Facebook makes the wait easier at Qalandia checkpoint

Some 13,000 members of the 'Qalandia conditions' page share stories of exasperation and pass on tips for negotiating a checkpoint where the wait can last three hours.

Nasser Nasser/AP
A man walks past a section of the separation barrier with a graffiti depicting late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Nov. 8, 2013.

The commute between Ramallah and Jerusalem has just become easier – or at least those enduring the daily ordeal now have company – thanks to a new Facebook page that provides drivers with live updates, advice, and jokes on the road conditions of one of the West Bank’s most notorious checkpoints.

The Arabic page titled, “Qalandia conditions,” with some 13,000 members, has become the go-to site to find out whether to go through the checkpoint right now, wait for a bit longer, or take one of several significantly longer roads to avoid the insane drivers who go over roundabouts and blithely speed ahead in the wrong lane to get to the front of the line.

“How’s Qalandia looking this morning?” asks one user. Split seconds later, several people jump in. "painful,” says one, while another offers more colorful advice: “You might as well take a mattress, you might be sleeping there.” 

Another user posted a picture of a car trying to cut the line, commenting: “Good job, smart pants.”

In 2000, after the second Palestinian intifada began, Israel built a permanent checkpoint at Qalandia, a Palestinian village and refugee camp located on the northern outskirts of Jerusalem. Over the years, it has been become a symbol of how the Israeli occupation disrupts Palestinian lives on a daily basis.

With a large container and a pedestrian crossing hemmed in by narrow metal bars and turnstiles, it looks more like a terminal. Manned by Israeli soldiers 24/7, it is the site of frequent confrontations between rock–throwing young Palestinians and Israeli soldiers shooting tear gas. Firebombs and live ammunition have been used, too, and the Israeli watchtower is scorched from firebombs and car oil hurled by Palestinian youth during protests. A large mural on Israel’s towering cement separation barrier features the late Yasser Arafat, who led the Palestinian national struggle for decades.

Locals and foreigners alike generally have plenty of time to gaze at the art or the chaos, since it can take up to three hours to get through the checkpoint, and it is unpredictable, too.

“It’s true it’s Friday,” a weekend day that should reduce the commuter traffic, “but here we are essentially parked,” one user says.

Another complains about the dozens of young children selling knickknacks or begging for money in exchange for wiping your car windshield with a dirty rag: “The boy selling [at] Qalandia has superglue on him, he sticks onto your window.”

Many have complained for years about such woes at Qalandia, but now they have a creative outlet for their frustrations and wisecracks.

One shows a man arriving home, and his elderly mother asks, “Where have you been all this time, your brother from the United States is already here.”

“Mom, I’ve been stuck in Qalandia traffic,” he answers, implying it takes longer to get home from Qalandia than the US.

A recent meme on the Facebook page shows a man standing in front of the judges of the “Arabs got talent” show and says, “I can queue in Qalandia for three hours without letting out a sound.”

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