Crossing Qalandia to get from the Palestinian West Bank in to Palestinian East Jerusalem is normally just a boring and pointless delay combined with a brief but uniquely unpleasant interaction with a soldier carrying a large American gun. Occasionally things spark off. Dodging tear gas is a possibility and crazy driving is a certainty. Once I was driving past (it is the only way to get south of Ramallah) and a petrol tanker suddenly jumped forward hit another lorry and rammed the fence before being shot at by the private security and soldiers who man the checkpoint. Each incident leads to measures and further collective punishment of the people who must cross for work, school or family reasons.
Over the last 6 months or so, construction works have been ongoing on one side of the checkpoint. A few weeks ago, the bus lane opened. Great, I thought, finally some sense, the buses will be given priority and their passage eased, making people’s lives a tiny bit easier.
My healthy sense of cynicism did immediately detect one flaw in my positive outlook. Of course, only Jerusalem ID holders can use the new turn-styles and passages next to the bus lane. West Bank ID holders who have permits to go to Jerusalem must still go to the main terminal. Anyone with a yellow-plated car can drive through. Israelis, of course, are banned by their government. Foreign passport holders with valid visas like me, normally get polite if curt treatment or soldiers attempting to be chummy by striking up a conversation. Confused? Wondering why? But it’s pretty clear after you’ve seen it. Classic divide and rule combined with a creeping transfer policy in which the complex ID system is combined with harassment and general degradation to ‘encourage’ Jerusalemites to move to Ramallah.
But this is just normal life. What made me write this today was the four private security contractors who wrecked my day and almost certainly wrecked everyone else’s day they came across in the name of the Security of the State of Israel. Not content with brandishing huge guns and joking around as if they were playing volleyball on the beach, today they decided to take advantage of their new bus lane and delay people even more than normal. People who are normally allowed through seated were ordered off at gun-point and made to queue in the newly constructed 'pen'. The turn-style seemed set up to force people to squeeze together sacrificing their dignity to get through to the ID-check. The lazy soldiers larking around in their booth bark orders. All the while the four contractors laugh and joke. Occasionally they become serious and line up for a short jog down to the entrance to the bus lane. The security scare which they valiantly put down is an old woman trying to get on the bus in front and save a further 30 minute wait. Or a guy on his phone asking the bus driver a question. The brave Israeli soldiers stay looking on while the private contractors act out their personal power fantasies all in the name of the security of the State of Israel.
But my day ended with a conversation to inspire a glimmer of hope. Mohammed, the caretaker at my office in Ramallah told me how he had worked in Israel supervising Burmese workers and building Israeli villas for 16 years. His permission to work was refused in 1999 without explanation. No longer wanted in Israel, he now works longer hours for a lower wage in the West Bank. What does he have to say about peace? ’67 borders and Jerusalem as the capital. That’ll do he says. But Israel will never accept it. They have so many guns, weapons and the impunity to kill when it suits them. Why should they accept peace on those terms? After all, they are having so much fun ruining people’s lives in the bus lanes of Qalandia.