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Qalandia Checkpoint–going through hell to get to Jerusalem

August 12, 2009
Qalandia checkpoint

Qalandia checkpoint

Qalandia checkpoint

Qalandia checkpoint

Think they have enough cameras??

Think they have enough cameras??

If  you live in the West Bank and you want to go to Jerusalem, you go through one of the checkpoints near Ramallah–Qalandia or Hizma.

Hizma checkpoint is the “easier” checkpoint–in order to get to it you have to drive about a half hour out of your way.  It’s also right by an illegal settlement, so most of the people going through it are settlers; which makes the security process easier and MUCH less humiliating. 

Because of this, it’s the perfect checkpoint for Palestinians without the “blue ID” (the ID that allows a Palestinian to leave the West Bank, most do not have this, they have the green ID instead, and are stuck in the West Bank).  Its also good for foreigners who don’t have a current visa–because the soldiers don’t check every single person at this checkpoint.

However, if you are taking the bus from Ramallah to Jerusalem or are just in a hurry, you go through Qalandia.

the car lane of a checkpoint

the car lane of a checkpoint

Qalandia checkpoint is named after the refugee camp it is located in.  You can always recognize a refugee camp by the color–its always kind of dusty and brown.  The buildings and houses are packed together and there are usually a lot of people in the streets.  The Separation Wall is loooming in this area, and covered with graffiti.

Israeli wall and the watchtower

Israeli wall and the watchtower

Once you get through Qalandia camp, you see a massive watchtower between the edge of the wall and the checkpoint.  There is always a lot of traffic backed up here because the Israeli soldiers are never in a hurry to get Palestinians into Israel.

If you are taking the service (mini bus) to Jerusalem from Ramallah, the driver will stop right before the checkpoint and everyone has to get out and go through the checkpoint on foot–instead of going through the car lanes.  It used to be just Palestinian males from the ages of around 12-50 who had to walk through, with women and foreigners staying on the bus and going through the car lane.  But the security has become tighter and now everyone must walk through.

Qalandia checkpoint

Qalandia checkpoint

As you approach the checkpoint complex, the car lanes and watch tower are on your right.  The first phase is walking into a big waiting room with a few benches in it.  At this point, everyone crowds into the one or two open “lanes” that take you to the second phase of the checkpoint hell.

narrow passageways

narrow passageways

The lanes you have to walk through are these narrow, barred passageways that completely enclose you–with metal bars spaced narrowly on the sides and chainlink on the top.  You walk through single fire for about 20 meters through these lanes and begin to feel like an animal being led to the slaughter.

At the end of the lane is the first, of many, turnstiles.  Once you escape the narrow lanes you go through the turnstile and make it to phase two.  At this point, there are about 6 new lanes that you can go through–at least in theory. 

people waiting at Qalandia

people waiting at Qalandia

In reality, the 6 lanes are just for show, the Israeli soldiers are never operating Qalandia at its full potential–that would make the process to easy and would encourage more Palestinians to go to Jerusalem.  Nope–they only have one or two lanes open at any time.

And everyone tries to crowd through, everyone is in a hurry and everyone is now late.

You chose the lane and wait your turn to try to make it through the next turnstile.  I personally think this part is one (of the many) ways the Israeli soldiers like to mess with people going through the checkpoint. 

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Once you fight your way to the front and get to the turnstile taking you to phase 3 of the checkpoint–the soldiers lock and unlock the turnstile at their whim.

Usually they let 3 people through at a time, but I swear they wait for someone to start going through the turnstile, then lock it while they are in mid-stride–trapping them in the turnstile and making them wait there until they have processed the people already inside.

Finally, when you get through the turnstile, you are in a small area with an x-ray machine to put your bags through, a metal detector in the middle to walk through, and a bullet proof window that shows you the soldiers sitting in their room “keeping Israel safe from those terrorists”.

At this point, you will feel like you are in one of those Irish myths about the banshees that a person hears shreiking horribly before they die.  In fact, it is not a banshee, but an unhappy 18 year old female soldier screaming at you in unintelligeable Hebrew.  They hardly ever try to speak Arabic or English–even if you have no idea what they are saying in Hebrew.

So you wait, listening to the shrill, unnatural Hebrew words being screamed at you, beginning to hate the world–and you can see the soldiers in their room next to you.

One is supposed to be watching the x-ray machine on his little tv.  Instead, he is slouched down in his chair in front of the tv but playing a game on his cell phone…

The second is a female soldier–Im not sure what her exact job is but she is sitting there, oblivious to the Palestinians and even her fellow soldiers, using a hand mirrora and plucking her eyebrows.

The third is the banshee soldier, who is screaming at us for no reason.  She is the one who checks everyone’s ID’s or visas.  She is sitting slumped down in her chair, a sneer and an angry expression frozen on her face. 

Half the time shes screaming, half the time shes angrily waving the Palestinians through without even checking their IDs–as if she hates them for even existing in her world.

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Yes, its really that bad.  I never saw people so dehumanized as the Palestinains–and one of the best examples is their treatment at Qalandia.  I also never saw a person hate a complete stranger as strongly as I have witness the Israeli soldiers hating the people who HAVE to come through the checkpoints–they don’t see them as human beings, definately not as their equals on any level and seem to wish that they just didn’t even exist.

Its the closest thing I have experienced to the way I imagine the Nazi soldiers treating the Jewish people during the holocaust.  They hate them for no reason, they marginalize them and dehumanize them for fun.  They wish they just didn’t even exist.  Its sick.

Soooo…when you finally make it past the bored and angry soldiers and grab your stuff from the x-ray machine, you have another turnstile and then you make a right down a hallway to exit.  As you are walking through this last hallway, you see a sign that says “Welcome to Israel–Have a Safe and Pleasant Stay!”

To add insult to injury….

Then you have one final turnstile before you make it to “freedom” on the Israeli side of the wall.

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