This was originally written and published in July, 2009 and is republished as an accompaniment to the story about Qalandiya posted yesterday.
Do you want to go to Jerusalem? You have to go through Qalandia first. Here is a cattle shute two feet wide, forcing everyone into cramped single file, lined in chicken and razor wire. Behind fences, sandbags, fortifications, and bulletproof glass sits a man in a uniform. He will click a button and let a turnstile at the end of the cattle shute turn. One, two, maybe three people will get through before it locks, trapping you in the turnstile. He clicks another button and a loud voice comes out of a speaker, yelling at you in Hebrew. Step back.
Finally through, you come to another line, wider and more yet cramped and frantic. The 15 km distance between Ramallah and Jerusalem takes you over three hours, and not everyone has three hours to spare. A wall of bodies press you closer. Another turnstile. Click. Click. Two, maybe three people get through again and the mass of bodies presses forward. Children cry and hold their mother’s hands. “Mama, I need to use the bathroom,” a boy next to you says, trying not to be trampled underfoot as another series of clicks lets a trickle of people through. The cameras look on.
“Be patient, habiby.”
A man behind you starts praying.
Nearer, now. The crowd presses harder, uncomfortably feeding bodies into the gate towards the next phase of the checkpoint. You feel hot, you feel overwhelmed. Everyone around you feels this way. The voice over the loudspeaker sounds angry, yells some more. A child hits his head on the metal bars of the turnstile and sinks to his knees. “Mind the children!” someone begs. An old woman shuffles closer with a small infant in her arms. You watch as the turnstile swings around dangerously. “Careful!” you say in Arabic, trying to keep the baby from being crushed by the crowd. A crescendo of emotion, adrenaline, and anger. Click. Click. Another three through.
You put your things in an X-ray machine and show a woman behind bulletproof glass your passport. She rolls her eyes and waves you past with a dismissive gesture. You shuffle out through more turnstiles, more fences, until you get to the bus.
The old woman hands you her baby when you sit down and the baby drools on your shoulder all the way to East Jerusalem. He can’t be more than a few weeks old, though you never know here because proper pre and post natal care is so rare. He looks at you with bewildered eyes. “This child is beautiful,” you say in Arabic. “What is his name”
The woman smiles. “Adam.” The first prophet, the first man.
Adam looks at up at you. He cannot be more than three weeks old, so tiny and wrinkled and light in your arms. You kiss his soft cheeks. Is this the way of the world, you think. Will he do this his whole life, go through Qalandia and onto the 78 or 18 bus? 16 kilometers in two and a half hours. A world of humiliation, of stress and suffering. Of angry faces behind bulletproof glass. Qalandia makes you feel so small, makes you feel like it will last forever. But how is it when you carry another passport? How is it when all you have is a slip of paper in a half shekel green plastic cover?
Adam sleeps peacefully on your shoulder until Damascus Gate. You’ve never held such a baby.