What is the occupation? Is it possible to laugh about it?

Suad al-Amiry, in her closing speech at an event organized by TedXRamallah, re-told the famous story about her dog and her dog’s Jerusalem passport, which says a lot both about the occupation [and about crossing Qalandia, the main and terrible checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem], and about becoming a writer, and much more:

[[ Sorry two facts here are confusing, perhaps just misspoken: (1) Suad explains that from Atarot, where she got Nura’s dog passport, you can go either to Ramallah or to Qalandia… (2) Suad says Israeli license plates are yellow, while Palestinian license plates are blue (they are green, with white)…]]

Qalandia Checkpoint: warping strategies of adaptation

The Spring 2010 issue (No. 41) of Jerusalem Quarterly, edited by the estimable Salim Tamari, contains a fascinating — though academic — analysis of the disgraceful Qalandia (Qalandiya) checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah (and the rest of the northern, middle, and western West Bank).

Salim, who has been teaching for a semester at Georgetown University, writes in his introductory that “Rema Hammami’s pioneering work on Qalandia (the Palestinian Tora Bora)[this is explained in Part Two of this story — it refers to the stone quarry which is the only alternative route around when Qalandia becomes a real hell-hole] 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”….
Salim’s editorial can be read in full here.

Reema’s long analysis [Qalandiya: Jerusalem’s Tora Bora and the Frontiers of Global Inequality] tries — almost journalistically, though she probably wouldn’t like to hear it — to describe the infernal atmosphere.

You have to know the place to understand, however, that she is walking, and not driving, through the checkpoint, and that she is describing the passage going from the Ramallah side to Jerusalem
“Heat, wind, dust, garbage. Cars stuck in line, jammed bumper to bumper – probably a two-hour wait. I squeeze through the few inches between an articulated lorry and the next car. On the other side is a porter shifting two television sets tied to his cart weaving in between the oncoming traffic. Ramallah, Ramallah Ramallah, the calls of a van organizer. I shake my head – and point toward the checkpoint. Up through the first set of blocks, the wind blows up white dust from the quarry, the peddlers clutch their sun umbrellas. I pick up my pace, it’s rush hour. Through the second row of blocks and I can see the crowd up ahead, spilling out from under the zinc roof and concrete pens of the crossing. I reach them and ask an old man, how long he’s been waiting: ‘From the time I was born’…

Continue reading Qalandia Checkpoint: warping strategies of adaptation

Crossing Qalandia – cont'd

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.

And in Dahiet al-Bariid …

More to follow from my own reporting on the closure of the checkpoint …

Meanwhile, here is what the United Nations OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) has reported: “Closure of Dahiyat Al Bareed checkpoint – On 19 February, the Israeli military dismantled Ar Ram checkpoint in northern Jerusalem after the checkpoint became redundent following the closure of the gate in the barrier between Dahiat al Bareed and Ar Ram on 16 February. While the removal of the checkpoint and the related checkpoint infrastructure will now allow free movement on road 1 between downtown Jerusalem and Qalandiya checkpoint, the closure has greatly increased the volume of traffic moving north through Qalandiya checkpoint. Ar Ram Checkpoint permitted access into Jerusalem only for residents of the immediate area around the checkpoint, but did not control north-bound (direction of Ar Ram) traffic from Jerusalem. All vehicles travelling to Ar Ram are now forced to travel through Qalandiya checkpoint. Delays of half an hour or longer are now regularly reported for travel north through Qalandiya checkpoint.” The full document is posted on the web here.

Night of Power – Laylat al-Qadr 2008

Laylat al-Qadr at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem

The crowds at Al-Aqsa Mosque - Laylat al-Qadr 2008

Crowd control at Al-Aqsa Mosque - Laylat al-Qadr 2008

A friend, who took these pictures, wrote me that “I can estimate more than 500,000 [people — possibly a record] were there tonight, from all over the country, even from Jordan. Everybody was extremely happy to be there, people would share the checkpoint experience but overall are happy to make it to the mosque. Many teams were on the floor to help people reach the different facilities and separate men and women, other teams were deployed to give medical assistance. One man from the Old City was giving free “Hamra and Baida” (in English red and white) a famous desert from Jerusalem. The Old City streets were busy and overloaded with people, till after midnight…

NOW, how did these people get there? There were flying checkpoints all over East Jerusalem.
People who arrived in East Jerusalem cars parked wherever they could – and even where they couldn’t.
It is a mystery where all these people, who willingly underwent great stress and hardship, some coming from the far reaches of the West Bank and passing through serial checkpoints, were able even to go to the bathroom, or to wash afterwards before prayers — facilities were severely limited, or lacking.

People got through on good will, and by spiritual uplift.

And those who came from the West Bank through the infamous Qalandia “border crossing” checkpoint, well, they went through a lot, and that’s a huge understatement.

Here are photos courtesy of Tamar Fleishman of Machsom Watch, who observed the passage of Palestinians through Qalandia. She told me that “The control was very strict, and it was very tense, very tense, but it didn’t come to shooting or stones. Instead, the army every time just took the young men to the military vehicles inside the checkpoint, and they just disappeared. That’s what happened to the shebab“, she said. She added that “it was very sad to see all those people coming such long distances, from Jenin, and everywhere, and then some being turned away…it was very ugly the way they were treated, like cattle, having to pass through one point for checking to another”.

Women lined up at Qalandia to cross to Jerusalem for Laylat al-Qadr 2008

Man blindfolded and being detained in sterile zone at Qalandia - Laylat al-Qadr 2008

Young man blindfolded and being detained at Qalandia on the last Friday in Ramadan 2008

Blindfolded and detained young man being led away - to where - on last Friday in Ramadan 2008

James Weatherill of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that it had been very crowded — the most crowded Friday of Ramadan to date. “The IDF did take our recommendation to open up a humanitarian lane”, he said, “but they didn’t manage it well. At one point, they were letting only those with Jerusalem ID use the humanitarian lane, but we managed to get it back. We had 15 volunteers from the Palestinian Medical Relief Society helping us. However, we would often have to wade into the crush of the crowd when we saw people having trouble, to pick them out and help them get through to the humanitarian lane”. The humanitarian cases were defined as anybody having any difficulty walking, or blind, or with heart conditions (documented), or over the age of 70.

Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch report on the first Friday in Ramadan

Here is the report by Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch on the passage of Palestinians from the West Bank through the major Qalandia checkpoint to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on the first Friday of Ramadan:


Qalandia, 5.9.08 – Hours: 9:30-13:00

Women trying to get into Qalandia Checkpoint - first Friday in Ramadan - 5 Sept 08


“The orders concerning the passage were strictly kept:
Only women over 45 years all and men over 50 that aren’t refused passage by the GSS were permitted to pass for the prayers.

“As the media had published and as Ruti reported, military forces were at every junction around the ancient city.

“By the checkpoint were police forces, BP [Border Police] and soldiers from the special patrol unit (YASAM) and vehicles weren’t allowed to come near the checkpoint.
At Qalandia checkpoint there were two separate lanes: women were on the eastern side and men at the usual cage-like corridors. There were many police men who spoke Arabic and guided the passers.
It was evident all around the place that there were more women then men.
The first screening of those permitted passage was preformed at the northern square and the parking lot was used as a sterile zone.

“11:00 – The soldiers moved back and stood behind the police checkpoint, by the new walls that separate the parking lot. Snipers were at their positions with their rifles aimed ready to fire. There was a notification that no one would pass any more. In spite of that they still allowed some people with blue IDs who fit the age barrier to pass to Jerusalem.
On the other side of the fences were a couple of hundred people who weren’t permitted to pass. The soldiers got ready for the ‘riots’ to begin, smoke and stun grenades were handed out as well as rubber bullets and tear gas. It was apparent that the soldiers were more then happy to start their fire.

Israeli forces ready to fire - Qalandia on the first Friday in Ramadan - 5 Sept 08

“11:15 – The passage was closed.

– A surgeon from Nablus who was in his fifties asked an officer to allow him to get to the prayer, he received a rude replay: ‘No one is allowed to pass now, wait patiently two or three hours, don’t you have any patience at all?’ – the doctor was patient, he had been so for over forty one years. He kept standing their under the blazing sun hoping that the gates of prayer might just open.

– Someone who worked at Hevree Kadish and had papers to prove it said that he had to go to a funeral at the cemetery at Givat Shaul. The answer he got was: ‘No one dies today and there are no funerals!…’

– A group of women were waving their green IDs and got one of the officers extremely mad, he spotted one of them and screamed at her: ‘Shut up!’

– A BP officer was tiered of telling people that they can’t pass so he started cursing, and while he was pointing at his own head he asked: ‘What the hell do you have in their instead of brains?’

“12:00 – Stones were beginning to be thrown towards the soldiers, who for starters began by throwing stun grenades and after that kept throwing and firing what ever was in their reach. Smoke rose above the checkpoint.
One of the soldiers made his hands into fists and like a child he demanded that he get what he wanted, he was yelling to his mates: ‘Give me the grenades, give me the grenades…’ – so they gave them to him. He threw them and relaxed. It was as Celine wrote in Journey to the End of the Night, that is the nature of all soldiers, when they aren’t busy killing they behave like children…
The dense smell of tear gas filled the air and burned the throat and eyes. A Palestinian got hit in his head and was taken to an ambulance that was waiting by the wall, he got treatment.
A fifteen year old boy got wounded in his neck and his shirt was scorched, he too was treated by the medical crew from Ramallah.

Palestinian injured by tear gas grenade gets medical treatment at Qalandia

“A young frustrated man who had just been released from the Israeli prison after 13 years, got his anger out on us, he yelled that he was once a great believer in co-existence and in ending the conflict peacefully but now doesn’t believe these slogans and he doesn’t see how there could be any other option for him but to become a Shahid. Finally he pointed at me and side: ‘Anyway, you are from the GSS’.

“On the way back we heard on the 14:00 new flash that ‘military forces in Qalandia had scattered a demonstration of 300 Palestinians, no one was injured’.

“When the IDF spokesman reports that no one was injured, is it to say that none of his men were injured? Don’t they count the injured Palestinians as well?”


Report compiled by Tamar Fleishman of Machsom Watch – Photos by Tamar Fleishman

The first Friday in Ramadan – bottlenecks at the checkpoints


The eminently respectable but ferociously committed Israeli ladies (and one man) from Machsom Watch (which monitors the conduct of Israeli security forces at Israeli checkpoints) were there. Europeans and a South African working with the World Council of Churches‘ Ecumenical Accommpaniers’ program in Israel and Palestine (EAPPI) were there. And they said there were (mostly Palestinian) employees of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) were there, just outside the IDF-defined military perimeter siphoning human entry into the Qalandia “border crossing” between the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Machsom Watch and EAPPI observers were in agreement — the situation, on the first Friday in Ramadan, when Palestinians yearn to worship at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem, was better organized than in the two previous years (after the checkpoints tightened controls on West Bank Palestinians).

It was better than last year, and much better than the year before — which, the observers said, was the year of tear gas launched on the frustrated masses who spontaneously decided to pray on the ground where they stood, blocked and barred from entry into Jerusalem. That year, two years ago, there were also Israeli soldiers mounted on horseback plowing through the people.

This year was much better, the monitors agreed, despite their objections to the basic paradigm of the occupation, the checkpoints, and the restrictions on Palestinian access to Jerusalem for Friday prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque.

There had been a coordination meeting this year with the Israeli DCO at Qalandia. In that meeting, the IDF had been informed that EAPPI, Machsom Watch, and OCHA would have observers in and around Qalandia on Fridays.

Many embassy SUV’s — including a team of U.S. embassy cars — were seen patrolling the (Dahiet al-Bariid – Ar-Ram – Qalandia) area on Friday morning.

Still, there were ugly moments.

Here, courtesy of the Jerusalem Post, is a photo of the Border Police Officer — who put on at some moments his black aviator-style sunglasses — that observers noted was the most aggressive to Palestinians — including women — trying to get into Qalandia “border crossing” on Friday to go to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

The Border Police Officer voted most aggressive at Qalandia checkpoint on the first Friday in Ramadan

He ran at women crowding the police barriers, and appeared to take pleasure in his shouting, his physically-menacing behavior. At one point, there appeared to be a modest reprimand aimed at restraining his threats, but this could certainly have been done earlier.

UPDATE — ANGRY ARAB had another photo of the same guy.

ap photo on angryarab's blog

But, the EAPPI team reported that some 6.000 souls an hour passed smoothly through Qalandia from 6 am until about noon, when the flow was largely stopped [for a total of at least 36,000 Palestinians entering Jerusalem from Qalandia]. By comparison, only 2,500 per hour could get through the main Bethlehem checkpoint, which they referred to as “Gilo 300”. The Jerusalem Post reported Friday evening that some 90,000 faithful were able to pray at Al-Aqsa at the midday prayers. But here, again, pictures speak louder than words.

Palestinians pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on the first Friday in Ramadan.- photo from Haaretz

The permits granted for Friday prayers are valid from 7am to 7 pm, a member of the EAPPI team reported. She said that Palestinian daily work permits do not allow passage through Qalandia for Friday prayers (though the Machsom Watch observers thought differently). But, the EAPPI team member noted, many of the Palestinians who entered Jerusalem for the mid-day prayers would want to stay at Al-Aqsa to perform the evening prayer, which would start just after 7 pm. The EAPPI observer said that if they did so, these Palestinians would face problems at flying checkpoints set up by the Israeli police inside Jerusalem, and on the road back to Qalandia. Those who overstay their permit would be detained, she thought, and this might affect their getting another Friday permit (though applications for Friday prayer permits normally take two weeks to process, and must therefore be made well in advance )– but she thought any of those detained for overstaying the Friday prayer permit would probably not face any very severe consequences unless they already had a record of being previously suspected or accused of a security violation.

The EAPPI observer also noted that the worshippers were supposed to return to Qalandia by 7 pm, but she pointed out that Qalandia would not be open to private vehicles until 9 pm — and therefore, she said, there could be some problems of congestion at return.

Women went though a separate inspection, but were almost completely unchecked, once they had passed through the first military perimeter. “The question is, if it can be as ‘good’ as this (considering the circumstances – the occupation and checkpoint), why is it so bad on an every day basis? On normal mornings, it’s horrible, because nobody can decide how to operate the checkpoints”.

A Machsom Watch veteran said that what went wrong last year was that some minister changed his mind in the middle of the night before the Friday prayer — when some Palestinians were already travelling to Qalandia under the assumption that they qualified for entry to Jerusalem under the earlier rules. the instructions were re-done, without any (or without at least adequate) information efforts. The people coming from Nablus and Jenin and the northern West Bank, and the villages around Ramallah, had no idea that the rules had been changed. They made great efforts, thinking they could get through Qalandia to pray at Al-Aqsa, but were barred. And then the fighting started. — between the Palestinians and the soldiers. And among the people themselves. Those who could not get through the checkpoint then prayed on the ground at Qalandia, but tear gas was used, and affected those praying.

This Friday, relatively few Palestinians were left without entry (those who could not qualify under the Israeli rules apparently did not even make an attempt), and there was no praying at the checkpoint.

There are still problems, one experienced EAPPI observer said. Some of the local papers publish wrong information, and the people are mislead. This year, for example, one Palestinian paper said that women of all ages could get through — whereas the IDF instructions said that it would be only women over 45, and men over 50.

Still, she said, the attention of the media (precious little though it is) and the photographers and the embassies and consulates appeared to have made a difference.

At 11:30, Machsom Watch observers said, the soldiers began tensing up — preparing for confrontation with Palestinians who could not get through the checkpoint.

And, it happened.

Around noon, a few stones (I saw about three) were hurled at the military lines. Tear gas was immediately fired back, and then stun grenades were lobbed. This happened sporadically for the next 45 minutes.

But, this was still much better than last year, the observers said — given the fact of the occupation, and the checkpoints, and the ban on many categories of people (including almost all young people) that prevents them from going to pray where they want to pray, in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.


Two Israeli media — the Jerusalem Post and YNET — reported that Palestinians “rioted” at Qalandia. These lurid reports are over-exaggerations of what actually happened: the confrontations began with two or three small stones being lobbed at the Israeli forces WHO DID NOT HAVE RIOT SHIELDS.

(NOTE TO THE ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES and the MINISTRY OF THE INTERIOR et al: here are Police riot shields stored at the ramp leading up to the Mughrabi Gate entrance to the Haram as-Sharif plateau where the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque are located in Jerusalem’s Old City. These same shields — stored for use when Palestinians sometimes throw stones at, or that fall on the Western Wall Plaza, could have been used, at least in the first instance, at Qalandia on the first Friday in Ramadan … instead of tear gas and stun grenades. The EAPPI observer noticed that there were also soldiers armed with weapons that fire rubber bullets, but these did not appear to have been used.

Israeli Police riot shields stored on the Mughrabi Gate ramp leading to the Haram as-Sharif mosque esplanade

The Israeli forces immediately responded by shooting tear gas and lobbing volleys of stun grenades. (Haaretz reported on Saturday that one Palestinian was injured by a tear gas cannister.)

This happened after every single small stone that intermittently came their way. This fizzeled out when the Israeli soldiers ignored the last few stones which were thrown.

A Machsom Watch veteran commented drily that “it only goes to show that both sides are operating on a mental age of about 13”.

This fizzeled out when the Israeli soldiers ignored the last few stones which were thrown.

It was not, of course, the Palestinians trying to get into the Qalandia terminal who were throwing stones. It did not even appear to have been those who were disappointed. The Palestinians who actually had a chance, or a permit, and who were trying to get to Jerusalem, dispersed at every exchange.Observers pointed out that it was only small and roving groups of youths who were making sporadic forays out of the Qalandia refugee camp that is right up next to the checkpoint who were responsible for the few stones that were thrown. Under the current rules estabished unilaterally by the IDF, these boys and young men won’t be eligible to even apply for a permit to perform Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa for another twenty or thirty years.

Despite the impression given by the headlines in the Israeli media (see just below), there might have been hundreds of youths involved in this game, or ritual, but there were NOT hundreds of stones thrown. There were only a very few stones, launched very sporadically, which did not reach the newly-created perimeter of concrete slabs that formed a mini-Wall (a “sleeve”, in security parlance, apparently) that prevented masses of people rushing to the entrance to the checkpoint.

The tear gas cannisters and stun grenades were flung quickly, and easily, at the slightest of provocations. All those in the vicinity — including some of the forward-deployed Israeli forces, and observers and journalists as well — were affected by the tear gas blowing back in the small breeze under the hot midday sun.

Women who had been pressing at the police barriers to the checkpoint rushed back as far as they could get from both the military and the tear gas — but that brought them right up against The Wall. They stood huddled together against a high — and manned — concrete watchtower, pulling the ends of their scarves over their noses and mouths. Israeli forces inside their perimeter also were lightly affected by the return of the tear gas on the slight wind at the time. Some soldiers laughed and gestured, and shook their heads.

Despite the relatively desultory nature of these exchanges, YNet said in a headline that “Some 100 Palestinians riot [emphasis added] at Qalandiya checkpoint, dispersed by Israeli security forces”. The text of the story stated that “Shortly after the prayer session marking the first Friday of Ramadan concluded at the Temple Mount in east Jerusalem, some 100 Palestinians rioted [emphasis added] at the Qalandiya checkpoint north of Jerusalem. The Palestinians hurled stones at IDF soldiers and Border Guard officers manning the checkpoint. Israeli security personnel were forced to use crowd-dispersal apparatus, but no injuries have been reported as of yet … The IDF has eased restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank as a gesture for the month of Ramadan”. The full YNet story can be seen in full on the YNet website here.

The JPost reported in almost identical term that “Ramadan prayers end in Qalandia riots [emphasis added]”. The text of the JPost story reads:: “Some 100 young Palestinians rioted [emphasis added] at the Kalandiya checkpoint, north of Jerusalem, on Friday, shortly after the first communal prayers of Ramadan. The Palestinians hurled stones at IDF troops and border policemen deployed in area, prompting the security forces to take crowd control measures. No casualties were reported”. This can be seen on the JPost website here.

Once things had calmed down, military men took megaphones and shouted in rude Arabic to those Palestinians who had returned to the police barriers to try to get into the checkpoint: “Imshi ala Ramallah!” “Go back to Ramallah” — which was insulting not only in tone, but in its easy presumption that the Palestinians trying to get into Jerusalem on Friday had only come a short distance. There is little to no Israeli awareness (and even less concern) about the difficulties most Palestinians face. Many who had hoped to pass had certainly made great efforts, coming from the far north and east of the West Bank. They had already crossed several internal West Bank checkpoints before being held up at the last possible moment at the police barriers blocking the entrance to Qalandia.

Machsom Watch observers reported that there had been some trouble when Palestinians started lining up at 4:30 on Friday morning.

One man reported to two sympathetic Machsom Watch women that he had almost been killed on his way to Qalandia. He said that he had been in a car, driving from Jericho via the narrow and winding road via the village of Taibeh, when he was stopped by three soldiers. After checking his permit, they then asked him who he planned to vote for in the American elections in November.  [U.S. Democratic Party candidate for President Barack] Obama, he said. [Obama had been an early favorite among Palestinians, until his ill-chosen and soon-rescinded remarks stating that a united Jerusalem would or should be Israel’s undivided capitol.) When the man replied that there would soon be a Palestinian State, he said, and added that the Israeli soldiers would then no longer have the right to stand there and stop him from going to pray, the soldiers suddenly became angry, he reported, and at least one of them began firing in the air. “Now I am going to insult every Israeli soldier I see”, the man said. But he probably won’t …

Festival of Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank – Qalandia: "the border crossing"

Here are some photos taken from the West Bank side of the formidable Qalandia checkpoint — designated as an official “border crossing”, even though areas that are officially part of Jerusalem are left on the West Bank side of The Wall are located past here. It is an unusually slow time — Saturday evening at Qalandia.

Qalandia 1

Qalandia - 2

Notice how clean and well-kept the West Bank of Qalandia checkpoint is kept (NOT). There is NO law and order here (except at the point of an Israeli gun), NO security whatsoever for Palestinians, NO garbage pick-up — and above all, NO TRAFFIC COPS! This is one of the very many worst aspects of the occupation.

Qalandia - 4

Below is the sign ipainted like graffiti on a concrete block, saying in Hebrew (I am told) that beyond this point it is illegal for Israelis to pass because they would be entering “Area A” of the West Bank. This is despite the fact that some neighborhoods that are officially part of Jerusalem are beyond this point, like Kafr Aqab…

Qalandia - 5 - the sign

And, though it’s unfortunately not too clear in the photos, you can see on the far hilltop one of the newish Israeli settlements in the West Bank — This settlement is opposite Qalandia, and it is also opposite the main part of downtown Ramallah-Al-Bireh.

Qalandia - 6

"I told him: 'Maybe. Anything is possible'…"

On Tuesday evening, at almost the very last minute, I received a press invitation to attend a reading
by the enormously important and iconic Palestinian poets, Mahmoud Darwish, in Ramallah.

I had just returned from Ramallah — and experienced the worst traffic situation I had ever been in, around the fortress Qalandia checkpoint which Israel now describes as a border crossing between two countries, even though there is only one real country here, and that is Israel. The state of Palestine has yet to come into being, and despair here is such that most people now feel that it will never exist.

In the hot — baking hot — sun, and under the watchful eyes of the Israeli IDF overlords in their reinforced concrete bunkers, and enormous traffic jam quickly built up, like a mudslide, or a tsunami wave. There was no visible cause — no car accident, nothing at all. It could have been IDF holding up cars at another checkpoint further down the road, near the village of Jaba’a, just across from the Israeli settlement of Adom.

But, because the IDF, which rules the West Bank, refuses to allow any Palestinian police, or security forces, or even traffic cops, anywhere near where they are, there is no law, and no order, in the vicinity of the Qalandia checkpoint — or anywhere else in the West Bank for that matter, with the possible exception of Ramallah, and its emerging class of robo-cops.

So, one lane of Palestinian traffic flowing around Qalandia became two (Palestinian cars passing those who more obediently, and stupidly, stayed in the single outbound lane. THen it becam three lanes, with Palestinian cars trying to take advantage of passing on the shoulder of the road. Then, at the first traffic circle round-about, which was blocked in the correct (counter-clockwise) direction, the three lanes of outbound Palestinian cars then moved to fill in the open space on the other half of the traffic circle.

There were big, huge trucks, loaded with materials, mainly construction materials — the one thing the Palestinians are doing, whereever possible, is building. There were mid-size vans with big engines and big tires, driven by aggressive types who behave as if they are the kings of the road. And there were the normal passenger cars, who were so low down, and so packed in all this quick flow of advantage-seeking vehicles that nobody, absolutely nobody.

And, the IDF sat in their control tower, and did nothing.

I was there for over an hour.

At one point, a convoy of five enormous SUVs with thick darkened windows, which had passed me earlier, and had been stuck up ahead, turned around on the side of the road and headed back into the thick of the mess with all their lights blinking and flashing. They headed straight for me, and blinked and flashed their lights.

I realized they were Americans, and either from the embassy in Tel Aviv, or the consulate in Jerusalem, or both. I got out of my car. The security man in the suit in the front seat of the lead car looked ill. I approached, and Ameircan guys in short sleeve shorts with coiled wires leading to communications earpieces jumped out on both sides of the convoy and walked towards me. “Move your car”, they ordered — but in a calm tone of voice. “I would be happy to, if you can bring a construction crane to lift it out”, I replied. “Why did you turn around, and double back — what is going on ahead?” I asked. Maybe they could see, sitting higher up. “Just move your car”.

Seveal of them walked forward, and calmly directed traffic just the few centimeters that were possible in that mess.

Nobody expressed hostility toward the U.S. security men, or the convoy, and a few more centimeters space was clear. The cars ahead of me moved, and I then could move, and the convoy beat it back.

The IDF must have seen all this — and they must also have been in contact with the American convoy, which was headed back into the thick of a crazy Palestinian traffic jam created în an area where no Palestinian police or traffic cops were allowed.

The convoy must have been waved through Qalandia, or else they high-tailed it back into and across Ramallah, to exit from the DCI (District Coordination Office, or something, also run of course by the IDF), which only “authorized” persons can transit. It was impossible to see anything more than a few cars in front or behind.

And a few Palestinian civilians, men of course, were on the road at the intersection ahead, giving in an uncoordinated way directions to cars to move or to wait. They slowly, gradually, allowed some of the cars to move ahead. But it took more than an hour.

All of this under the watchful but indifferent eyes of the IDF in their concrete reinforced control tower, who don’t give a damn what their checkpoints and Walls and associated regime — including the banning of Palestinian police or traffic cops anywhere in the near vicinity — do to Palestinian lives.

When I finally got home, and showered after soaking in perspiration and dust, I found the email invitation to the Mahmoud Darwish event.

I returned, and found that the traffic was still jammed up around Qalandia — it had only lessened a bit.
So I headed up to the DCO, many kilometers away, which would bring me across town to the opposite side of Ramallah from the “Cultural Palace” where the big event was taking place.

When Mahmoud Darwish finally took the stage — after a couple of minutes of silence for the “Shuhada”, or Palestinian martyrs killed in the conflict, and the playing of the Palestinian “national anthem” (during which only two of the dozen uniformed Palestinian security men in the audience, apparently as guests,
snapped to salute), and two long and boring political speeches (the mayor of Ramallah and the mayor of al-Bireh) — he recited a few of his more recent poems.

When he entered, Mahmoud Darwish received a long standing ovation. And, when he took the stage, there was another standing ovation. But as the reading proceeded, the audience was quieter, calmer, less enthusiastic than previous audiences I have seen at Mahmoud Darwish events around the world.
I left over two hours later, before it ended.

One of the poems he recited was, apparently, a dialog between a Palestinian and an Israeli who had both fallen into a pit, and were experiencing fear, doubt and despair as they waited for a rescue, for help from the outside, that did not come.

One line I got: ” ‘I told him, “maybe”. Anything is possible”.

Ex-UNSG Kofi Annan visits Palestinian school in East Jerusalem – may visit Gaza

Thanks to our dear friend Adnan, here is some news you will not read in many other places — it was published in Al-Quds, the Palestinian Arabic-language newspaper published in Jerusalem: ex-UNSG Kofi Annan, here with a delegation of some 10 well-connected do-gooders led by himself and Ted Turner (“We want to help”, Turner told Israeli officials, according to Israeli media), and please see our earlier post here, visited a Palestinian school in Qalandia — right next to one of the world’s most awful checkpoints, between Ramallah and Jerusalem. IDF soldiers at Qalandia routinely tell those crossing that this is a checkpoint between “two countries” — “that’s another country over there”, the soldiers say, pointing over at the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Kofi Annan, Ted Turner, and delegation are also reportedly going to visit Gaza.

How will they deal with the Hamas leadership in Gaza — just ignore it?

It will be interesting to see what the reception will be to their visit to Gaza…

UPDATE: Annan and Turner left Jerusalem on Wednesday, and they are supposed to be leaving the region early Thursday morning, according to the UN Foundation.