This week I want to focus on travelling through checkpoints in Palestine, specifically, Qalandia. It’s the main checkpoint separating the north of the West Bank, places like Ramallah and Nablus, with Jerusalem and ’48 Israel. It’s hard to grasp the emotional side of having your movement controlled and restricted so here is a run through of my experience, something many Palestinians must do on a daily basis.
I travelled by bus from Ramallah, however, the bus can only reach as far as the checkpoint with a Palestinian number plate, meaning passengers must board another bus once through. I decided to get off before the checkpoint and walk my way in to get a better idea of the conditions. You are first greeted by the 8 meter high concrete wall on both sides, leading the traffic towards the checkpoint. When walking you enter a large metal building with little to no light.
Going forward, you pick one of the five metal entrances. Immediately you feel claustrophobic and confined. The width only allows for single file and the queue builds behind me, with 10 or so ahead, everyone waiting on the light ahead turning green to allow a certain number to advance to the next stage of the humiliating experience. If you look closely to the photo above, not only are there metal bars on either side you, a wire mesh lies about a foot above head height. Surrounding this cage is another set of metal bars which protrudes outwards at the top to reinforce the impossibility of climbing. If that wasn’t enough, masses of barbed wire surround us.
We wait for 5 minutes or so before the light changes to green allowing 10-15 people to go through the first turnstile. Thankfully this was 12 in the afternoon on a weekend and so was nowhere near as busy as it can be. Stories of school children missing days or being denied entry because their place of education falls on the other side of where the Israeli’s decided to build the wall, workers having to queue at 4 in the morning just to make work at 9. For many Palestinians it is impossible to access a hospital without crossing one of the many military checkpoints.
Once through the first section you wind through metal barriers until choosing from one of two entrances. Not a single soldier or border police can be seen. You queue again behind yet another turnstile, waiting on the light to change green and the whim of the soldier looking on through the many security cameras. Ahead you see a bag scanner, the exact same as in any airport, alongside a body scanner. Made to wait again, I see old women tired and frustrated, university students fed up, clutching their books and wishing the process would hurry up. Eventually, the light flashes green, allowing two in at a time. We remove belts, wallets, phones and put it in a plastic tray with our bags, going through the body scanner one at a time. The equipment Israel uses at this, and many other checkpoints, is made by a company ‘Rapiscan’, provided by G4S, the same mob that you will see every day in Glasgow as private security. The company have a horrible track record, providing immigration detention centres, facilitating the deportation of individuals, most notably, killing Jimmy Mubenga at Heathrow airport in 2010. This is the first time I see a soldiers face, through a reinforced window.
I see two soldiers leaning back on their chairs as if they were in a boring class at school, both no older than 21. I press my passport up against the window, waiting for their approval. The female soldier shrugs and looks at me as if to suggest why am I even bothering her and communicates by waving her hand away to say I can go. The male soldier looks on bemused and smiles, presumably they don’t have many from other countries going through the ordeal. He begins waving and smiling as I collect my items, continuing even though I look away. I walk out to board the second bus to continue my journey to Jerusalem.
The whole inhumane experience is designed to remove all control and feeling of freedom. The lack of soldiers is a clear strategy to remove all human interaction, leaving you at the mercy of seeing the green light that a young soldier doing national service decides to press. The confined space and complete overkill in ‘security’ must emotionally harm children having to go through the ordeal twice a day. Israel uses the pretence of ‘security’ to justify these checkpoints but it only serves as a form of collective punishment. If a worker is lucky enough to be given a permit to work in Jerusalem, any form of political activity or sign of resistance will have this so called privilege taken away from them. In July this year it will be 10 years since the International Court of Justice deemed the wall illegal, and with it the checkpoints and still it continues.