The New York Times’ Jerusalem Bureau Chief Normalizes Qalandiya Checkpoint

On August 24, The New York Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief, Peter Baker, featured a live video stream story of the Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, through which thousands of Palestinians pass every day. The video is part of a larger project by The New York Times that explores commutes all over the world. There is no doubt that the new bureau chief wanted to prove his mettle by tackling one of the most contentious geographic points in the West Bank; however, it was clear that Baker did not fully comprehend Qalandiya’s purpose, impact, and geopolitical significance in a decades-long struggle between an occupying military force and a native people.

Baker begins the video by describing the journey through the checkpoint as “one of the strangest commutes in the world, made by thousands of Palestinians into Israel every day.” It is important to note that this statement is largely false. Qalandiya checkpoint lies firmly within the West Bank and does not act as the border between Palestine and Israel. While the Israelis claim (and Baker echoes) that the checkpoint and the connecting separation wall combats against suicide bombers, the true purpose of the Qalandiya checkpoint is to act as a barrier to further isolate Jerusalem from the rest of Palestine in an attempt at de facto annexation. It is not a secret that many Israeli and American politicians envision a state in which Jerusalem is the undivided capital, even though the United States and the United Nations recognize Jerusalem as occupied territory and only resolvable in negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.  By connecting the city of Jerusalem solely to Israel, the Jerusalem bureau chief actively engages in erasure of the historic right of the Palestinian people to live there and about 300,000 currently do.

It is true that thousands of Palestinians make the trek from all over Palestine to pass through Qalandiya in route to Jerusalem and beyond, but this is not an average commute or even a commute of our own [American] understanding at all. The Times’ coverage of Qalandiya attempts to normalize military checkpoints, explaining them as furthering the “symbiotic economic relationship that is important to both sides,” as opposed to shedding light on the extreme burden and degradation that Palestinians encounter while crossing a checkpoint. Despite Baker’s nonchalant tone, nothing about this “commute” is normal. This is not like zipper-merging onto the beltway.

First, Qalandiya is a military checkpoint. Palestinians seeking passage by foot are guided into a labyrinth of metal turnstiles and gates much like what one finds for animals in a slaughterhouse. Men and women traveling by car are stopped and checked by a heavily armed solider – often with humiliating questioning– while another solider performs a vehicle inspection. Second, there is no guarantee that the passage will be completed. Palestinians often are subjected to excessive waiting based on a particular guard’s mood that day. Simple things like proving a relationship between a grandmother and her grandson can become a grueling ordeal. Third, many Palestinians must cross at Qalandiya to attend classes at university or simply to visit a doctor or a loved one.

Baker continues to prove his ineptitude as Jerusalem bureau chief as he relies entirely on a translator to interview pedestrians crossing through the checkpoint. One would think that Arabic, the official language of Palestinians as well as the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel, consisting of 20 percent of Israel’s population, would be a requirement for the stationed bureau chief of a prominent news organization. Baker persists, using his translator to ask a passerby why he would go through all the hassle of crossing at Qalandiya. Unsurprising, the response is that it is the only way to get from the occupied territories to occupied East Jerusalem and Israel.

For many Palestinians, the decision to cross the checkpoint is not entirely by choice. Those seeking services only found in Jerusalem or those going to work are forced to go through Qalandiya. Some have already encountered multiple security checkpoints, both fixed and flying, on their way to Qalandiya. There is no other option; if a worker is turned around, he/she must return home empty-handed, and if a pregnant woman is denied entry while traveling to the hospital, she could face dire consequences. Between 2000 and 2005 alone, 67 women were forced to give birth at Israeli military checkpoints and of those newborns 36 did not survive. Reducing a Palestinian’s checkpoint experience to a “hassle” obfuscates the actual purpose and ramifications of this daily injustice.

Qalandiya is designed to inhibit Palestinian mobility and increase hardship in daily lives with the end goal of annexing Jerusalem. Normalization of such checkpoints further entrenches the military occupation and justifies the structural violence Israel impose on the Palestinian people. Without clear and accurate journalism, there can be no hope for justice in Palestine.

Lucian Dieterman is the Communications and Program Associate at The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center. 

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.