High-tech Jerusalem border checkpoint scanning 4,000 people a day

When Palestinian laborers cross a border checkpoint into Jerusalem, they are now able to go through the new Qalandiya station — an upgraded, high-tech passage point Israel hopes will cut out the long lines and poor conditions that plagued the old one.

A Palestinian woman scans a bio-metric card to cross the new Qalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, West Bank, on Thursday, Photo by Debbie Hill

Israeli officials opened the improved checkpoint five months ago, and allowed media their first glimpses this week.

The old checkpoint, which still stands next to the new one, was not able to process high numbers of people. The improved station includes equipment and technology, like bio-metric identification systems, that make the checks easier and quicker. Better security is necessary at the new checkpoint, as it will always present a potential target. A pipe bomb was found near the Qalandiya crossing in May.

Ina Friedman, who’s monitored the Qalandiya crossing for a decade, said the new center should make a sizable difference.

“There were not enough checking facilities provided for the amount of people crossing daily,” He told Times of Israel. “It is as simple as that.”

Most of the 4,000 who cross daily make it through in about five to 10 minutes, said coordinator Maj. Moti Stolovich.

Reviews from laborers have so far been mostly positive.

“It is substantially better,” Yousef Jabareen, a butcher at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, said. “It used to take about an hour … Now it only takes a few minutes, which means I get about an hour of extra sleep.”

Gone are the days when crossers passed through a narrow metal cage to one of five stations, and manually show the required permits.

“It was really problematic,” said worker Ahmad Abu Rub. “Lots of people would shove each other and then the soldiers would shut down all the exits.”

Qalandiya may be the first of a series of improvements, as there are future plans to upgrade several more.

Some Palestinians, however, oppose the checkpoints altogether and see the new Qaladiya as another way to push the idea Jerusalem is separate from the West Bank.

“[Israel] should not be working to beautify checkpoints, but rather to remove them and end its occupation,” Palestinian Liberation Organization official Azzam al-Ahmad said.

Some have an issue with the center’s new bio-metric scans.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that Israel is issuing bio-metric scan cards to Palestinians,” said PA Information Ministry official Maher Awawda. “Why would it be able to hold an electronic database of information on people who are not its citizens or voting in its elections?”

The Palestinian Chronicle has reported on unpleasant conditions and suspect activities at Israeli checkpoints — stories of refused entry, sexual assault and long waits in the heat and rain.

In one case, it said, an elderly couple endured a long wait in the cold rain for transportation back to Gaza — the husband in a wheelchair, not long after a surgery. Another involved a mother pleading with soldiers who refused her entry to visit her son in the hospital.

ByNicholas Sakelaris