At 3 pm a march of Occupy Belfast movement went through Belfast city center, blocking streets. Members of the movement appealed to Trade Unions and their supporters to act against growing homelessness.
Qalandiya check point, leading from West Bank to Jerusalem. Watchtowers, barbwires, the Wall filled with electronics, called the Apartheid Wall (by Palestinians)l or Security Fence (by Israelis ). Palestinian kids sell colourful baloons and tea. Long lines of cars and busses.
Locals are required to leave the buses and cross the checkpoint on foot. We did it as well, howeverwe did not have to – just wanted to experience life of a privileged (sic) Palestinian. Privileged as possesing an ID card allowing him to visit Jerusalem.
A maze of grills and passages, leading to mini-terminals manned by bored Israeli kid soldiers. Cold and windy air, 8 C. Terminals are not (or were not at the particular day) heated, some of them were closed, so we crowded at the only one that was functioning. Only three persons are allowed to go through the steel automatic gate at a time.
Sometimes a fourth person, who missed the counting, gets stuck in the gate and has to wait for the gate to be released. It will not happen, however, unless the first three people get carefully checked. So, they are suspended for at leat 15 minutes between a Palestininan and Israeli world, separated from both with a steel grill. It happened to a young French girl, who was standing right before us. Nobody reacted to her pleads and protests.
If the first three are Palestinians – it takes longer that 15 minutes to unblock the gate.
There was no courtesy towards Palestinians. Everything- shouting, firm voices, countless checks of their belongings, but no courtesy. Kid soldiers made several breaks, sitting in the warm rooms behind a thick dirty glass. They chatted, texted, checked emails. In the very same time Palestinian families froze waiting for their pause to end.
There was courtly politeness towards all foreigners. Having been carefully checked, I heard a kind :”Thank you” and “have a nice day” (even though my earing got lost in the Xray mashine and nobody cared about that). When Palestinians cross the gate, thet never hear these words in any language.
Another time, a bus driver left us in a place only for Israeli ID holders. There was nobody there who could direct us, so we rushed towards a kid- soldier standing in front of the check-point.
– Lo- he shouted in Hebrew – La!- corrected himself in Arabic- NO! – added promptly in English.
The watchtower spoke to us in a litany of Hebrew exclamations. Using a gesture language I showed the kids stationed several meters above me, that I did not understand a word. The watchtower continued. We decided to ignore it and got on another bus, whose driver was not so restrictive and only informed us that it was our risk. Palestinian drivers are not particularly happy when they have passengers who might attract Israeli soldiers` attention – it might mean a significant delay in entering Israel.
After some time two kid soldiers entered a bus, aged, more or less, 18 yrs. The first one check if the bus was safe – raising his gun towards passengers, the second asked for the ID`s. Polish passport did not impress him much, but he clearly did not like the documents handed to him by an elderly Palestinian, sitting behind me. He ordered him to leave the bus.
– I am 67 years old- said the man, dressed in a very modest dirty suit- There is a new law that people at my age do not have to walk through the checkpoints. But apparently today is different. Yesterday I passed the checkpoint in the bus, today I need to stand in this long queue.
The kid-soldier asked a young Arab lady with a new-born baby to leave the bus as well. He pointed at a crowd of freezing Palestinians waiting for their turn to cross the border.
We left undisturbed. We are not Palestinians, after all…
Text: Aleksandra Lojek-Magdziarz
more pictures from Palestinian Autonomy and Israel available on my website: http://www.mariuszsmiejek.com