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Problems at the Qalandia Checkpoint

On October 8th, the two arriving MPT members met in Jerusalem for a late lunch with the two departing MPT members and the Team "anchor." A heightened military presence due to the Jewish feast of Sukkot/Tabernacles [harvest feast with tents/booths] in the city was noted. Many more Jewish people were walking in the Arab section of the Old City.

As the MPTers proceeded out of Jerusalem toward Ramallah, the bus came to a crawl about a mile from the Qalandia checkpoint and then to a stop about a quarter mile away. At that point, passengers began leaving the bus as the driver announced a problem at the checkpoint and a delay of a half-hour to two hours or longer.

Qalandia checkpoint is one of the largest Israeli military checkpoints in the occupied West Bank. It governs traffic between the West Bank capital of Ramallah and the international city of Jerusalem. On a daily basis, Israeli soldiers check Palestinian identity cards, often causing pedestrians long delays as they pass through the checkpoint building and major traffic jams at the vehicle checkpoint.

MPTers learned that the Israeli military had closed Qalandia checkpoint because of the heightened tensions in Jerusalem. All vehicular traffic had reached gridlock as vehicles jostled to change lanes and directions, attempting to get to their destinations via other routes. Young Palestinian men were directing traffic and, amazingly, everyone was taking it in stride with minimal honking or aggressive maneuvers.

Total gridlock at Qalandia Checkpoint.

Passengers grabbed their bags and
searched for alternative transport.

Drivers searched for alternative routes
to their destinations.
Jews, celebrating the end of the Jewish festival of Sukkot, had gone to the Temple Mount, Jerusalem's Islamic religious sanctuary. Some 200 Muslim men were in the El-Aqsa Mosque, the primary place of Islamic worship in Jerusalem, to protect it. Tensions were running high. Palestinians from the West Bank are prohibited from entering Jerusalem and Israel has increasingly limited access to the mosques for Palestinians with Israeli IDs or special permission.
Moreover, many Palestinians, including the woman with whom MPTers spoke at the gridlock, fear that the archeological dig that Israel is undertaking at the Temple Mount is actually a tunneling to undermine the foundation of the Dome of the Rock so that it collapses.

When the Qalandia checkpoint was closed, Palestinian youth, knowing of the ongoing events around the Temple Mount, started to throw stones and the Israeli soldiers responded with tear gas. MPTers finally reached the MPT house, 5 hours after leaving Jerusalem. The trip usually takes 1 ½ to 2 hours. Arriving MPT members received an early orientation to the daily life of Palestinians under occupation.

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