by EAs’ Mayara and Katarzyna, Jerusalem team.
Jerusalem is different to any other city in the world. It is a place of worship for three major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) and moreover it’s a city that has a special international status (corpus separatum). According to the International Law (UN General Assembly Resolution 181, 1947), it can’t belong to a specific nationality and it has to be accessible for all peoples. For these reasons it is important that Jerusalem is an open, inclusive and shared city.
But these are not the only reasons that make Jerusalem unique. Jerusalem is a city that has been under occupation for 49 years. After the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel incorporated East Jerusalem into West Jerusalem, ignoring the previous legal division of the city into eastern and western parts under 1949 Armistice Agreements.
“THE RINGING OF THE DIVISION BELL HAD BEGUN” – PINK FLOYD
In 1980, Israel unilaterally declared the entirety of Jerusalem as its undivided capital and sovereign territory. The international community, however, does not recognise this and considers Jerusalem occupied territory alongside the West Bank and Gaza. (see, among others, Security Council resolutions 252, 267, 471, 476 and 478) Even though Jerusalem is “united” under Israeli law it severely divided by this occupation.
One of the most visible signs of the occupation in East Jerusalem is the illegal (by the ruling of the International Court of Justice in 2004) Separation Wall that is being built by the State of Israel since 2003. The borders of the Separation Wall inside Jerusalem don’t overlap with the Municipality borders of Jerusalem. The biggest crossing in Jerusalem municipality from one side of the wall to the other is Qalandia checkpoint. Qalandia is not a border crossing, it’s an internal checkpoint that serves to control and limit the movement of Palestinians within West Bank. So how and why does it exists?
“In 2002, the Government of Israel decided to build a Barrier with the stated aim of preventing violent attacks by Palestinians inside Israel. However, the vast majority of the Barrier’s route is located within the West Bank, separating Palestinian communities and farming land from the rest of the West Bank and contributing to the fragmentation of the oPt. The inclusion of Israeli settlements behind the Barrier is the single most important factor behind the deviation of the route from the Green Line.” OCHA 2013
Qalandia checkpoint demonstrates the movement and access restrictions placed on the Palestinian people under Israeli military occupation. It looks like a fortress built 8 meters high with guard towers, barbed wire, turnstiles and metal detectors that thousands of Palestinians pass through everyday. The Israeli government has created several kinds of permits to control who can pray, study, work, live and access medical services in Jerusalem. The only Palestinian citizens of the West Bank (but not of the Jerusalem municipality) who don’t need permission to pass the checkpoints are women over 50 and men over 55 that have passed a security clearance. Permits issued by Israeli government appear to restrict movement far more often than they permit access.
“DO YOU WANT MY BLOOD, DO YOU WANT MY TEARS
WHAT DO YOU WANT
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME” – PINK FLOYD
“Where were you when I was burned and broken” – Pink Floyd
From Ramallah-side, the checkpoint looks like a tin box. It’s a roofed plaza, surrounded by two walls. Because the structure is made out of metal, it is very hot during the summer, very cold during the winter and does not offer any protection from the wind. Palestinians wanting to enter Jerusalem from other parts of the West Bank begin queueing as early as 4 am. Usually by 4.30 am, it is so crowded that there is no free space under the roofed part of the checkpoint and many people stand outside in the parking lot.
There are only eight benches to sit on for the hundreds and thousands of people who stand waiting queued in three lines. It is hard to predict how long it will take one to pass through Qalandia. Sometimes it’s 20 minutes and other times more than one hour, it depends on the number of: open turnstiles (three are available), open security terminals (five are available); and how quickly the work permits and finger prints are processed. There is also a humanitarian line that can be used by women, children, invalids, elderly people and foreigners. However, in our three months here monitoring access through this checkpoint, we have only witnessed the humanitarian line opened once.
The constant uncertainty is visible at all times – “This is the taxation of Palestinian life in West Bank” we have been told by a man patiently waiting in a line inside of the fenced corridor leading to the turnstile. The corridor is about 4 meters long and 75 centimeters wide, with cameras above their heads. It is very common to wait locked inside of the cage of the turnstile where you can’t move, turn around or sit. After passing the turnstile one has to line up for the security terminal.
The area inside of Qalandia checkpoint is surrounded by 5 meters tall metal fence covered with barbed wire and several cameras. The first part of security checkup involves passing through metal detector and x-ray scanning of bags. Then one has to identify oneself to the Border Police or Israeli soldiers with documents – ID card and permit – and undergo fingerprint verification. At this point people are often harassed by the Israeli soldiers. Passing through Qalandia checkpoint depends not only on the permits but also on the arbitrary decisions made by individuals sitting behind the bulletproof barrier.
Will today be the day, I wonder, when all the Palestinians who stand in queues waiting to enter the Jerusalem will be able to do so? Inshallah (in God´s will /God willing)!
“On the day the wall came down
They threw the locks onto the ground
And with glasses high we raised a cry
for freedom had arrived” –
* All of the above Pink Floyd quotes are lyrics from the Division Bells Album
OCHA Fact sheet: East Jerusalem Key Humanitarian Concerns