It was a lovely, sunny, warm spring-like morning in Ramallah. It was Friday — the day off work, the day of the Friday prayer for Muslims, who would prefer to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem, if they could…if they could get a permit.
Friday is also the day of demonstrations … after at Friday prayers — at The Wall in Bil’il, Nil’in, Ma’asara, Nebi Salah…and now also, with mainly Israeli participants, at Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, north of the Old City. The Israeli Defense Forces disagree with the organizers of these demonstrations, who call the demonstrations “non-violent”. No, for the IDF, they are “violent”, because the demonstrators may “attack” (i.e., try to cross or to dismantle) the Wall, or the Fence (as the Wall is configured, in rural areas), or because some may “hurl” stones at Israeli jeeps or soldiers, once tear-gas and stun grenades and rubber bullets are fired as a method of “crowd control” (normally, a duty carried out by police, not by armed soldiers).
When there are clashes elsewhere, they almost always spread to the narrow bottleneck that Qalandia has become, where hundreds of thousands of people a day are squeezed through, if they are lucky, in scenes that are a terrifying and stressful nightmare. The whole humiliating and often-terrifying ordeal of passing through Qalandia is mainly designed to check documents and papers — to make sure that someone is allowed, by virture of where he or she resides, to enter Jerusalem, or that they have “permits”. For those allowed to pass in cars, there is a “security inspection” of the trunks and contents of vehicles.
As we have previously reported here, the traffic on both sides of Qalandia [i.e, coming from Jerusalem, and coming from Ramallah], is completely uncontrolled, and so chaotic that it quickly becomes a total and nearly unimaginable gridlock. There are private cars, and mini-vans that provide the Palestinian “public” transportation, and huge trucks loaded with cars or with containers or large amounts of construction materials, all jammed together, with not even a centimeter of space between them — and no traffic control or direction [though recently there have been some un-armed Palestinian traffic policemen attempting with some success to control cars on the Ramallah side of the entry to Qalandia. Into this mad scene, there are forays of stone-throwing boys, countered by Israeli soldiers in battle gear, firing stun grenades and tear gas, and sometimes also shooting rubber bullets.
Today, however, as people awakened, they learned that the Israeli Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, had decided on the basis of security assessments to impose a surprise and sudden total closure of the West Bank — out of concern that unrest in and around the Old City of Jerusalem might spread to the “villages” of East Jerusalem.
A total closure.