Early this morning I went up to Ramallah for a meeting with staff at Defence for Children International. I had to be in Jerusalem immediately afterwards, which meant crossing Qalandia.
A secret: I will do almost anything to avoid Qalandia. As a foreigner I am allowed to use bus number 19, which carries tourists and East Jerusalem ID holders through the checkpoint (soldiers come on board to check our documents) while West Bank Palestinians clamber down and enter the narrow barred chutes that feed into the checkpoint. The bus waits on the other side of the separation wall to pick up foot passengers, rarely the same ones who disembarked – they are now at the end of a very very long line. But it’s not the length of the line I mind. It’s the atmosphere in there, the sense that this is a place where some people aren’t really people any more. But that is hardly a good reason not to be there, so I disembarked and went in with everyone else.
The checkpoint shack was not so busy today, but the lines were slow. Standing the chute, trying not to choke on cigarette smoke, I fell into conversation with Saleh, a man from Jenin refugee camp. He saw my passport as I opened it at the photo page. “Ah, British nationality!” he exclaimed, waving an indignant hand at our surroundings (or trying to, what with none of us having much room for manoeuvre). “Then it is you who are responsible for this situation we are in!”
“Terribly sorry,” I agreed.
“I’m going to visit my wife,” he told me, cordial relations having now been established. “She’s in the hospital.”
“Oh dear. In Jerusalem?”