Friday,17 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)
Friday,17 August, 2018
Issue 1205, (10 - 16 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Reflections at Qalandiya

The brutal indifference of the Israeli checkpoints on the West Bank is an image of the wider occupation, writes Tamar Fleishman

Al-Ahram Weekly

Twenty people who had been released from hospitals all around the West Bank gathered at the Qalandiya checkpoint recently in order to receive permits to head home to the Gaza Strip. Since the morning hours they had been standing and waiting, sitting and waiting, pacing and waiting, but not getting their passage permits.

They were 20 exhausted people who were in need of rest and recuperation: an elderly woman after heart surgery, a baby being carried by her mother, a five-year-old child that kept crying and pulling the plastic cover that protected its eye that had undergone surgery, a woman who still had blood on her arm from an intravenous drip, a woman that was blind in both her eyes, as well as many others. They were all waiting.

The people had arrived on their own or in pairs, and they teamed up as the hours passed. They sat next to each other, the bundles of one person getting mixed up with the ones placed just beside them, and on the filthy concrete floor were suitcases that had known better days and had taken on the eternal dust of the wretched place.

It looked like a refugee transit camp, and it was a refugee transit camp. But the refugees were not allowed to transit.

After seven hours of nerve-wrecking waiting it was time for excuses to be made.

At first the computers were blamed, but since no one found this convincing the people at Gaza were the next to take the blame. It was as if the ones over there, the soldiers at the Gaza checkpoint, were from the foreign legion or were mercenaries, and not soldiers in the same army and the same unit as the soldiers who manned the Qalandiya checkpoint, whose duty it is to act as a coordination unit and respond to the needs of the occupied population.

“The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (or COGAT) is a unit in the Israeli Ministry of Defence that engages in coordinating civilian issues between the government of Israel, the Israel Defence Forces, international organisations, diplomats and the Palestinian Authority.”

According to the Hebrew Wikipedia COGAT site, the unit was founded in 1967, following the Six Day War, in order to implement the Fourth Geneva Convention. The convention, which deals with the laws of military occupation, determines that the occupying state must protect citizens living on conquered territories, in order not to harm the innocent and those who are not combatants. The army is the force that has conquered the territories and is therefore responsible for the residents’ wellbeing.

But there was no one to take responsibility for the wellbeing of those in need. A group of VIPs came out from the offices, patrolled and stood in front of these people, but the VIPs behaved as though they were blind and could not see what was before them.

They could not avoid seeing when it was demanded of them to look into these people’s eyes, to look into the eyes of the children, to see them, these patients in their distress. They heard it being said that they would not be able to claim to have clean hands if one of the 20 people did not survive and that they would be held accountable. But they did not listen; they were busy checking the signs and counting the open lanes. They were too busy to see the human beings in front of them.

Only when the offices were about to be closed were the documents these people been waiting for since the morning issued. When the last of them was about to cross the checkpoint, she looked around with longing eyes and mumbled, “I am so very, very tired…”

During the night, over 12 hours after they had headed on their way, they at last arrived at their homes.

These people – the old woman, the blind woman, the baby, the child, the man with the patch on his left eye and the woman with blood on her arm – they and the others sitting on the metal benches and waiting with a photo of a murdered teenager, a shahid, hanging above them, they are the mirror in which we are reflected, you and I.

The writer documents the Israeli checkpoints between Jerusalem and Ramallah on

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