The lines were relatively short (that is, contained within the shed) when we arrived at 5:30 and the pace of the checks within the five checking stations was encouraging (we timed it – from afar -- with the stopwatch feature on our cell phone and arrived at an average of between 20 and 35 seconds per person). As was true last week, by 6:30 the lines were contained within the three narrow passageways lined with bars (known to all as the “cages”), and thereafter new arrivals at the checkpoint passed freely through the turnstile at the end of the cage on the left.
A Civil Administration officer and bodyguard arrived at 6:05 to operate the Humanitarian Gate but they did not open it as those entitled to use the gate were not standing beside it – that is, women, children, and men over 60 calculated that their chances of reaching the checking stations quickly were better via the cages than by waiting for the officer to open the Humanitarian Gate at his discretion.
This remained the case until two young women approached the Humanitarian Gate -- as is their wont and their right – but were told by the bodyguard that it would not be opened and that they were to join one of the lines through the cages. When we asked why the gate would not be opened, the bodyguard replied that it wasn’t necessary because there was not pressure this morning, meaning the lines were short. We countered that the gate also exists because women feel uncomfortable standing in the cages in close proximity to men as they may find themselves in physical contact with the men when the turnstiles open and the lines press forward. The bodyguard (who was handling this exchange because the Civil Administration officer was evidently new on the job and at a loss to answer our question) then asked the two young women why they wanted him to open the gate. When one of them replied that she did not want to be late for work, he again sent them to stand on the lines that move through the cages. We decided not to insist upon their right to go through the Humanitarian Gate under any circumstance so as to conserve our influence (such as it is) for situations when the Humanitarian Gate is truly needed -- especially since our position had at any rate been undermined (unintentionally, I'm sure) by the two young women, who obviously did not understand the gist of our conversation (in Hebrew) with the bodyguard.
At the end of the shift, at about 6:30, another Civil Administration officer arrived, bid us good morning, and asked about our impression of how the checkpoint had functioned today. When we responded positively and expressed our hope that Qalandia would function this efficiently every day, he replied: “Don’t forget to tell Hannah that!” -- apparently referring to our colleague Hannah Barag and the letter of complaint she sent to a number of officials, together with our report of two weeks ago on the insufferable situation at the checkpoint that morning. We can only hope that the impression made by that letter and the attached report is a lasting one.