©2007 Stephen J. Shaner

Ninety Seconds at the Qalandia Checkpoint

Qalandia, the busiest of nearly 400 checkpoints limiting Palestinian travel within the West Bank and into Israel, was set up by the IDF at the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000. Situated directly between Jerusalem to the south and Ramallah to the north, Qalandia (along with Israelís security wall) effectively separates the northern West Bank from Jerusalem and the southern West Bank.

Initially, Qalandia was little more than a temporary roadblock consisting of concrete barriers, razor wire, and soldiers checking ID cards. It gradually evolved into the primary crossing for Palestinians traveling to and from the northern suburbs of Jerusalem and into Israel. On April 4, 2006 the checkpoint officially became known to Israelis as the Atarot Border Crossing.

The new Atarot terminal shares little resemblance to its rather inauspicious beginnings. Housed in a low-roofed metal building with bare concrete floors, Atarot is a model of Israelís increasing efficiency in its occupation of the Palestinian territories. Only Palestinians with Jerusalem IDís or permits to enter Israel, along with other foreigners, will be allowed through the crossing.

Pedestrians are maneuvered into one of five lanes in the darkened terminal and navigate a series of enclosed turnstiles. Women, children, the elderly and infirmed form their own line. There is no physical contact between crossers and those running the checkpoint; all interaction occurs across layers of bullet-proof glass, via security camera, and over loudspeaker. Belongings pass through x-ray machines and pockets emptied so metal detectors remain silent. There are separate rooms for those requiring further inspection. Multilingual signs instruct visitors photography is prohibited, to keep the facility clean, and remind them to enjoy their stay in Israel.