In 2013, I traveled to Israel, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank with Librarians and Archivists with Palestine. While there, I wrote regular essays to family and friends about what I was bearing witness to and experiencing. Below are segments of two essays about Kalandia (Qalandia) Refugee Camp, which sits across or between Jerusalem and the West Bank, and my witnessing of apartheid and ethnic cleansing in real time:
Today, we passed through Kalandia (Qalandia) Refugee Camp on our way to Ramallah because the checkpoint to cross sits right in the center of the camp. This Palestinian refugee camp is not quite what you might imagine. There are multi-story apartments, businesses, and such things – but there is no real infrastructure. The Israelis have annexed Kalandia as part of Jerusalem, likely so that they can police it and keep it under surveillance. This means the camp has become no-mans land as far as resources and infrastructure. The Palestinian Authority cannot oversee its care, and the Israelis don’t oversee its care. The roads were a mess. Building codes are not followed because permits to build are denied. Schools and other public resources are inconsistent. It’s really a sight/site to behold.
We left Ramallah early this morning and passed through Kalandia checkpoint to visit Tel Aviv. The traffic at the checkpoint is amazing. People stand in long lines waiting to walk through and catch the bus on the other side to get to work, visit friends or the doctor, or whatever else. People are asked to step out of their cars and to have the whole thing pulled apart. Some people are not allowed to cross and are turned away after hours of waiting, even if they are trying to get to work or go to the doctor.
Just to the side of checkpoint is Kalandia refugee camp. I was not allowed to take photos of the camp (see UNWRA photo above). Similar to Balata (a refugee camp in Nablus, occupied West Bank), it is a ton of taller buildings sitting on top of each other. People trying to make ends meet sell various things to the people waiting at the checkpoint.
Israeli soldiers boarded our bus and checked each of our visas. They carry very large machine guns. They ordered us to put phones and cameras away. We were not allowed to document the incident at all. It was definitely unsettling.
Art and slogans adorn the giant, forbidding wall that aggressively herds the traffic through the checkpoint. In the presence of the wall, there is no doubt about occupation and violence. The wall itself feels violent with its imposing stature and relentless reminder that freedom does not exist in this place. In defiance, Palestinians spray paint messages of resistance, hope, and liberation.