Extract from my diary (1) : Notorious Qalandia checkpoint

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14/01/2013

Today I experienced going through Qalandia checkpoint for the first time. To get into holy Jerusalem from the West Bank you must go through an airport style security check (unless you are important enough to go through one of the special checkpoints for diplomats). It is manned by Israeli border police and Israeli Defence Force soldiers, known for their brutality towards Arabs.

The journey from Ramallah to Jerusalem used to be a mere 15 minutes in a service before the Barrier was built (shared taxi). Now it can take up to 2.5 hours to get into the ancient city because of the deeply congested traffic and the scrutinising security regime.

As well as being tediously slow to get through, Qalandia is also one of the most notorious checkpoints for volatility. On the Palestinian side it is common to see burning tires and stones being thrown towards the wall, particularly on a Friday after prayers. It is just as common to hear the sound of rubber bullets and tear gas being fired by the IDF back at the protesters. This time we were lucky, we got through without witnessing any violence.

We sat in the slowly moving, very noisy traffic inching towards the checkpoint for around 30 minutes. The graffiti on the Barrier, impossible to miss, highlighted the faces of famous Palestinians accused of terror crimes against the State of Israel. When we got to the checkpoint we were ushered out of the car and into the wall to floor caged queue lines; one terminal for Israeli ID holders, one of Palestinians and another few unsigned which we guessed were for foreigners. We guessed wrong and were shouted at loudly in Hebrew before moving to the back of the Palestinian queue. Again we waited. Four at a time through the first turnstile, through the second turnstile, bags and coats in the baggage machine, body through the body scanner, show your passport, show your visa, collect your bags, through the final turnstile.

For me, as a British person, and, significantly, a white British person with a British name and British heritage, no real delay. However, for my British friends with ethnic heritage, the procedure was more trying – Take off your shoes, your jacket, your jewellery, put your bag through again, show me the photo page in your passport. For Palestinians, it is 100 times worse. Most cannot go through at all, of those who hold permits, many choose not to because of the time it takes and the treatment they receive there. For those who work on the other side of the Barrier, those with no choice but to cross, they face hours of waiting in metal cages in the 30c+ summer heat. They face arriving at 5am, or sleeping in front of the checkpoint, to get to work or school on time in the morning. They face torment from the guards and regular refusal without reason.

Today, Ranaa was the last of our party to come through. After showing her passport and reaching for her bag she was told to wait, it had gotten ‘stuck’ in the machine. Everyone else was already on the bus to leave at this point. The driver wanted to go and so we had no choice but to leave her there to catch the next one. Of course, Ranaa, is an Arab name.

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