Kalandia is not a checkpoint in any recognized sense of the word ‘checkpoint’ which is a place where documents and goods are checked, and through which people and goods which are in order pass unimpeded. Kalandia is acres of concrete block wasteland with its passages constructed in maze formation: narrow, difficult to negotiate and seemingly without exit. At last, however, you realize that the exit is there, and it is with a profound sense of relief that you walk into the completely mud-covered Ramallah side.
Crossing Kalandia as an EU Passport holder with no restrictions, and without undergoing the endless humiliations which are the lot of the rightful residents of this land, is an experience that cannot be described é it can only be experienced first hand, and everyone who can come and do so, should do. No film, no commentary, no tales told by visitors can prepare you for this. Tears flow unbidden and unchecked, and eyes smile empathetically into mine. No words are necessaryé
This, remember, is not a frontier. Kalandia is a point on the road between the Palestinian City of ‘East Jerusalem’ and the Palestinian city of Ramallah, in the Palestinian lands of the ‘West Bank’, inhabited entirely by Palestinians. Controlled, however, entirely by Israelis in every tiny respect (except for the thoughts of those who wait). It is the most outrageous restriction on human rights and civil liberties ever seen é if the world DOES see, then why is this state of criminal repression continuing?
And all this to deter what the Israelis see as the waiting hordes of suicide bombers. How many ‘checkpoints’ per bomber? How many tons of concrete and how many huge rocks per bomb? How many acres of Palestinian agricultural land consecrated to each as-yet-undiscovered suicide bomber? How many millions of US tax-dollars to protect each Jew from a very minimal threat?
Everything in and around this illegal construction is raw and brutal, and everything in this aggressive wasteland moves – or not – on the whim of a surly Jewish soldier. A sprawling, as-far-as-the eye-can-see wasteland é bulldozed, earth-moved, dug-up, demolished, destroyed (add all the other words of destruction you can think of and it will not be too much) é through which ‘roads’ and ‘pathways’ wander at the (ill-)will of the Israelis, whose paranoia has led to this atrocity. All surfaces are pot-holed and covered with puddles metres across; puddles which are surrounded by more metres of mud, broken up by ramp after ramp, making it impossible to use any non-powered wheeled form of transportation be it cart, wheelchair or pushchair. And this was in the dry! Imagine a wet and windy day é I can’t imagine the horror of it.
As you approach Kalandia from Al Quds (Jerusalem) the devastation is apparent way before the barrier é by the time you are a within sight of this monstrous creation, devastation of the landscape is complete. All that once stood for three hundred metres on either side of all approaches has been pushed into enormous mounds containing destroyed houses, trees, everythingé And all around are the fortresses of the illegal ‘settlers’ on the hilltops.
Stretching through the mud are long lines of resigned, but angry, people é mothers with babies and toddlers in their arms (because they cannot use a buggy) laden with bags, bent old people, sick people, people of all kinds unable to travel the few miles between two of their own cities because the Israelis are suffering from a collective delusional paranoia. Every time people need to go from one side to the other, they walk the long distance from the dropping-off point on one side to the taxi minivans on the other with their heavy loads. And it is much worse, of course, on the way back, since the suicide bombers are obviously queuing up to enter Jerusalem!
Ramallah is covered with a blanket of mud é all cars are muddy over their roofs and clothes are filthy nearly up to the knee é how on earth do women manage to keep their families clean with so much mud and so little water? Everything at ground level in the whole land is torn-up, demolished, cleared into piles of rubble, worn out, collapsing, never repaired é I cannot find adequate words.
In the midst of this unprecedented suffering, all over this road-blocked moonscape whereon every facet of normal life is destroyed, still everyone (and I do really mean that) takes my hand and says ‘welcome, you are very welcome’ and smiles into my eyes. Tears flow then too.
Well, this is my experience of crossing Kalandia into Ramallah. At 2.00 am January 1st we came back from the party in Ramallah. We were about 40 internationals led by an Italian Minister and, although the checkpoint was closed, the Israeli soldiers pretended not to see us as we walked through!! Quite a diplomatic incident, I feel. Even these thugs seemed to realize that, on balance, we were unlikely to be carrying bombs. We walked for an hour and then a minibus came along and took us load by load é I was luckily in the first! Facing yet another checkpoint nearer to Al Quds, four pasty, pimply-faced, ‘lager louts’ stood before us with their drooping, unlit cigarettes. We had with us a Palestinian girl with no papers. They stupidly neglected to check the NUMBER of EU passports; so, realizing they couldn’t hold the Internationals for anything (other than being alive é an idea which obviously annoys them a lot), the girl passed through undetected.
When I saw the approach to Kalandia, the infamous checkpoint itself and the unbelievably damaged road to Ramallah, I understood how the Allied troops must have felt when they entered the camps in 1945 é disbelief, sorrow, anger, nausea, and outrage – “how can this have happened, be allowed to happen?’
Well, “How can this be allowed to happen here? How is it still like this after 55 years in Palestine?”
PEACE When the Jews talk of peace they do not mean the same thing that the Palestinians do. Israelis simply mean that they wish to keep what they have taken (the West Bank, the Golan, the Gaza Strip, and control of 3.5 million Palestinian lives), unimpeded by International Laws and customs, and with no Palestinian able to enter or permitted to live in Israel.
Palestinians mean that they want to be free from the illegal occupation. They want the Jews to return to the 1967 borders with no exceptions, they want the illegal occupants of the settlements to leave their tiny, precious land, they want the settlements dismantled, every one. They want no more murders of their citizens, no more abductions, no more bombs dropped into apartment blocks from US made F-16 strike aircraft, no more missiles fired into residential areas from helicopter gunships (so insensitively named ‘Apache’), no more wholesale house demolitions by giant Caterpillar bulldozers, no more shelling from tanks such as are used in full scale war against an armed enemy, no more mass arrests and disappearances, no more deportation of whole families, no more school, hospital, road and neighbourhood closures, no more trenches in front of their universities, no more Bantustans, no more electrified razor wire on their land é there has to be much more but you get the picture.
So the Israelis will say “Look how much the Palestinians are asking for é we cannot be expected to be that generous é what will they give us?” Difficult since they don’t have anything Israeli! GENEROUS, what an outrage!! Of course the Jews will almost certainly overlook the gift that the Palestinians wish to give them é a peaceful future, living side by side in two sovereign states! Precisely what Israel doesn’t want anyway
Anne Gwynne is a 65-year-old grandmother from Wales working with the UPMRC and ISM. She contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from the Occupied Palestinian Territories.