There has been more or less non-stop construction at the major Qalandia (Kalandia) checkpoint for several months.
The plans have not been publicly announced or published. The tens of thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of people who cross Qalandia daily never know in advance what is about to happen, or what is going on.
Information such as this is not a courtesy afforded to people under occupation.
A circle was constructed within the last year just on the Ramallah side of Qalandia checkpoint — which Israeli officials refer to as a “border crossing”, although it is not one of Israel’s officially-listed international crossing points.
This traffic circle was slightly bizarre in that the lane of car traffic coming into Ramallah from the Jerusalem area was funneled into the circle counter-clockwise, while traffic coming from Ramallah into the Qalandia car-parking area was also directed into exactly the same lane. Drivers just had to work it out for themselves (as we have written before, there is NO civilian or military traffic control on either side of the Qalandia crossing, where there is major traffic passing every single day).
Now, as part of the mysterious new construction that has been going on for over a month, the circle has been cut off just at the left side, although the same cross-direction traffic (incoming from Jerusalem to the south, and drop-off and arrival car-park traffic from Ramallah to the north) has to pass on the right side.
Once you get through that cross-traffic, now, there is suddenly a line of border police vehicles and border police personnel with big black automatic weapons in their arms, and a road block.
There are no signs explaining what is happening, and absolutely no instruction about where to go, except the soldiers with the guns.
Behind them, bulldozers and construction vehicles can be seen at work, day and night — but there is NO explanation.
One night recently, coming from Jerusalem, I was surprised, just after passing through the stress of the checkpoint, by being confronted with a blocked road and armed soldiers. I had no idea what to do, and tried to continue along the side. (Once through the checkpoint, there are no street lights, and it was totally dark.) An Israeli border policewoman flagged me down — but, luckily, she was helpful, and polite. She had no idea, herself, what I should do, because she had never ventured more than 50 meters (if that far) to either side of where she was standing. But, talking to her, I was able to calm down and stop panicking, and realized I might try to go to a second traffic circle on the other side of the Qalandia car park. That worked.
Last night, my friend and colleague Yasmine was leaving Ramallah after working with the editor and director of a film she is producing. She hadn’t passed that way recently, and had absolutely no idea that there was construction underway at Qalandia. She ran into the blocked road, the military vehicles parked across the road, and the armed soldiers. But they were not so polite. They both pointed their guns directly at her, and told her to go, go, go. “Where?” she asked, “Where? There are no absolutely no signs indicating where to go”. They kept pointing their guns, then they motioned with one free arm as their other arm kept a firm hold on their weapon. “Over there, just go…”
That is one small part of what it means to be under occupation.
And it is not nice.