QALANDIA CROSSING: It’s just after 6 a.m. and a Palestinian man’s face is momentarily bathed in crimson light, not by the sun rising over the mountains of Jordan, but by a facial recognition scanner at an Israeli checkpoint near Jerusalem.
The Israeli military has installed the face scanners as part a multimillion dollar upgrade of the Qalandia crossing that now allows Palestinians from the West Bank with work permits to zip through with relative ease.
But while the high-tech upgrades may have eased entry for Palestinians going to Israel for work, critics say they are a sign of the ossification of Israel’s 52-year occupation of the West Bank and slam the military’s use of facial recognition technology as problematic.
Qalandia is one of the main crossings for the thousands of Palestinians who enter Israel each day for a variety of reasons, including work, medical appointments or family visits. Among Palestinians, the heavily fortified crossing is seen as a symbol of Israeli occupation and has long been notorious as a human logjam, where workers would wait for as much as two hours in order to pass into Israeli-controlled Jerusalem.
Palestinian labourers from around the West Bank who had permits to work in Israel would wake up in the middle of the night to arrive at the crossing before daybreak. Metal fenced entryways were often packed with people before dawn, waiting for the gates to open. Human rights groups deplored the conditions at Qalandia.