A group of us waited in a rather short line designed for pedestrians-only (in contrast to the line for cars that backed up for a mile or two) at the checkpoint. It felt surreal, like how I imagined Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin before their Wall came down. We, a bunch of Westerners and East Asians, stood in the Qalandia checkpoint line that would allow us to enter Israel-controlled Area C from the ostensibly Palestinian-controlled Area A in the West Bank.
The turnstile allowed two people into the metal detector area at a time and we each had a difficult time getting through. The woman in front of me from Berlin had the most difficult time. She tried about 25 to 30 times to go through the turnstile, but each time she pushed it to go through, she was denied entry; it was still locked.
Though we could not see any Israeli “border” guards, for they use multiple cameras strategically placed to view us, I had the feeling that they must be laughing to themselves at the Berlin woman’s repeated attempts to go through the turnstile and continuously being denied access. A couple times, because of how the turnstile worked, the Berlin woman was locked inside the turnstile metal grates and because she could not go forward towards the metal detector area where passports are given to Israeli guards, she had no other option but to come back towards us (rather than stay locked within the metal grates).
We all laughed uneasily, knowing that luckily we were not Palestinians and would not have to face this on a daily basis. Also, we knew that Israeli soldiers would not brutalize us as they frequently do to Palestinians at the crossings.
Once through the turnstile, one takes the metal from their clothes and continues through a metal detector. There is, inconveniently, only one container for everyone (unlike airports, which have stacks of containers for pocket materials at metal detectors), in which to place bags, wallets and keys. The container is then put on the rolling metal detector/x-ray machine adjacent to the metal detector that one walks through.
There were no Israeli guards to hand people the one and only container after the person ahead in line had used it. Thus, the person who had just used the container has to walk back and hand the container to the next person in line through the walk-through metal detector.
I had the problem of not having any container, as the woman from Berlin in front of me had forgotten to pass it back. So I had to place my wallet on the rolling metal/x-ray machine without a container; it ended up getting stuck inside the rolling metal detector! As my wallet did not come out the other side, I had to go back through the metal detector and push it past where it was stuck.
I was not chastised for returning through the metal detector that I just passed through. Nevertheless, if I were Palestinian, I can only assume this would be different.
Eventually, about a half hour to forty-five minutes later, we all (about 10 of us) got through. Considering there was barely any line and we were non-Arabs, I can only imagine how long it would have taken Palestinians in a long, rush-hour line to get through the Qalandia checkpoint!
We then bordered a bus bound for East Jerusalem and I was eyeing my watch. I was to meet with an Israeli co-worker of our American company’s subsidiary very shortly in West Jerusalem … but first I had to stop at my hostel in the Old City to grab a gift that my boss had asked me to give to him.
I wondered, after the whole day of seeing the oppression and stifled movement within the West Bank, would I denounce Israel after a few beers?
Luckily he was a friendly man who, while generally supporting Israel, criticized the way Israel “border” guards treated Palestinians. He added that Israel is no longer under an “existential threat,” referring to the narrative that Israel often uses for its apartheid system in the West Bank.
But, he did say “if we lose the West Bank, we lose everything.”
“Whose is it to lose?” I wondered while sipping a beer.
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