerusalem to the West Bank city of Ramallah. I am going to discuss in this article how I and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians feel like crossing the Qalandia Israeli checkpoint at least once daily.
The old Qalandia before turning into a huge beast in 2006
I still remember the time when this checkpoint wasn’t in existence and our journeys between Jerusalem and Ramallah didn’t take over 10 minutes by car, today is a different reality. Qalandia checkpoint was first established back in 2000 as a simple checkpoint; it consisted of fences and some plastic barriers. Israeli soldiers manned the checkpoint 24 hours a day; they were accompanied with either tanks or military jeeps. No one thought this checkpoint was going to be a permanent checkpoint and that it will last long. There was another checkpoint only five minutes after it by car; people thought Qalandia was just extra provocation that will soon be removed.
As the days passed, Qalandia checkpoint faced upgrades; concrete blocks were added and a lane for pedestrians was added too. People started to lose hope that this checkpoint will be removed any time soon; but instead it will become even larger. Soon after, Qalandia was turned into an official checkpoint, more soldiers were manning it, more concrete blocks were added, and fences and metal bars appeared to designate different lanes everywhere for cars and for pedestrians as well.
Qalandia at those times was the place everyone wanted to avoid, but none could. In winter, Qalandia area would be filled with mud, Pedestrians will get out of Qalandia as if they got out of a mud pool. When it rains, water often rises to high levels causing some cars to break down due to lack of underground sewer system and well paved roads. While in summer, Pedestrians had to wait for hours in the heat, cars stuck in the traffic jam would break down and the smell due to left out garbage itself would be extremely irritating, The Jerusalem municipality was responsible of Qalandia area, but they barely ever do their job. Nevertheless, the Traffic jam at Qalandia was never eased; it was always filled with cars no matter what the time would be.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians had to cross this checkpoint daily to get to their work, to their businesses, to their schools (as is my case). At that time (before 2006), the Israeli Apartheid wall wasn’t fully set in place yet, some people managed to go through different routes to get into Jerusalem and avoid having to go through the hell of Qalandia checkpoint.
The Qalandia you see today might seem different or more comfortable than that which was over 6 years ago, but the humiliation and suffering went nowhere, only increased.
It was all sudden that we went to Qalandia one morning and saw a whole new checkpoint being constructed; it didn’t take long to be completed. The new checkpoint came along with the Apartheid wall which was built and completed in al-Ram and Qalandia area around 2006, it was considered by the Israelis the borders of their state, and beyond that checkpoint lays the occupied West Bank even though the checkpoint was over 10km into West Bank territory.
The daily routine didn’t stop, but now even more people had to pass through Qalandia every morning to get to their work or business since all other paths were blocked by the Israel Apartheid Wall. Qalandia became a central checkpoint, the only gate hundreds of thousands of Palestinians could pass to enter Jerusalem only if they’re carrying Israeli issued permits or Jerusalem ID cards. Of course not to mention over a million other Palestinians now unable to even breathe the air of the holy city of Jerusalem since the Apartheid Wall and Israeli checkpoints laid a complete blockade all around the West Bank.
People are indeed frustrated and extremely annoyed at the reality that they have to pass this checkpoint every day to get to their work or even just visit family members who have been cut off by the wall. It’s unfortunate but we now have to cope with this reality, we have to cope with the idea that it is impossible to be granted freedom of travel around the West Bank and Jerusalem.
But, have you wondered what it is like passing this checkpoint walking? Or even by car? I’ll explain here.
People passing through cages at Qalandia. Photo by Peter Miller
When you are heading towards Jerusalem without a car, using public transportation (you must get off the bus) or walking, you will have to enter a big terminal just as those you see at Airports and real border crossings. First stage in entering this terminal is passing through tiny cattle cages, resized to fit human beings. Those cages are so tiny that people hurt their shoulders while passing them. Often Israeli guards on those cages lock the door to humiliate the pedestrians passing the checkpoint, making their first stage of passage even harder. Afterwards, you arrive at 4 entrances which usually only one or two would be open. After waiting in line, you go through the gate to be checked, you put everything you have through the x-ray scanner and pass through a metal-detecting door. You show your ID or Permit to the Israeli soldier behind the bullet-proof window, scan your hand on a biometric hand reader and they chose whether to let you in or make you return, depends on their mood at that moment. This process usually takes 30 minutes if you’re lucky, over an hour if you’re not.
Palestinian using the Biometric scanner at Qalandia. Photo from AP
Qalandia traffic jam in a late afternoon. Photo by Josh Levinger
It is not better or more comfortable passing Qalandia by car, after you fight your way through a hell of traffic jam before the checkpoint, you wait for as long as the soldier on the gate wishes before he lets you pass to be checked. When passing, the car driver is not allowed to have anyone along with him on the car except his/her family, everyone else has to go down and walk through pedestrian terminal. Often, police dogs are used on this checkpoint as a humiliation tool and to intimidate Palestinians passing. After a provocative checking of every single part of your car, you should be allowed passage.
Even with people tending to cope with this daily routine, no one is ready to accept that this has become a fact in our lives. The placement of this checkpoint plus hundreds of other checkpoints and road blocks spread all around the West Bank is completely illegal under International Law and a direct attack on the Palestinians’ right of freedom of movement.
Today, July 9, 2011, meets the anniversary of the International Court of Justice ruling which delegitimized the Wall Israel has built around the West Bank, this tribunal officially called on Israel to take down this wall for it being illegal.
“The Court finds that the construction by Israel of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and its associated régime are contrary to international law; it states the legal consequences arising from that illegality “The Hague
It has been 7 years since this court ruling was made and we have seen nothing change on the ground. Instead Palestinians are still being strangled even more by those barriers! We hope to be able to wake up one day and witness an end and destruction of all those boundaries and walls separating us and holding us in huge open air prisons. The situation in Palestine is not humane; the way Palestinians are treated is not humane.
Give us our Freedom! Treat us like the humans we are!
Young Palestinian woman passing through Qalandia. Photo by Sarah Rashid