How Kalandia makes us suffer

Security can be maintained. Countries and even continents around the world have borders, but few of them are like Kalandia.

November 18, 2013 21:06
Israeli forces in Kalandia

Israeli forces in Kalandia 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

‘Kalandia” is only one word, but it plays a big part in the lives of any Palestinian who has to go from Jerusalem to Ramallah or the other way round.

We can imagine Kalandia checkpoint as a border between the West Bank, especially Ramallah, and Jerusalem, and other parts of what many of us view as the occupied lands of Palestine (Israel). It is located between Jerusalem and Ramallah, and through it you can access various Palestinian villages and cities.

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Since the West Bank is surrounded by the separation wall there are only a few points where there are checkpoints to let people pass from the West Bank to Jerusalem, after checking their identification cards and permits.

At first Kalandia used to be a normal, relatively small checkpoint consisting of soldiers checking cars and people, who were asked to show their identification.

However, over three years ago Kalandia was transformed into something more like a border crossing; a section for pedestrians and a lane for vehicles only. You can spend from five minutes to three hours just waiting in line to cross, along with thousands of others.

It depends on the mood of the soldiers or the orders they get. It is one of the most used checkpoints in the country.

Ramallah and Jerusalem are very well connected. Many people who have their houses and families in Jerusalem go to Ramallah to work or to study, so they have to cross the checkpoint on a daily basis. For others Ramallah is a place to go out on a Thursday night to chill with friends.

I want to convey to readers who have not been there what the experience entails and how it affects normal people like myself and our everyday lives.

For us of course Kalandia is not only a checkpoint, it is also the traffic jam caused by the checkpoint, where one can spend half a day just waiting in the car to move one inch. They say it is for security reasons, to make sure that if you don’t have a permit to go to Jerusalem you won’t pass, but in that case what is the excuse for the traffic if you are going to Ramallah? Why do I have to spend a minimum of one hour if am going to Ramallah, which takes 10 minutes without the checkpoint? There are many checkpoints across the country that Palestinians can cross without waiting so long, and without creating all this annoying traffic.

For instance the checkpoint on the way to the Dead Sea, which many Israelis drive through, is basically a free-flow lane of traffic.

This is also true of Hizma checkpoint near Pisgat Ze’ev northeast of Jerusalem, which many Palestinians and Jerusalem citizens go through when Kalandia is too much to handle.

They have to drive for 30 minutes around Kalandia checkpoint, but many of them prefer this to waiting in their cars for an unknown number of hours.

The main problem with Kalandia therefore is not about security or the inability of the guards to check quickly; it is about the inattention to infrastructure, to widening the roads, to making the process quick and easy.

This is due to an uncaring attitude toward the daily life of ordinary people; people who have a right to cross the checkpoint and many of whom are citizens or permanent residents of Israel.

IN 2010 I received an athletic scholarship to go and train in Barcelona. I found it to be an escape from the country; where I can train and study at the same time, and be treated like any other person there, not based on my religion or nationality.

The priceless feeling of freedom made me wonder why would I go back to live in Jerusalem and be treated like a second class citizen. But in the end you realize that if every Palestinian were to think the same way and stay abroad there would be no Palestinians left.

So I decided to come back to live here and fight for my rights in my own way. To be well educated and have a good job and prove that we prefer to suffer under an occupation, and fight for our rights, rather than be treated well in a foreign country.

Spending two and a half years abroad, with no checkpoints on the way to school or work, made me forget the suffering of my Palestinian friends who have to wake up three hours before their classes just to arrive to Birzeit University on time.

The first time I had to cross the checkpoint to Ramallah after coming back from Spain made me wonder why we became so numb. Any rational person who comes from abroad and sees the sheer number of cars waiting in line, and experiences the discomfort you go through at this checkpoint, would wonder why there is no intifada.

What is even more ironic is the feeling I had when I was crossing from Switzerland to France in a car with another two Palestinian friends. Without noticing, my friend Zeina, who was studying international relations in Geneva, told me “that’s it, we are in France already.”

It took us two minutes to be in a totally different country, whereas it takes Palestinians hours to move from one point to another. It made me realize how unfair this world is.

The media always focuses on what Palestinians do once in a while, throwing stones for instance, but never shows the daily suffering we face.

If the media did show what we go through, Palestinians would not be blamed for the way we react.

Consider for instance, the silly New York Times article published on August 4 which explained why young Palestinian children throw stones, saying “they throw because is little else to do – no pool or cinema, no music lessons after school.” The author described it as a “hobby.”

Yeah, sure, a hobby, the same as waiting two hours at a checkpoint.

There are solutions, but the situation is treated as if it is not even a problem.

Solutions can include such things as fixing the roads, making them wider, easing the security checks.

Security can be maintained. Countries and even continents around the world have borders, but few of them are like Kalandia. Even if Israelis think Palestinians deserve this or that it is necessary to make sure Israel is safe from Palestinians, they should try it for a day.

Just pick any day and take your car and see what it feels like to be waiting for this long just to go home after a long day at work. Israelis don’t even need to pass the checkpoint, they can just sit in the traffic before it and turn around at the traffic circle right before it to get a partial feeling.

In the end we are all humans, with families, trying to live a normal life; the only difference is that people are brainwashed by their governments to think in different ways. If we take away the religion and nationality, what do we want? To live happily and enjoy life.

The author is a Palestinian woman with a degree in sports management.

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