Qalandiya’s Horrors

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Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate to cross Qalandiya checkpoint. I do not hide my hate. Why should I? This is an Israeli crossing between what is now a de facto border between the West Bank city of Ramallah and occupied Jerusalem. This abominable edifice, this ugly iron, barbed-wired and army-manned structure has caused me (and a countless number of others) uncountable episodes of anguish, anger and frustration. However, I am lucky to have a venue to voice my experiences and frustrations, which I will give myself full liberty to do.

If I had to sum up Qalandiya in one word, this is what it would be: a nightmare. In many people’s cases, including my own, it is a recurring one, at least five days a week to be precise. It is hard however, to completely convey to those who have not experienced the horror, how awful Qalandiya really is. The long queues, the sardonic Israeli soldiers behind bullet proof glass windows, the incessant beeping of the metal detector, the subtle click of the iron turnstile that everyone waits for to finally squeeze into the tiny cubicle-like space where your ID/permit/passport is checked and the final turnstile to get out of the god-awful place and onto the other side of the "border". It is almost impossible to capture the humiliation of being herded like cattle into a caged-in corridor, being yelled at over loud speakers to "step back" or to have to inch your way (sometimes for over an hour) just to get close to the turnstile that will take you to the next turnstile, which will get you up front before the soldiers, which will take you to the final turnstile, etc, etc.

Anyway, it was not until two days ago that I realized that it is much worse for some than it is for others. On this particular day, there were probably 70 people crammed up against each other trying to squeeze their way across. People were prodding, pushing, cursing and lecturing one another on the best way to get by when all of a sudden I felt a palpable difference in the energy behind me. A panicked rustling and sharp intakes of breath along with shocked exclamations of "Oh my God" and "What happened?" made me turn around in my cramped quarters between a very tall young man and a very well endowed older woman with a bulky suitcase jabbing into my left knee. There on the ground, surrounded by horrified and concerned bystanders (themselves weary from the interminable wait), was a young man, most likely in his early 30s, jerking and convulsing in an epileptic seizure. "Make space for him to breath!" everyone was yelling, not knowing what to do except watch this poor man writhing on the ground. The Israeli soldiers behind their bullet proof windows and their steel and iron fortifications could have cared less. No paramedic came out to help, no soldier or policeman concerned for the well being of another human showed his/her face. Basically, the iron turnstiles stayed locked, the soldier in one of the booths who would have had a clear view of the whole scene stayed securely in his locked up chamber and we Palestinians tried to will this anonymous man’s seizures to stop.

In the end, after the poor man stopped convulsing and lay in an unconscious heap at our feet, a physician apparently waiting in another crowded line came to the rescue. With the help of two able-bodied young Palestinians, they pulled the man out of the crowd to an unknown destination while we bystanders stood in shock for a second, clicking our tongues in disbelief and grief, before turning our attention back to the task at hand –” crossing the checkpoint.

While the incident happened days ago, the image of the young Palestinian man has remained with me ever since. How callous do these soldiers have to be to see such a pitiful sight and do absolutely nothing? The extent to which Israel has dehumanized the Palestinians has reached horrific heights and this Qalandiya incident is a perfect example.

After telling my story to others, I have heard equally shocking stories about Qalandiya. One friend told me she saw Israeli soldiers refuse passage to a woman who had gone into diabetic shock and who needed to cross into Jerusalem to get her insulin. A video caught on a mobile phone and posted on YouTube several months ago shows Israeli soldiers beating on a young Palestinian man who forgot his ID and innocuously showed them his drivers’ license instead. The man’s decision obviously translated into a "security threat" to the soldiers who proceeded to hit and kick him until he was balled up in pain on the ground.

The stories go on and on. However, it is the basic premise that the Qalandiya checkpoint even exists that is the most flagrant of violations to Palestinian rights. Eight years ago, there was no such thing as this crossing. Today, it looks as if it has been there for decades. Israel’s abuses of Palestinians at Qalandiya or anywhere else stem from the fact that most Israelis and especially its government view Palestinians as lesser beings. Their dehumanization in the eyes of Israel coupled with the world’s indifference to its oppressive and daily measures is what allows Israel to get away with – frankly – murder.

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