Crossing Kalandia

Above: Detained Palestinian workers sit, guarded at gunpoint, at an Israeli checkpoint on the borders of Jerusalem, 4 January 2002. Photo by Musa Al-Shaer.

Introduction from EI’s Nigel Parry

One of the most common reasons offered for the final rejection of Oslo by Palestinians is the cantonisation that the “peace” accords brought to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, of which Camp David merely offered a larger and more permanent version.

With a network of over 50 permanent Israeli checkpoints established in the West Bank and Gaza in March 1993 — just six months before the signing of the Declaration of Principles — the next seven years leading up to the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada were an object lesson in how to divide and control an entire civilian population, while continuing to confiscate large areas of their land, and the all-too-predictable consequences.

The popular Palestinian uprising to this ongoing colonisation under cover of the ‘peace process’ was both an inevitable and a welcome reality check. Among other worthy goals, the Intifada has undermined the capacity of the media to perpetuate the conflict by failing to note the destructive effect of Israel’s continuing military occupation on its Palestinian victims.

To be sure, the cost is more than any of us can bear, but much of the price had already been paid on the ground. Israel made sure of that and, along with its American sponsors, bears full responsibility for reducing the options of the majority of Palestinians, who simply wanted to live freely on their land, to zero over the last decade. The obvious and endemic failings of the Palestinian Authority do not come close to being even slightly as intrusive a spoiling influence. Two animals walked over the bridge that broke. One was an elephant, one was a mouse. Are both equally to blame? The mere fact of the wildly divergent power of the two creatures is the answer.

Violating the human right to freedom of movement for three million people, for several years, is obviously going to create an environment in which the justifiable anger and frustration of all will turn into the destructive rage of some. It is the latter — expressed in the hopeless anger of the unjustifiable bus bombings which kill Jews, Arabs and tourists alike — that tends to dominate coverage and present a skewed image of the conflict.

In truth these horrible events represent a tiny proportion of the quantifiable violence on the ground. But because we do not see the bulk of it — happening far from CNN’s Jerusalem Bureau — and the media makes little effort to point out its geographical failings to us, it might as well not have happened.

Every day, Palestinians line up in a peaceful protest at Kalandia and other checkpoints around the country, just trying to get on with their daily lives. Does anyone notice, and rush to pressurise Israel to stop segmenting the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza? Apparently not, as we enter the final year of what could be called the “Decade of Checkpoints”. They’ve been around so long that they are no longer international news.

The solution to the majority of issues that fuel the conflict is no holy mystery but a plainly visible truth, exactly the same truth plainly visible 9 years ago at the dawn of Oslo: The Palestinian people need real peace. TV peace, handshakes, and yet another round of negotiations will not mean anything when there’s a tank outside and a helicopter flying over your home.

People are fond of complaining the Palestinians ‘could do more to emulate Martin Luther King’. It’s become a mantra. The same people think nothing of the fact that in saying this they are ignoring the preponderance of exactly that non violent spirit in the overwhelming majority of Palestinians’ responses to the occupation — evident every single day at checkpoints like Kalandia. To them a single suicide bomb perpetrated by a single person makes every Palestinian a criminal; a demonizing logic that would make every white American responsible for the Klu Klux Klan by mere reason of guilt by ethnic association. A logic that ignores the more obvious chain of causality.

Martin Luther King, when he isn’t being cited by the ill-informed in order to mock the oppressed, defined peace as not merely the absense of conflict, but the “presence of justice”. And injustice, when set on the both sides of the scales in this conflict, increasingly enjoys a blatant and almost total Israeli monopoly.

As 3 million Palestinian human beings fight for their survival, Israel portrays this national punishment as a “response” to the acts of individuals, and we all call for “balance” although the bulldozers are moving in only one direction. By doing this we ignore the imbalance that is the conflict.

It’s time we all crossed Kalandia and understood how the other half live. If you can in 2003, do travel to Palestine and see for yourself. There is no better source of information on the conflict than your own five senses.

Nigel Parry

Crossing Kalandia

“If you have tears, prepare to shed them now” — Shakespeare (Julius Caesar)
Kalandia is not a checkpoint in any recognized sense of the word ‘checkpoint’, which is commonly understood to be a place where documents and goods are checked, and through which people and goods are inspected in order to facilitate passage. Kalandia is a multi-acre concrete block wasteland with its route of passage constructed in maze formation: narrow, difficult to negotiate and seemingly without exit. At last, you realize that the exit is finally nearing, and it is with a profound sense of relief that you walk into the mud-covered Ramallah side.

Crossing Kalandia as an European Union Passport holder with no restrictions — bypassing the endless humiliations which are the lot of the rightful residents of this land — is an experience that cannot be described. It can only truly be experienced first hand, and everyone who can come and do so, should do. No film, no commentary, no tales told by second hand by visitors can prepare you for this. Tears flow unbidden and unchecked, and eyes smile empathetically into mine. No words are necessary.

This, remember, is not a frontier. Kalandia is a point on the road between the Palestinian city of ‘East Jerusalem’ and the Palestinian city of Ramallah, both in the Palestinian lands of the ‘West Bank’, inhabited entirely by Palestinians. Controlled by Israelis in every tiny respect (except for the thoughts of those who wait) — a most outrageous restriction on human rights and civil liberties. If the world sees, then how can this state of criminal repression continue?

And all this to deter what the Israelis see as the waiting hordes of suicide bombers. How many ‘checkpoints’ per bomber? How many tons of concrete and how many huge rocks per bomb? How many acres of Palestinian agricultural land consecrated to each as-yet-undiscovered suicide bomber?

Everything in and around this illegal construction is raw and brutal, and everything in this aggressive wasteland moves — or not — on the whim of a surly Israeli soldier. Sprawling, bulldozed, dug-up, demolished, destroyed (add all the other words of destruction you can think of and it will not be too much). All surfaces are pot-holed and covered with puddles metres across; puddles which are surrounded by more metres of mud, broken up by ramp after ramp, making it impossible to use any non-powered wheeled form of transportation be it cart, wheelchair or pushchair. And this was when it was dry! I can’t imagine the horror of a wet and windy day .

As you approach Kalandia from Al Quds (Jerusalem) the devastation is apparent way before the barrier - by the time you are a within sight of this monstrous creation, devastation of the landscape is complete. All that once stood for three hundred metres on either side of all approaches has been pushed into enormous mounds containing destroyed houses, trees, everything. And all around are the fortresses of the illegal ‘settlers’ on the hilltops.

Stretching through the mud are long lines of resigned, but angry, people - mothers with babies and toddlers in their arms (because they cannot use a buggy) laden with bags, bent old people, sick people, people of all kinds unable to travel the few miles between two of their own cities. Every time people need to go from one side to the other, they walk the long distance from the dropping-off point on one side to the taxi minivans on the other with their heavy loads. And it is much worse, of course, on the way back, to enter Jerusalem.

Ramallah is covered with a blanket of mud — all cars are muddy over their roofs and clothes are filthy nearly up to the knee — how on earth do women manage to keep their families clean with so much mud and so little water? Everything at ground level in the whole landscape is torn-up, demolished, cleared into piles of rubble, worn out, collapsing, never repaired — I cannot find adequate words.

In the midst of this unprecedented suffering, all over this road-blocked moonscape whereon every facet of normal life is destroyed, still everyone (and I do really mean that) takes my hand and says ‘welcome, you are very welcome’ and smiles into my eyes. Tears flow then too.

Well, this is my experience of crossing Kalandia into Ramallah. At 2.00 am January 1st we came back from the party in Ramallah. We were about 40 internationals led by an Italian Minister and, although the checkpoint was closed, the Israeli soldiers pretended not to see us as we walked through! Quite a diplomatic incident, I feel. Even these thugs seemed to realize that, on balance, we were unlikely to be carrying bombs.

We walked for an hour and then a minibus came along and took us load by load — I was luckily in the first! Facing yet another checkpoint nearer to Al Quds, four pasty, pimply-faced, ‘lager louts’ stood before us with their drooping, unlit cigarettes. We had with us a Palestinian girl with no papers. They stupidly neglected to check the number of passports and people; so, realizing they couldn’t hold the Internationals for anything (other than being alive — an idea which obviously annoys them a lot), the girl passed through undetected.

When I saw the approach to Kalandia, the infamous checkpoint itself and the unbelievably damaged road to Ramallah, I understood how the Allied troops must have felt when they entered the camps in 1945 — disbelief, sorrow, anger, nausea, and outrage — “how can this have happened, be allowed to happen?’

Well, “How can this be allowed to happen here? How is it still like this after 55 years in Palestine?”

When the Israelis talk of peace they do not mean the same thing that the Palestinians do. Israelis simply mean that they wish to keep what they have taken (the West Bank, the Golan, the Gaza Strip, and control of 3.5 million Palestinian lives), unimpeded by international laws and norms, and with no Palestinian able to enter or permitted to live in Israel.

Palestinians mean that they want to be free from the illegal occupation. They want the Israelis to return to the 1967 borders with no exceptions, they want the illegal occupants of the settlements to leave their tiny, precious land, they want the settlements dismantled, every one. They want no more murders of their citizens, no more abductions, no more bombs dropped into apartment blocks from US made F-16 strike aircraft, no more missiles fired into residential areas from helicopter gunships (so insensitively named ‘Apache’), no more wholesale house demolitions by giant Caterpillar bulldozers, no more shelling from tanks such as are used in full scale war against an armed enemy, no more mass arrests and disappearances, no more deportation of whole families, no more school, hospital, road and neighbourhood closures, no more trenches in front of their universities, no more Bantustans, no more electrified razor wire on their land — there has to be much more but you get the picture.

So the Israelis will say “Look how much the Palestinians are asking for - we cannot be expected to be that generous - what will they give us?” Difficult since they don’t have anything Israeli! “Generous”? What an outrage!! Of course the Israelis will almost certainly overlook the gift that the Palestinians wish to give them — a peaceful future, living side by side in two sovereign states! Perhaps this is because this is precisely what Israel doesn’t want.

Anne Gwynne is a Welsh National working with the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees in Nablus.