Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem + Ramallah: a "monstrosity"

Here, from the Institute for Palestine Studies TV (yes!) is an interview with an American professor (of Palestinian origin, apparently) about describe the disgraceful Qalandia [Qalandiya] checkpoint — or “border terminal” — between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Asked to try to describe this large and terrible checkpoint for those who have never seen it, Professor Helga Tawil-Souri said the first word that came to her mind was “monstrosity” — then followed by “oppressive”, “scary”, “sad”, “absurd”, and “disruptive”.

Like other Israeli checkpoints to control Palestinian movement, Professor Tawil-Souri said, it has also become a transport, economic and social hub. It has also, like other checkpoints, become a focus of protest … from time to time.

The interview, conducted by IPS Assistant Editor Clea Thouin, is posted here.

[IPS TV needs to shape up a bit — Skype interviews are not bad in and of themselves, but the interviewer should look into the camera, and not off to the monitor, or whatever… Also, the intro music + graphics are pretty awful…]

Last summer, the Institute for Jerusalem Studies [now obliged to work from Ramallah, courtesy of the difficulties posed by the Qalandia Checkpoint and its related “security” regime], which is an offshoot of the Institute for Palestine Studies, published New York University Assistant Professor Helga Tawil-Souri’s article on Qalandia.

She wrote: “I have spent innumerable hours and days at the Qalandia checkpoint since the early 2000s, watching how it functions and making friends with many Palestinians who ‘work’ at it or who have to cross it on regular and sporadic bases. It was through years of observation and the informal occasions and conversations that ensued from these friendships, that I realized that checkpoints, and Qalandia specifically, were more than what meets the eye. Of course they were, and still are, spaces where the Zionist/Israeli colonialist project is palpable in all its might and ugliness and where Palestinians are physically reminded of their subjugated position. In hanging out at Qalandia however, I witnessed thousands of Palestinians flowing through smoothly as if at an airport terminal, herded off and squeezed in ‘waiting areas’ like sheep for hours on end, or stopped altogether from getting home, to work, to the doctor’s or anywhere else. I met hundreds of drivers and merchants selling their services and goods, waiting for the checkpoint to open and the ‘shoppers’ and ‘travelers’ to pass through again. I saw all kinds of goods, from tomatoes to computers, passing through without issue, loaded off trucks and carried to the other side, or rotting in the sun and eventually turned back with a flick of a soldier’s hand …When the Qalandia checkpoint first emerged, many Palestinians – whether with or without permits – circumvented it by walking through the stone quarry on its eastern side. When the IDF put up a barbed wire fence or made sweeps through the quarry to gather those passing through (and lined them up for hours on end, like misbehaving school children for everyone to see), taxi drivers devised the ‘Tora Bora’ route: driving circuitously around the hills to get to the other side. As one cab driver said to me while the wall was still being built, “when you come back in two years and they would have finished the wall, I’m sure we would have thought of a way to deal with it.” Israeli mechanisms of control, surveillance, fragmentation and erasure will likely remain and fortify in the foreseeable future, but it is also clear that Palestinians will continue to traverse whatever may be erected in front of them, and continue to (cross-)navigate the new landscape … In the ever-unfolding dialectic of checkpoints, the contradictions continue: the IDF builds them, Palestinians transform them into social and economic centers; the IDF erects a terminal and forces the merchants and taxi drivers away in an on-going attempt to literally ‘concretize’ bureaucratic aspects and control and separation; Palestinians devise other means of transforming them into unique spaces – even the ever changing graffiti around Qalandia can be interpreted as a process of making it ‘unique.’ As a result, not only are checkpoints continually re-negotiated, but also function as contradictory spaces: borders and territories, gateways and barriers, corridors and outlets, spaces of gathering and dispersal, of mobility and immobility. As a point which centralizes and fragments, Qalandia is akin to a ‘non-place;’ but as a site of commerce and meeting, complete with its own routines and sets of behaviors – that have almost nothing to do with the IDF – it is also a lived, social space. Checkpoints have a simultaneous, although ever-shifting, specificity and ‘generic-ness,’ as such, they challenge neat dichotomies … Checkpoints are not officially established Palestinian spaces, since they are erected and controlled (and dismantled) by the IDF. They neither appear on any authoritative maps nor mark accepted boundaries between the two ‘states.’ They are not considered Palestinian places by Israeli (or foreign) laws, thus can be the target of military violence that usually goes un-reported and un-punished. Israel neither officially acknowledges legal responsibility for checkpoints nor recognizes them as ‘sovereign’ spaces. In this sense, checkpoints are constructed by the Israeli military not simply as a ‘non-place’ but as ‘bare space’ that is part of a broader philosophical and political casting out of Palestinians as mere zoological humanity warranting no legal status or discursive presence”. Her article is posted here.

The Jerusalem Quarterly published an excellent earlier article on Qalandia checkpoint, in the Spring 2010 issue, by Bir Zeit University Professor Rema Hammami.

In it, she wrote: “an ordinary commute across the Qalandiya military checkpoint is one still played out in myriad variations at checkpoints throughout the West Bank – the majority of them, like Qalandiya severing Palestinian communities from each other rather than from Israel. It is a scene that most readily sums up the current existential situation of Palestinians in the occupied territories, so much so that checkpoints have been the subject of not only human rights and World Bank reports but a recurrent theme in Palestinian artistic practise including, cinema, dance, poetry and music. As a macro- structure, the more than 400 checkpoints and roadblocks constitute a spatial regime of incarceration that has delivered more than 50% of the population into poverty and rendered a quarter of them workless. While on the micro level of everyday interaction, they constitute the most visceral experience of Palestinians relationship of inequality with Israel, and a profound reminder of their status as stateless people”.

Reema Hammami’s article in the Spring 2010 issue of Jerusalem Quarterly can be read in full here, and we posted extensive excerpts from it on this blog here and here.

[On this blog, we have published many dozens of posts on Qalandia (or Qalandiya or Kalandia) checkpoint, which can be found through a search on this website…]

The editor of the Jerusalem Quarterly, Salim Tamari, wrote in his editorial introduction to the same issue of Jerusalem Quarterly that “Rema Hammami’s pioneering work on Qalandia (the Palestinian Tora Bora) takes an ethnographic look at Israel’s regime of checkpoints and barriers within a global context of ‘policing inequalities’. In particular she examines the politics of security, which ‘creates myopia, blindness to the very facts it engenders’. Her essay also examines the creative forces of survival among its victims. In her work the carnavalesque atmosphere of market and circus that permeates ‘border’ zones like Qalandia (and Surda before it), both camouflage and underscore the misery created by the security regime behind it”. This editorial is posted here.

Reema Hammami’s earlier, astounding, article on the Surda checkpoint (between Ramallah and Bir Zeit and neighboring villages — or, for a time, really, between the northern and central + southern West Bank) was published in 2005 the Jerusalem Quarterly.

In it, she wrote: “A checkpoint creates its first chaos in the regularized systems and routes of transportation. Surda appeared as a roadblock in March 2001 and within the same week the two possible detour routes between Birzeit and Ramallah (what became known as ‘al-Jawwal’ and ‘al-Mahkama’) were also blocked. Everywhere within the nexus of blockage, new and often impossible paths were forged by drivers across agricultural land. Due to the terrain, however, no final bypass route could be established for the final leg into Ramallah. The mass transport system that the vast majority of the population depends on is predominantly privately-owned Ford transit vans that can legally hold seven passengers and are licensed to work a given route under the auspices of a local taxi office. The total severing of the road forced Ford drivers to drop off and pick up passengers at whatever side of the checkpoint they had reached, instead of completing the route to the official stop. For months, however, regularizing a new pick-up, drop-off system was impossible, because the road was often ‘half open’, with soldiers allowing one narrow lane of traffic for vehicles running both directions. The massive traffic jams that ensued ultimately led many commuters to walk through the checkpoint, rather than spend senseless hours waiting to pass through on wheels”. This astounding study can be read in full here.

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