A day as an EA in Jerusalem

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Banner in Sabeel's Common Room

It is a Thursday and my alarm goes off at 03h40. A quick wash is followed by brushing my teeth and I am ready (even though only half-awake) to begin this long day. I dress in black – because it is Thursday – and I carefully close the door at the top of the stairs in order not to wake the others who can sleep a little later. I make myself some ‘Quick Oatmeal’ in the microwave oven and I brew a cup of Rooibos Tea (I am rationing myself carefully as it is not available here). At 04h05 I put on my EAPPI Vest and my team-mate and I quietly lock the door and wait for Abdullah, our taxi driver whom we called the night before to book our ride to the Qalandiya Checkpoint. Like clockwork, Abdullah arrives at 04h10 and we drive through the early morning streets of Jerusalem in the direction of Ramallah, which is a city in the West Bank. Even at 04h15 there is traffic on the roads.

We arrive at the checkpoint at 04h25, pay the taxi NIS 60 and decide who will stand on which side. Luc, my French-speaking team-mate, would stand on the Ramallah side today as some members of the Evaluations Team are supposed to be meeting him on that side to observe what was happening at the entrance to the checkpoint. I, therefore, will be counting and recording everyone who passes through the checkpoint. We count men, women and children (scholars) and record the numbers in half-an-hour slots. We monitor the Qalandiya Checkpoint for three hours – from 04h30 to 07h30 – three times per week on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Upon our arrival, there were already a few men in the queue, waiting to go through the security checks. Only two of the five lanes were open for the first hour and then later, two more lanes were opened. The Humanitarian Gate (for women, children, the elderly and the sick) was only opened at 05h45. When the queues are particularly long and all the lanes are not open, we call the Humanitarian Hotline and request that they put some pressure on those in charge to speed up the process and open all the lanes. Sometimes we need to call them more than once during a morning and still nothing changes. On this day, the process is particularly slow. On an average good morning it will take about 35 minutes for a Palestinian man to get through the checkpoint. Many waited an hour to get through the checkpoint this morning. Most of them are on their way to work and have to go through this checkpoint every working day of their lives. On the Ramallah side the people enter into a gage-like lane (which is very narrow) and, when the turnstile opens, about five or six people are let through to the metal detector conveyor belt (very similar to what one goes through at an airport). All loose articles, including belts and shoes with metal buckles, have to be placed on the conveyor belt on the left and then IDs or Passports need to be produced and shown to a soldier, who is positioned in a booth behind a window on the right. Sometimes people are delayed here for no apparent reason. On this day, I counted 1,778 people who passed through Qalandiya Checkpoint between 04h30 and 07h30. My team-mate started his journey through the checkpoint at 07h20 and arrived on the other side at 07h44. We caught a bus back to Jerusalem and after a slow ride in the morning traffic, we arrived back at our Placement Home at 08h45. I had some tea and then went to sleep for an hour-and-a-half.

At 11h30 another team-mate (Thord-Ove from Sweden) and I set off to catch a bus to the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center for Palestinian people. The name “Sabeel” in Arabic means either “a spring of water” or “the way”. On a Thursday, they share in a midweek devotional service at noon and EAs are welcome to join them. A Lutheran minister from Beit Sahoor (a town in the Bethlehem area) conducted the service today. The liturgy was in Arabic but an English version was available for us to follow. The sermon was in English and the preacher focused on the story of the angel that freed Peter when he was in prison. Like Peter, he suggested, the Palestinian people (and all of us) should have the kind of faith that allows us to sleep well. The angel had to actually hit Peter to wake him up (Acts 12:7). Everyone was invited to share in the reflections around the sermon and I was asked what brought me here. I responded that the parallels to the situation in Apartheid South Africa contributed to my interest in EAPPI’s work but that justice for all is an important issue for me. I want to help those who are working towards ‘Ending the Occupation’. After the service, we were invited to stay and share in a simple lunch of flat bread, fresh veggies and hummus. We exchanged information about some forthcoming events and left there at about 13h50.

We caught the bus back to the Jerusalem bus station – and what an eventful ride this was. It was afternoon and the bus was full of children returning home from school. Thord-Ove and I, therefore, had to stand. I tried to hold onto the little rack above the seats as there are no handles to hold onto. At one particular point the bus driver braked wildly and turned a corner at the same time. My grip eventually loosened and I went sprawling towards the front, groping for something to hold onto in order to break my fall. I must have been quite a sight! (Embarrassing – to say the least!) Thord-Ove had somehow anchored himself against a pole next to the steps at the exit and he broke my fall – if he had not been there, I would have ended up against the windscreen of the bus or on the driver’s lap!  🙂  A young woman then gave up her seat for me for which I was very grateful. She got off a few stops later.

We then had plenty of time to get to our next appointment, which was supposed to be at 15h00 at the Jerusalem Municipality with an ex-member of the Knesset. At 14h45, when we were already close to The New Gate, Thord-Ove received a call indicating that the meeting was probably postponed because of another urgent meeting our contact has to attend at 15h15. (It was postponed until Friday morning at 10h00 another team-mate confirmed a few minutes later.) As we were so close to the Jerusalem Office, we decided to visit it and follow up on some arrangements and forthcoming events.

I arrived back at our Placement Home just after 16h00. I filled in the checkpoint log on the Jerusalem Team computer, checked my personal e-mails, uploaded the day’s photos onto Facebook, did some laundry and then showered and washed my hair.

At 17h45 I enjoyed a light supper of a rice salad – made from left-over rice, tuna, chopped up green, red and yellow peppers and mayonnaise. After eating a delicious nectarine, I enjoyed a cup of Rooibos Tea with a half a roll with Apricot Jam on it. I read a while and by 20h00 I had already switched off my light.

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