Qalandiyah in the Rain

The young soldiers at Qalandiyah who permit or forbid passage with the wave of a hand are tools serving a policy of annexation and dissection, wrapped in the guise of security.

The rain that fell this week was a blessing, though not at the checkpoints Israel has set up in the West Bank. On Thursday, the checkpoint at Qalandiyah actually did not look so frightening. Few people were at the checkpoint, apparently due to the strike declared in Ramallah as a sign of mourning. The rain let up around 11:30, but it was very cold. The few people at the checkpoint did not have to wait long to be checked. Only at around 12:30, after the soldiers had changed shifts, did a large group of people gather, waiting with shivering lips, stiff joints and reddening noses.

People who alighted from the taxis hurried to cross over the puddles separating the outskirts of the Qalandiyah refugee camp from the checkpoint area, a type of hybrid architectural creation that functions both as a cage and a border crossing. There are rolls of barbed wire, an Israeli flag, and roofed waiting lanes divided by concrete barriers.

Behind a raised concrete barrier, a group of soldiers watches those coming from Qalandiyah, making sure that no one tries to evade the waiting lanes. Two or three soldiers control two electromagnetic gates. Just behind them are two turnstiles and additional walking lanes that separate men and women on busy days. The lanes lead to several soldiers positioned behind concrete barriers and sandbags, who check identity cards. Beyond them is a roofed exit lane to a high concrete wall that stretches from the A-Ram neighborhood, separating the sidewalk and homes annexed to Jerusalem in 1967 from the sidewalk and homes defined as being part of the West Bank, just 20 meters from the Israeli side.

There is a power outage, the soldiers at the checkpoint remind each other. Thus, one of the turnstiles was stuck: people who tried to cross through it smiled in embar rassment. At first they did not understand what happened - perhaps the soldier pushed the button that stops the turnstile, perhaps he suspects them, perhaps there is a sophisticated way to cross that they don't know about. Luckily, there were not a lot of people, and they immediately moved over to the turnstile that was functioning. What sometimes happens, but didn't happen this time, is that dozens of people crowd into the waiting lanes, in front of the narrow turnstiles. When a turnstile gets stuck in these situations, people start to climb on the fences, push and shove, and seek to escape the crowds, the wasted time, the rifles pointed at them and the rebuke from the 19-year-old girls.

On Monday, only a few people got stuck in the turnstile: a mother with a child who insisted on holding her hand and together entering with her between the bars of the turnstile, an elderly man dragging two heavy sacks (later, he would ask a young fellow to help lift them onto his back), and a young man of large proportions who was also carrying a big suitcase. People learn how to maneuver through the turnstile.

At 1:15 the skies grew dark and a bone-chilling wind whistled. At 1:25 the rain resumed, the drops whipping around in every direction in the 300 to 400 wet and freezing meters between taxi and taxi, between "the Palestinian Authority's territory" and "Area C." Mothers whose dresses were dripping with water carried children with wet hair and lips turning blue, young people whose jean jackets were sagging with the rain, school children who skipped between the puddles, piles of garbage and mounds of mud. For some reason, many people smiled, and even laughed. Perhaps they were reminded of the puddles of their childhood.

But the soldiers, male and female, did their work with serious faces. Residents of Jerusalem who hold blue identity cards are permitted to cross. Also permitted are residents of the West Bank who live in villages in the Ramallah area and hold orange identity cards. It is forbidden for men 35 or older whose orange identity cards indicate that they are residents of Hebron, Abu Dis, Jenin, Nablus or Bethlehem. Several dozen such men tried their luck and sought to cross, appealing to the hearts of the soldiers. Someone fabricated a story about always being permitted to cross here, another said "rain" and a third declared angrily: "You are the occupiers in our country and don't let me pass." A fourth person tried to say that he didn't have the money to pay for a taxi that would make the 50-kilometer detour to bring him to his home.

"We are acting according to the law," the soldiers standing at the breach responded. One spoke in a native Israeli accent, another in Russian-accented Hebrew. "What law are you talking about?" a young man from Nablus asked in anger, in excellent Hebrew.

One could have responded by saying that "law" is not necessarily synonymous with justice and decency, and that the military order the soldiers are acting upon in Qalandiyah serves a political goal that is becoming clearer everyday, with the paving of new roads and the building of additional homes in the neighboring settlements: the annexation of all of the territory between Givat Ze'ev and Betunia, west of Ramallah, and Ma'alei Adumim and its satellites to the east. The young soldiers at Qalandiyah who permit or forbid passage with the wave of a hand are tools serving a policy of annexation and dissection, wrapped in the guise of security.