We leave our friend’s house at 7am. Ramallah is alive with the beginning of the day: school children meet their friends for the walk to school; shopkeepers hang their stock from awnings; coffee sellers yell Coffee to passing workers. Our minibus fills quickly and we pull away on the road to Jerusalem.
It’s a short drive to the Wall. It seems to stretch forever in both directions, the familiar Freedom graffiti receding to smallprint.
Out of the bus, and the atmosphere is heavy with resentment. We follow the crowd into a barn-like building which echoes with the cries of snack pedlars. On the other side of it, we’re funnelled between thick chickenwire fences into a queue that moves painfully slowly. Rounding a corner, we see why: to get through to the next area each person must squeeze through a narrow turnstile. The turnstile stops moving regularly, whenever the young Israeli soldier controlling it decides enough people have passed for now. There’s a woman with a small child in front of me. She’s halfway through when it stops and she’s trapped between the bars in a space too small, her brow furrowed but she makes no complaint- there’s no point. After a full minute the turnstile moves again, and she’s through to another enclosure.
There, the queue doesn’t move at all. We’re surrounded by grey steel. There are high fences are on all sides, and a corrugated iron roof is overhead. Small brown birds come and go, fluttering between girders and filling the space with their song. I am speechless. Now and then, an announcement comes through the tannoy in Hebrew; a barked female voice. We’re waiting for the security and identity check, which takes place after another turnstile. It’s hot. We wait for a long time. A pair of young men talk quietly in the queue behind me. The calls of the coffee-sellers filter through from outside.
A voice is raised. Peering through the gate, we see there’s a dispute going on. The voice belongs to a Palestinian woman in hijab, with a little girl at her side. She’s gesturing to the girl and appealing to an Israeli soldier, a girl herself, long-eyelashed behind a thick pane of bulletproof glass. The soldier looks angry and holds up a piece of paper which she jabs with her finger. The woman stops speaking and stands looking at the soldier. The soldier shrugs. The woman takes her daughter by the hand, turns towards us and comes back through the turnstile, passing the queue with a face full of thunder.
I ask an English-speaker what’s happened: the young girl doesn’t have the correct documentation to prove she’s young enough not to need a permit. She isn’t allowed through.
We’ve been there for over an hour. When we finally pass through the turnstile, put our bags through the x-ray machine and present our passports for inspection, the soldier smiles at me.
I don’t smile back.
*It should be a short drive to Jerusalem from Ramallah (roughly Brixton to Croydon), but for the many Palestinians who have to make the journey for work every morning, the Wall makes it an ordeal. I’m told it can take as long as three hours to get through. I can’t imagine this having any effect on the people subjected to it other than accumulated resentment and anger.