On a typical day at the largest Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank, hundreds of mostly West Bank Palestinians line up and patiently stand in between metal bars, their hands gripped around their hawiya, or identity cards, waiting to cross the maze of concrete called Qalandia.
Their voices are drowned out by the beeping of metal detectors and the rattling of steel as Palestinians push through turnstiles, one after the other. Orders are shouted by an Israeli soldier from a loudspeaker in Hebrew — a language most Palestinians in the West Bank do not understand.
Meanwhile, lines and lines of vehicles, driven by Palestinians with Jerusalem (or Israeli) IDs, are held up in traffic at the drive-through section of the checkpoint, located between the Ramallah-area village of Qalandia and occupied East Jerusalem, as soldiers stop each car to demand ID cards and search the vehicles. Palestinians with West Bank IDs are not allowed to cross the checkpoint by car, even as passengers.
Mondoweiss spoke with Palestinians crossing Qalandia about their daily life navigating the most notorious Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank. While Qalandia is often crowded on a typical day, on the day of Mondoweiss’ visit — a Friday, there were fewer crossers owing to rain and an Israeli army closed military zone over Ramallah.
A general view of Qalandia checkpoint and Israel’s separation wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Tens of thousands of Palestinians cross this checkpoint each day, the majority of whom are Jerusalem residents — often referred to as “Jerusalemites”, who are living in Jerusalem-area neighborhoods– like Kufr Aqab and Shuafat refugee camp — that were cut off from the rest of Jerusalem by Israel’s wall.
Umm Omar tells Mondoweiss that she is traveling to Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam located in occupied East Jerusalem, and to visit relatives. “I rarely go to Jerusalem because it’s very difficult and tiring to cross the checkpoint,” she said. She is traveling alone because her husband and children are not permitted to enter Jerusalem or Israel.
Since 2015, Palestinian men over the age of 55 and women over the age of 50 have been permitted by Israeli authorities to cross the checkpoints without a permit. Palestinians with West Bank IDs who do not meet these age requirements can only cross the checkpoint with Israeli military-issued permits, which are oftentimes extremely difficult to obtain.
Moufak Adelrazak, 60, is also heading to Al-Aqsa for prayers. Like many of the crossers Mondoweiss spoke to, he considers the waiting time at the checkpoint to be the worst part of crossing into Jerusalem. “Depending on the traffic, it takes me sometimes one hour, sometimes two or three to get to Al-Aqsa. If there was no checkpoint, it wouldn’t take longer than 15 minutes to get there,” Adelrazak said.
Ghaleb al-Hadidi is taking his sick child to the hospital. He says he brings his child to Jerusalem to receive treatment because the hospitals in Ramallah are too busy and overcrowded. Most Palestinians are prohibited from crossing the checkpoint to receive treatment in Jerusalem, except for serious humanitarian cases. In these cases, however, even a Palestinian who has a relative considered to be a “security threat” to Israel can be barred from accessing life-saving treatment.
Al-Hadid’s child places his bag on a security conveyor belt before passing through another steel turnstile where he will reach an Israeli soldier who will check IDs and permits. Qalandia checkpoint was built in 2002, as part of Israel’s separation wall. This is the only reality al-Hadid’s small boy has ever known.
One woman (not pictured) who Mondoweiss attempted to speak with, responded: “Why should I do an interview? The whole world knows what’s happening here, and no one does anything. There’s no point in talking about it anymore,” before hurrying through one of the turnstiles.
Aisha, 63, is on her way to pray. Mondoweiss spoke to her during a time Israeli soldiers locked the turnstiles in the checkpoint. Palestinian crossers were patiently waiting for when the soldiers decided to unlock them. Aisha says this can add hours onto the time it takes to cross. Soldiers usually say that this is necessary amid high traffic at the checkpoint. However, on Friday, they intermittently locked the turnstiles, despite the fact that there were very few Palestinians crossing. “It’s not human how they treat people,” Aisha said.
A Palestinian man passes Israel’s separation wall, connected to the checkpoint, on his way to cross Qalandia into occupied East Jerusalem. Israeli soldiers erected cement blocks leading to the checkpoint and painted them blue and white, the colors of the Israeli flag.
The entrance of the drive-through section of the checkpoint. Only Palestinians with blue IDs — those with Jerusalem residency or Israeli citizenship — are permitted to cross this portion of Qalandia. Palestinians with West Bank IDs are not permitted to drive into Jerusalem and Israel, and are only allowed to cross the checkpoint by foot.
Murad, 60, is traveling to Jerusalem to see an eye doctor. She tells Mondoweiss she has seen this same doctor since before Israel erected the checkpoint and the wall. She travels through Qalandia twice a month and it takes at least an hour and half to get to the checkpoint from her town of Qatanna in the Jerusalem district of the West Bank. On this day, she brought her 10-year-old grandson along with her so that he could see Jerusalem for the first time.
“It’s not so difficult [dealing with the checkpoint],” Adel Dawood Mo’bel, 62, tells Mondoweiss. “I am an old man so usually the soldiers don’t speak to me much. But the worst part is having to stand for long periods of time.”
Two women and a young girl sit and rest on a bench outside of the checkpoint. They told Mondoweiss they were too tired to do an interview, but smiled for a photo. Older Palestinians often complain of severe exhaustion owing to the prolonged process of crossing the checkpoint, which can leave them standing for hours.
Adel, 60, is on his way to pray. He says on several occasions the soldiers have not allowed him to cross and sent him back. “Many times they have not let me cross. Sometimes they just decide you can’t pass based on the way you look,” he said. “When they don’t allow me, I do my prayers outside the checkpoint.”
Palestinians line up and wait after Israeli soldiers locked the turnstile, despite the limited traffic. Israeli rights group B’Tselem has noted that Qalandia checkpoint is emblematic of Israeli human rights violations “to the routine life of Palestinians.”
Rasim Abu Osba’ is visiting a friend who is hospitalized in Jerusalem. He hasn’t crossed the checkpoint for five months. “The soldiers at the checkpoint do not treat us well. If it’s not important I would never go through this checkpoint,” he said. Only two family members of his hospitalized friend, who has a West Bank ID, are allowed to visit him. His other friends and family members are prohibited from visiting him in Jerusalem. “I hope he feels better soon,” Osba’ told Mondoweiss.
Ali (not pictured) crosses the checkpoint every Friday to pray at Al-Aqsa and sometimes during the week for “business.” He says the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint “like to humiliate the people.” However, he has no choice but to endure the harsh treatment because “they do all of this so that we stop going to Jerusalem and stop going to Al-Aqsa. So I must continue to go, despite how difficult it is, because this is our land.”
Mohammad Yousef is a Palestinian from Jordan. He moved to the West Bank two months ago and now works in a restaurant in Beit Hanina in occupied East Jerusalem. He crosses the checkpoint every day to go to work. It took him awhile to get used to this daily routine, and, like the others, he says the worst aspect of the experience is the traffic and waiting time.
A Palestinian man waits in traffic at the drive-through section of Qalandia checkpoint. When Mondoweiss asked a man (not pictured) in his car what was the most difficult aspect of crossing the checkpoint, he responded: “The traffic!” while gesturing in a frustrated manner toward the long line of cars in front of him.