Hope? Not in conditions like these, Mr Blair

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The Independent Online

Heading for the checkpoint, I am thinking about Mr Blair. I wonder if he'll pass through Kalandiya II, the new, improved checkpoint controlling the Ramallah population.

Heading for the checkpoint, I am thinking about Mr Blair. I wonder if he'll pass through Kalandiya II, the new, improved checkpoint controlling the Ramallah population.

I remember the good old days when Kalandiya had makeshift barricades and a barbed-wire fence.

A few months ago, the Israeli Army decided to "improve" Kalandiya, proudly announcing Kalandiya II, a more compassionate checkpoint that blends in with the environment of a nation held captive.

Today, there are huge cement walls and vehicle separators. Kalandiya II is now larger and even more official and permanent. In the background, one can clearly spot the separation wall competing in size and stature with Kalandiya II.

For the convenience of the Palestinian masses, the Israeli Army has added two metal-detector gates and covered them with a pleasant shanty-house roof. After I have been waiting for hours, an 18-year-old female soldier gives me the nod to take off my jacket and move away from my bag. A rustic table next to the gate allows me to park my keys, cell-phone and wallet. I move through the metal detector and walk about 10 metres to the next level of improvements offered by the Israeli Army.

The soldier this time is an older man. He asks me to put all my possessions on another table. He searches my bag, wallet, jacket and everything else I carry. He then points me in the direction of another improvement: the rotating prison gates. The newly erected "rotating gates" are very similar to the ones we all see in Hollywood jail scenes. These are two narrow, rotating gates with horizontal metal bars. To improve the health of the Palestinians, these gates only allow slim Palestinians to spin and roll within a ridiculously narrow enclave. The not-so-slim group is in trouble. I watch these gates in horror, regretting my breakfast. The soldier next to the gates is pointing an M16 assault rifle in my direction. He gives me the sign to move forward through the gates. But my journey through the checkpoint is not yet over: I still have to answer questions from another group of soldiers.

A 15-minute journey may take up to three or four hours. Forget planning. Ignore any logistics and preparations. It seems that Kalandiya II is here to stay.

Mr Blair, how do you expect us to convince our people that there is hope? Desperation and frustration are the overwhelming sentiment in Palestine today.

There are more settlements, more check points, and more despair than ever before. I heard you stayed three hours in Ramallah. I hope you will have had the time to visit Kalandiya II and judge for yourself.

Hakam Kanafani is CEO of Palestine Cellular Communications

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