Sunday, April 21, 2019

The struggle for Palestinians crossing checkpoints to work


By Anna Donati - December 11, 2018
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [checkpoints] [Qalandiya checkpoint] [Israeli Wall]

More than a hundred checkpoints crack the landscape in the West Bank, depriving the vast majority of Palestinians any access to Jerusalem and hindering their movement beyond the 1967 occupied territories.

Tens of thousands of workers manage to get a work permit that gives them the right to cross into Israel, but this precious allowance does not spare them the daily hassle.
 
It is 5 o'clock in the morning. In Ramallah, the de-facto capital of Palestine, Nadeem M. has already jumped aboard a collective taxi which is speeding towards the checkpoint of Qalandia.
 
On board the vehicle, are Palestinians who work in Jerusalem, all in a hurry to pass checkpoints as quickly as possible.
 
"The situation is very difficult in Qalandia right now," Nadeem M. commented.
 
“The situation is always difficult, but for several days, it is particularly painful, a constant reminder that your country does not belong to you,” he continued.
 
On this morning, hundreds of Palestinians were waiting for the gates to open for nearly an hour.
 
Inside the checkpoint, the tension is already palpable.
 
The terminal is divided into several entries. One of them, quite distinct, is located near the point of transit; it is reserved for Palestinians holding an Israeli identity card. The passage is relatively fluid.
 
It is a hundred yards away, inside a large terminal falling into ruins, that the situation seems the most critical.
 
On the left, a priority queue is reserved for women, children, and certain professions, such as doctors, teachers, as well as people requiring medical supervision.
 
In the center, there are the lines of the workers, which already extends to the outside of the building.
 
Suddenly, a protest resounds in the crowded building. "I've been waiting for two hours. Nothing moves. I will be late for my work. It's systematic,”  a man in his fifties said.
 
With him, dozens of Palestinians flock to the gates, noisily expressing their anger.
 
On the other side of the gates, in a prefabricated building that the Palestinians call "the aquarium," an Israeli military person does not pay attention to the din that took over.
 
"It's pretty unpredictable. Queues often break out when Palestinians notice that nothing is moving forward. I do not know what these delays are due to, while sometimes the traffic is fluid. Maybe there are new teams at checkpoints,”  Mahmoud A. commented.
 
For him, who passes by here every day, there is a clear will of blockage by the Israeli soldiers.
 
"They try to discourage us,” he commented in a fatalistic tone.
 
Inside the corridors leading to the turnstiles, it's the crush.
 
The atmosphere is unbreathable. The bags and belongings are now thrown over the gates.
 
"We can not get in the line with our bags. We are forced to throw them and get them back on the other side, once we have crossed the turnstiles,” said another Palestinian worker.
 
Many take pictures and videos with their smartphones, to explain their delay to their employers.
 
But, on this morning, the situation seemed to have become totally uncontrollable. A man in the middle of the crowd fainted, due to being in such a tight space and was taken to hospital.
 
Outside, in front of the terminal, there are dozens who have given up trying to pass. "We will not be able to pass. It's too late now. We will lose our day's work. Once again,” someone exclaims.
 
Nearly 26,000 people cross the Qalandia checkpoint daily, according to the Israeli authorities, on foot, by bus, or by car.
 
At Checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem, there is a similar situation, almost daily. The long queues are filled here too, before sunrise.
 
An Israel Defense Force (IDF) personnel told Palestine Monitor 7, 000 workers cross this checkpoint by foot each day.
 
Zain Houdhar, an employee in a construction company in Jerusalem, told Palestine Monitor he spends an average of more than an hour each morning in the middle of the mob at Checkpoint 300.
 
Built in 2005, Checkpoint 300 is located within the Palestinian territory, more than two kilometers from the 1949 armistice line.
 
Of the 100 or so permanent checkpoints, only eight are on the internationally recognised future border line.
 
To be added to this, the Israeli NGO B'tselem counted 140 flying checkpoint set ups from October 27 to November 9, 2018.
 
Similarly, more than 80% of the separation wall is on the Palestinian side of the 1949 line, effectively enclosing 9% of the Palestinian territory, identified in the "Seam Zone."
 
According to Google Maps, it takes Houdhar twelve minutes to go home from work.
 
In practice, it is not unusual for him to put three hours.
 
"The problem is that it's unpredictable, it depends on the goodwill of the Israeli army. That's the occupation," Houdhar said.
 
So as soon as he saw on Facebook an app called Azmeh, released in 2015, which describes in real time the situation at each checkpoint, he immediately downloaded it.
 
The principle is simple: Palestinian drivers indicate by color code the time they need to cross a particular checkpoint.
 
The latter can then make their arrangements: green, about fifteen minutes; orange, around thirty minutes; red, at least an hour, black, it's not even worth trying.
 
Nourdeen A., another Palestinian commuter to Israel, told to Palestine Monitor the app does improve the daily life.
 
"A few weeks ago, I was stuck at the checkpoint for six hours. It's pitiful and you can not do anything. Nothing. So you wait. If I had the app at that time, I could have known it before and go through another checkpoint," Nourdeen A. said.
 
At the wheel of his car, a Palestinian hairdresser explained that now, he checks his smartphone "every time he leaves work" when another aspect of the checkpoints comes to sting his eyes.
 
Even burn them.
 
The wind brings wafts of tear gas towards the line of cars.
 
The trapped motorists are content to hastily put up their windows, their eyes red.
 
From some cars escape the crying of children.
 

Murad Haoud  sighs: "It's Qalandiya, every day there are young people who throw stones at the wall and the soldiers shoot them with gas. I did not even see them this time."
 
The application is very time-saving, though there is no button “tear gas alert" yet.
 

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