Untitled. Report 3, June 2005


I walked through the Qalandia checkpoint for the first time yesterday. I was told it had changed, but I didn't realize to what extent. By the time I got through, my eyes were heavy with tears that I managed to supress. But I am still crying. I am in shock. Shock is not a word strong enough to describe the sensation. I am in awe. I am angry. I am sad. Distressed, distraught, anguished. Confused. Beaten down maybe. It was obvious two years ago that Qalandia was one day going to be an official border, that it would change from being just a checkpoint. That it would be similar to Erez, the only place where one can enter or exit the Gaza Strip from, with a permit of course. Gaza long ago had a "seperation fence" built around it, so perhaps when we pass through Erez today it's not surprising. But when you see a border being built piecemeal, without agreement from both sides, it is something else…


Qalandia has always been a big checkpoint. Always, for the past five years that is, it didn't exist before 2000. Two years ago one would be stopped on the way out, no matter the political circumstances around. But it was, let's say, more easy going then. People walking in and out could cross each other, pass each other, cut in line, change their minds and head back. Although it was a checkpoint and the presence of soldiers was ever-present, Qalandia almost had a social aspect to it. A place where you would run into old friends, do a little bit of shopping, see some humiliation going on.


The Qalandia that I passed through yesterday was a different place. It has grown in size. An entire mountain has been razed to make way for a larger Israeli control office. Did you understand? An entire mountain has been razed! The landscape has been changed to fit the needs of the Israeli government and military. Today all along the Western flank of Qalandia is the 8-meter concrete wall. On its Eastern flank, some building is being erected, although no one is sure what it will be. Rumors are that the building will be an official border, or the new Civil Administration office, or God knows what…


To get through the checkpoint, there are now metal revolving doors one has to pass through, two lines to follow: one for men, one for women and foreigners. A guard waits at the end of a… oh never mind I cannot even describe it. It's impossible to describe this. One has to walk through it. I have honestly seen slaughterhouses where the paths the cows are sent through are more humane than this.


I finally reach the beginning of the line, one more old lady in front of me. The guard decides it's time for his lemonade break. As if it's entirely normal to make us wait while he sips his lemonade and flirts with the female soldier. Meanwhile my male friend has made it through and he must wait for me. The guard drinks, laughs, cocks his gun a few times. Never looks in our direction. We stand there. The old lady behind me mumbles, "it's hot. Lemonade is refreshing." I stand in complete shock. I want to stare the young soldier down, I want to scream at him to get back to work, we're waiting here! But this is not a relationship where I'm a customer who can nag about the speed or quality of service… Finally he finishes his glass and signals the woman in front of me to approach. I am eager that it's my turn, ready to give him a piece of my mind. As he takes my passport, his eyes catch those of another young lady soldier with whom there must be some romantic intentions. It's as if her presence has boiled his blood. He stands tall, plays with his weapon, clears his throat, takes a quick glance at my passport and says to me in a heavy accent "where are you from?" I want to say to him: "can't you tell from my passport?" But I find my will to stand up to him wean by the millisecond. I see his gun, I see the concrete around me, the people waiting in line behind me, the men passing through the x-ray machines on my left, the Israeli flag on the right, the sunset over the Wall… I feebly respond "I'm American." I dare not say more. He asks me from what state, smiles and lets me pass. I grow confused over which way to pass, more metal revolving doors, a whole line of seated soldiers waiting, checking papers again. I see my male friend on the other side, and his face comforts me. I manage to make it through. I end on the other side and I stop for a while. A new control tower has been erected. But the mountain, it's gone! It's been razed! I still cannot believe it.


A horde of taxi cabs, their honkings and screams, dust, merchants selling their goods, await on the other side. All I see is the Wall. It continues as far as my eye can focus. I look back to see the checkpoint, I immediately turn my head. I cannot stand to look. I want to cry. My friend is talking to me, introducing me to his brother. I cannot hear a word he says. I try to swallow my tears.


It's impossible to describe. I'm not sure why I'm even bothering trying. I think of these Israeli and Western peace activists that sit at checkpoints to "help" Palestinians pass through without humiliation. Tear down the checkpoint if you want to end humiliation! Tear down the Wall if you're concerned about human rights! What the hell have you done for the past five years sitting at the checkpoint?! It has grown! It has become more inhumane, not even animals are made to pass through such a labyrinth, through which at every point you are reminded of who's in power. Israel has changed the entire landscape around this place and you just sit there watching people pass by! And the Palestinians. How can they accept this? Adapt to more and more imprisonment. Of course what they can they possibly do? Blow up the checkpoint? Only to be greeted by stronger bombs and bulldozers, by land confiscations…


As I stand suppressing my tears, trying to refrain from screaming at my friend in all my anger, it occurs to me that the checkpoint and its changes is really just the tip of the iceberg. It only begins to symbolize the history of relations between Israel and the Palestinians, the suppression of Palestinians, their acclimatization to being conquered, or really the reality that perhaps the only option is to acclimatize, at least physically, segregated into cantons, forced into obedient lines, forced to accept that their anger and rage cannot be responded to, their tears quelled by the next set of challenges and humiliations, the constant reminders of loss, of shrinking power, of shrinking possibilities. Had I kept track of the landscape from before, since decades, I am sure I would have noticed many mountains razed, houses bulldozed, walls erected, suppression insitutionalized and ignored by the world… No, the checkpoint doesn't even begin to tell the story, it is only the beginning…

 

Scenes of Qalandia

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