Witnessing a life of checkpoints and barriers

By Melanie Coyne, Programme Manager at Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)

I recently returned from a week in the West Bank, where I was fortunate enough to visit MAP’s projects and meet our hard-working and committed teams delivering this work.

Alongside our team in Ramallah, I was delighted to also be joined by three of our colleagues from our Gaza team. My experiences over the week really brought it home to me just how much the lack of freedom of movement imposed on our Palestinian colleagues disrupts every aspect of their lives and the implementation of our projects.

On one occasion during my visit, I left Ramallah early in the morning to travel to a project activity with another colleague from MAP’s UK team and a colleague from Gaza. We had to pass through the Qalandia Checkpoint, the main checkpoint between the northern West Bank and East Jerusalem, which is controlled by Israeli military. This should have been straight-forward as we all had the necessary permits to pass through, and all three of us had passed through the checkpoint very quickly and easily in the preceding days.

There was already a lot of traffic at Qalandia as we arrived. Our car was stopped and our papers checked. My paperwork and passport, and that of my British colleague, were given the OK by the young soldier at the booth. Our colleague from Gaza, however, was forced to leave the car on her own and go through the large military checkpoint building on foot.

Once inside, she informed us that there were hundreds of other Palestinians waiting to be processed and that it was likely to take at least two hours for her to get through. She was incredibly frustrated as only the day before she had passed through the same checkpoint easily without having to leave the vehicle, in order to reach Jerusalem, and couldn’t understand why the situation should have been any different for her the following day.

It was a small reminder of the daily discrimination faced by Palestinians in the West Bank.

During the same week, I was due to attend an activity day for female cancer patients, organised by one of our partner organisations, the Dunya Centre, which provides vital cancer services to women in the West Bank. We were due to visit the seaside at Jaffa in Israel for the day, which would have been a very welcome break for the women undergoing the hardships of living under occupation as well as fighting cancer. However, the trip had to be cancelled because the Palestinian patients involved were denied permits to travel. This was yet another example of the suffocating barriers to movement imposed by half a century of occupation.

For Palestinians, life under occupation – whether in the West Bank or Gaza – is fraught with barriers to the basic right to freedom of movement. From what I saw on my visit, it is clear that these barriers affect all aspects of daily life, preventing people from accessing services, visiting family, or even meeting colleagues from another area of the occupied Palestinian territory.

To read more about how checkpoints and barriers affect Palestinian healthcare, read our report here.