ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL (PART 3) (Friday 10 February)
There were a number of alternatives for the Friday, and a number of us decided to go down to Jerusalem in the morning to see museums and other sights. Friday is a bit of a part-day in Israel, because things start closing down in the early afternoon for Shabbat. This affects a surprisingly wide range of sites and activities, not just those with a Jewish religious dimension. So we got up early and took a taxi to Qalandia. The Palestinian-registered driver dropped us off on his side of the checkpoint.
Getting through the checkpoint on foot was an interesting experience, and one that few visitors undergo because they will usually either be in an Israeli-registered vehicle and able to drive through, or able to cross through one of the less confrontational checkpoints. The checkpoint is like a cattle market, with narrow metal ‘runs’ from the Palestinian side towards some turnstiles. It would be impossible to wield luggage or a pram through these channels, and as a broad-shouldered Brit I found it distinctly uncomfortable to shuffle through. My fellow tourist Cherry was slight of build but still thought it was cramped and depressing.
After the turnstiles were a row of entry points, with mechanically-controlled doors that would open with a harsh buzzing noise. Then there was a scanning machine for luggage and a desk staffed by an Israeli soldier who inspected one’s papers. Getting through was far from guaranteed – I saw a family turned back, the father’s humiliation all too plain on his face – but I was a privileged foreign oddity. The Palestinians showed me what I was expected to do at each stage, the Israeli soldier asked me a couple of questions (in perfect English – she also spoke Hebrew and Arabic, of course), took a scan of my passport (which worried me a bit) and let me through. On the Jerusalem side, one emerged through a one-way door into a small bus and taxi station. The process took me about 10-15 minutes, but I had to wait about another 10 minutes for Cherry and the others. For me, it was irksome and a time spent in surroundings that seem to have been deliberately designed, from the too-small ‘runs’ to the turnstile, to the harsh noises all around, to be alienating and uncomfortable. I had a couple of weeks earlier visited the Tränenpalast museum at the old Friedrichstrasse crossing in Berlin, which seemed almost benign in comparison. But to shuffle through this on a regular basis – good grief. It must be a factory of resentment and humiliation. And it is the lucky ones who can come through, as most are not permitted. The reason that there are so many old women in the Old City in Jerusalem selling herbs is that they are among the few who can get permits to cross from where the herbs are grown to the market where they are sold. Qalandia is a tragic, Orwellian place where the overwhelming power of the military and the state hangs like sour fog.