The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 11: Solve This.

“We don’t want them to solve the question of Palestine. At least, they should solve Qalandia.”

The man, as all seven passengers including the service taxi driver, was frustrated with all the traffic the checkpoint causes that is magnified in the month of Ramadan.

I used to audit a course of the question of Palestine. The professor, sleeves rolled up and all, would speak so passionately as the students who ranged from knowing nothing at all to having the Oslo Accords close to memorized listened quietly. The refugee camps, the destroyed villages, Oslo, the ’48 and ’67 wars, the first and second intifada were at the core of those discussions. If one were to place Qalandia checkpoint on the list of topics to discuss, it would be on the list as a topic of its own.

Lines and lines of cars and buses were to the left as we were headed back to Ramallah. People waiting, getting furious, yelling at each other, trying to bypass each other to get through the blot of gray that stands…

That blot of gray that is a question itself.


The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 10: Danger

On the side of the Qalandia checkpoint that some of us struggle to get to is a large sign in red that reads in Hebrew, Arabic, and English:
“This Road leads To Area ‘A’ Under The Palestinian Authority. The Enterance For Israeli Citizens Is Forbidden, Dangerous To Your Lives And Is Against Israeli Law.”

I rolled my eyes reading this sign for the first time. Of all the laws Israel makes and breaks…

The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 9: Damascus Gate

When I was eight years old, the time my family and I could come and go to Jerusalem with our U.S. citizenship privilege, there used to be baby chicks on the right corner on our way through Damascus Gate. I vaguely remember the man that sold them, but I remember he had a head full of black hair with white hair beginning to come through with the box that displayed the chicks in front of him. The chicks were colored in blue, pink, and a lighter yellow. My paternal grandmother and mother would promise my brother and I that we would get two chicks once we went around the old city.

Now that I look back at this, and in the past few weeks journeying through Jerusalem, I think that when I reach Damascus Gate, that is when I truly feel I have reached Jerusalem. When I was a kid, seeing the chicks on the right side corner made me, a child with an unspoken fear of being lost, feel safe.

Surely enough, my brother and I would come back home with at least two colored chicks. We would show them to everyone that cares and doesn’t care to see, play with them, and what happens after that to them is past me. This time around, though, the chicks aren’t there anymore. On the right corner of the gate is a man selling a few masabih and another boy selling socks. On the left, there are elderly women selling zucchini and grape leaves.

It is mind blowing to even begin to comprehend the years that passed with this gate and all these walls standing tall as they stand today. Who built it all? How long did it take? There are even little arrow holes where at one point in time, bows and arrows were used, Robin Hood style. Generations and generations pass by and through these gates and walls. It is incredibly unbelievable. Even standing from atop, how the city was occupied over centuries by different people only to finally end up in the hands of a heinous occupation, is incredibly unbelievable. How I got on the top and saw the Dome of the Rock shine and how some old houses have tiny domes as a roofs is incredibly unbelievable.

As I entered through the gate today, a father and two young boys holding his hand were behind me. I heard the father say, “Are you guys excited to see the Dome of the Rock?”
The eldest of the boys replied, “Yes, Baba, but once we’re done I want…”
We went our separate ways.

I thought back to when my brother and I would wait until we went back for the colored chicks, but these boys weren’t asking for chicks because there are none. My younger siblings won’t ever know those chicks on the right side corner. They’ll see the IOF soldiers that stand where they stood years ago. They’ll walk through the same gate. They’ll even probably feel the same feeling of safety seeing the gate, and they’ll definitely take the famous picture in front of the gate that everyone has to take once they get to Jerusalem. Damascus Gate will probably even be their “go-to” gate.

The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 8: My Grandfather’s Car

On our way past Nablus St., a street that seems endless up until the bus gets on the highway from the Damascus Gate, I saw my grandfather’s car. It wasn’t exactly my grandfather’s car, but it was an exact replica of it: a 1997-2000 model, gold Mercedes Benz C 200 with a yellow plate. The man driving it was an old man, though seemingly younger than my grandfather with white hair and glasses.

My grandfather had his car for as long as I could remember – from twelve or so years ago. Sometimes, on my way to Ramallah in the morning, I would find it parked before the Friends school. Other times, it would be parked in front of the mosque during prayer time. Over the last few months of his life, the engine got a bit rusty, but my grandfather didn’t want to sell it and get a new one. He would say to such suggestions, “Later on. Later on.” The last time my grandfather drove his car was back in September. After that, it was parked in the garage until a few weeks ago, when my uncle’s family came to the country. My grandmother has sworn to never ride the car again or to ever sell it.

My mother and aunt would tell my cousins and I how their eldest sibling would take them to Jerusalem via their own car. Although I know it wasn’t this car, I can’t help but imagine that it was. It’s the car that I fit into this story.

And it could have been this car, but as it happens, two old Mercedes Benz automobiles were separated by time…separated on either sides of Qalandia checkpoint.

The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 7: The Badge

A few days ago, as I was waiting in the “Lane for Humanitarian Causes”, I noticed a badge on the soldier’s military outfit. It appeared to be the image of a tree branch, a sword, a wall, some sort of yellow animal with the background being blue and white. The tree branch is what caught my eye.

While waiting for close to two hours in a crowded area between bars, I took a glance at the permit and noticed the badge design printed on the top right corner. I looked at the ID cards one can obtain from the state of Israel, and there it was.

“What do you think this stands for?” I asked my friend, pointing to the design on the ID card.
“Well,” she began looking closely at it. “The wall looks like the walls of Jerusalem…like David’s castle. The tree branch must be an olive tree branch.”
“You think so?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“What else would it be?”

I went back to our good friend, Google, and surely, Wikipedia had it posted that the olive tree was a symbol of peace. How ironic is that?

Two sides and the olive tree torn in half, once in Yasser Arafat’s speech at the UN General Assembly and once on the badge of soldiers belonging to one of the cruelest occupations. Once in the poems of Mahmoud Darwish and once burnt to the ground.

The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 6: The Big Sign in Blue

For the past few days, the blot of gray Qalandia checkpoint, has been a madly packed house from 7:30 A.M. Most of the people there standing in what appears to be endless lines of humans are men going to work on the other side of the checkpoint. There are a few elderly women and some students, lawyers or even families going to a hospital on the other side.

One can make a left and stand right between the bars and wait for a soldier or police officer to notice the hands waving the permits. This morning was exactly that. Three soldiers would look our way, eventually looking past us and go about their daily business of not giving a damn about anyone that isn’t one of their own.

As my friends and I were waiting for one of them to finally notice us, I raised my head to the sky – a metal rooftop to be precise – to let out a sigh. Right when I raised my head, I noticed a big white sign with the following written in blue (in both Hebrew and Arabic):
“Lane for the Humanitarian Cases” (roughly translated).

I couldn’t hold in my “what the heck is that supposed to mean?” anger. My friend turned to me and said, “…for the handicapped or the really old people or the…”

As if they care…
“Humanitarian cases”…It is beyond me how the word or any form of the word can be placed under the name of such treacherous occupation.
Where is the humanity in this blot of gray? Where is the humanity in a human-sized birdcage?

The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 5: My Grandfather’s Wish

During the last few years of his life, my grandfather developed a subtle limp in his walk. I could feel he was always bothered by it, and the feeling was reinforced when he didn’t wanto to use a cane to walk or the many times he went back and forth to different physicians and physical therapists to ease the pain and relieve his walk from that limp. He eventually developed gout, and on November 22nd of 2014, he passed away without a final goodbye.

I don’t exactly know what surgery he underwent a month before his death, but it was a surgery that got him up and going. When he’d talk to us over the phone, he sounded happy. As a matter of fact, he couldn’t wait to come back. After he passed away, my grandmother told us of a wish he had which was to come back to Palestine and go to Jerusalem, walk the streets of the old city, pray in the Dome of the Rock without becoming exhausted from his leg.

I remembered this on my second time visiting the Dome of the Rock this month. I imagined him amongst the old men there. There was even an elderly man that looked just like him from far away. I imagined the excitement he would come back home with after a tiring journey in Jerusalem. I imagined my grandmother telling him to not go back in his condition and him not listening. I imagined him flipping through the daily newspaper that isn’t scattered on the table anymore.

This is the first Ramadan my family spends without him. This is the first time I pass by his favorite mosque in this big yet small town and seeing his best friend there without him.

May God have mercy on the souls that have left us.

The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 4: Combat Boots

On our way home from the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, the bus always passes by another bus parking lot as well as the train tracks of a train that takes one anywhere from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Today, as the bus passed by this point, I noticed around six Iraeli soldiers walking to their bus stop.

The six of them were wearing their green uniforms, carrying the same color duffle bags over their shoulders. If one were completely oblivious to what has been going on at this end of the world, one may mistake them for young men in a marching band or teenagers coming home from school.

But their combat boots give them away. Those larger-than-the-person’s-size black boots give them away. Those comabt boots tell of a story that was never meant to bring happiness…a story of a few generations that passed and built this apartheid state on a land that was never a land without a people. Those combat boots have been passed on to another generation to carry on the ill deed.

We musn’t forget the shiny shoes that helped build just a heinous occupation, too.

The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 3: The Checkpoint Itself

If the Qalandia checkpoint was placed on a map (and I’m sure it is on those maps for toursits roaming the refugee camps of the West Bank or those maps portraying the violations of the right to move due to the occupation), it should be placed as a blot of gray. That is precisely what it is. A blot of gray.

The Qalandia checkpoint was one of the first heinous actions of the occupation I was introduced to. The blocks of gray wall next to the gray watchtower have been etched in my mind for the longest time, as it has been engraved and will continue to be engraved for years to come in the minds of Palestinians.

On approaching the Qalandia checkpoint, one can see the graffiti on the walls and Marwan al-Barghouti drawn, his eyes watching us from afar until we pass him. The watchtower next to it is half burnt due to the clashes that go on there. The traffic sometimes flows smoothly in the morning. However, by around 1:00 P.M., things get busy and everyone is going back home or wherever they intend to go by crossing/passing the checkpoint.

For the people that don’t have a Jerusalem ID card (the blue one), they need to exit the bus a little past Marwan al-Barghouti’s drawing and go through what I call the “birdcage.”

The birdcage is also gray…gray bars and barbed wire everywhere. You stay there and wait until it is your turn. Then, you pass more metal bars and wait in line. There are about five check-in sections, and you can be waiting there in line for as long as one can imagine. You still may be yelled at to go home or yelled at because the line has closed so one has to go start over with the waiting.

Security cameras are everywhere. A few verses of the Quran are taped on the metal bars. Some people even write things like “Palestine: dead or free!” You have to show the soldier a few identification cards/papers/etc. and still has to get their fingerprint taken. Then, you pass on to the other side at their request.

This morning, my friends and I waited for about 10 minutes and when it came for my turn to enter to the “check-in” counter, the female IOF soldier yelled through the mic “Go to one or two! ONE OR TWO! ONE OR TWO!” With that, everyone cursed under their breaths – some even loudly – as we shuffled our way to the other check-in counters. Another wait. It should be noted that today, the wait was a bit longer than usual due to the incident that occurred yesterday (see previous post).

The Qalandia checkpoint, one of the largest checkpoints present today, is one of the Israeli occupation’s most gruesome actions, violations for the right to movement of the Palestinians, and a method of collective punishment. The blot of gray stands. It marks its presence while Palestinians move past it, cross through it, and curse the world because of it…and other matters.

The Two Sides of Qalandia Checkpoint Part 2: Police Cars

Every day for the past couple of days at the hospital, our professor would give us around a half-hour break from our clinical nutrition training. Hospitals are already tough, so imagine that during fasting. Today was no exception, and as I sat outside of the hospital with two friends, an Israeli police car pulled up in front of the hospital’s emergency room.

The car looked like a human-sized toy. Sure. All things human-sized look like toys, but this vehicle had a different feel to it. It appeared to be brand new or perhaps it was washed really well. Painted white with a stripe of green and gold/black letters written in Hebrew on the doors. The windows were sheilded, and three IOF soldiers were sitting inside.

The soldier in the front passenger seat got out of the car in full gear and stepped into the emergency room.

I don’t know why or what happened, but all I know is the a few minutes later, my friend read online the news of the shooting and injury of an 18 year-old boy named Yaser al-Tarawah in front of the Damascus gate after he allegdly stabbed a soldier.

On our way back home, everything seemed to be “normal.” Traffic was everywhere. People were everywhere, and we slowly blended into the crowd, walking through a city where police cars don’t neccessarily shout “safety!”.