Only little children crossing, little girls with scarves, probably from the elementary schools of the Waqf. The rest are still on vacation, the residents tell us. The two female soldiers on duty work efficiently and pleasantly, a definite improvement on previous shifts we encountered here.
7:20- 8:00 Drive through Silwan, Wadi Joz and Mount Scopus, to the new checkpoint in Shuafat
Work on infrastructure at the bottom of Ein Hilweh St. is proceeding apace. At the top of the street local vehicles are double parked in certain places, allowing for one-way traffic only in the direction up to the Temple Mount. And indeed, the stones separating the lanes have been dislodged. No checks, or police, or border police. At the new Shuafat checkpoint we are taken on a tour by the checkpoint commander. We are too late for the children's transportation, but we inquire about our colleagues' report that the buses have returned to their old place above the checkpoint where the children, who have crossed on foot, are collected. The commander tells us that this is a temporary measure, due to a disagreement between the municipality and the transportation company, and that the bus drivers refuse to enter the parking lot beyond the checkpoint because stones had been thrown at them there. We have no idea what the facts are, and how diligently the municipality is trying to resolve the issue, and decided we should not intervene at this point. The commander says that the 2000 children who crossed this morning did not go past the checking booths, but directly through a gate that's opened for quick passage to the exit path from the checkpoint. Only someone who looks older is asked to present a pupil's permit and birth certificate or an ID.
8:30 The approaches to Wadi Nar
In the wake of our teams' difficulties driving up the steep ascent from the new road south of Al-Azariah to the checkpoint, we search for an easier approach. From the new road, at the bottom of the wadi we turn right instead of left, pass two left turns to Sawaharrah a-Sharkiya, and one more (not clear where it leads) -- both these options look pretty steep and narrow. We turn left on the rooute that appears broader and less steep, and reach the centre of Sawaharrah a-Sharkiya which, to our surprise, is a fairly well-appointed township compared to what we know from the eastern part. Children stroll in the streets, there are many grocery shops, and the atmosphere is tranquil. We stop and observe the Sawaharrah a-Sharkiya checkpoint directly below us; this is also an unusual observation point on Sheikh Saed and the narrow road winding towards the neighbouring Sawaharrah. Everything is close, but access is so inconvenient.
We continue on the road in an easterly direction hoping to reach the Wadi Nar Checkpoint quickly, but the route is very long and winding and we do not recommend it as an alternative to the steep but shorter route.
When we finally arrive, the checkpoint is operating without delays. On return, we decide to try another descent to the wadi, the closest to the grocery shop. The signpost is a Palestinian Authority poster about develpment of the road. This is the place to turn right and descend back to the road leading to Al-Azariah. The road is relatively less steep than the usual route, but narrow. It's worth checking whether this is a possible alternative. If the road-works are indeed done soon, it looks as though this may develop into a more convenient route.