ANOTHER STRESSFUL DAY AT ETZION
15.00 Immediately on our arrival at the crowded parking-lot, we were bombarded on all sides with angry complaints about the lack of progress in admitting applicants for magnetic cards. People showed us their numbered slips showing that they had been waiting many hours.The waiting-room itself, too, was crowded.
The mood in general was very angry. This in contrast to last week, when people were superficially, at least, calm and almost joking.
The computerized screen gives a spurious impression of efficiency. There is a silent pictorial description of the procedure – to punch in your i.d. number, take your slip, go to the window, etc. It all looks so simple. But at the same time it also, paradoxically, shows up the inefficiency. Because as the numbers are displayed on the screen telling when “your number” is up, one can also see how slow the process is. Thus, when we arrived at 15.00,the number reached was only 50. This from an office that had opened (officially, at least) at 8 a.m. Now, last week we found that people applying for permits were given priority, so today we phoned to ask about the procedure. We were told that, yes, permits were a priority because they were ‘humanitarian’ cases, but that was at a special window. For magnetic cards there were three windows open today. – and, indeed, on the screen there are three separate spaces for the number of the next applicant. Soon after our phonecall, one of these slots seemed to show more rapid progress, but not the others. So it looks as if, in fact, not all three windows were manned all the time.
When we arrived, people were holding tickets numbered up to at least 150 – but the final number shown on the screen (apart from 2 exceptional cases – one an old sick man whom we succeeded to get accepted out of turn, and one whom we didn’t identify) was 77!
By 16.30 a number of people simply left in desperation, knowing they would not be admitted before closing time. But about 20 gathered at the carousel, shouting at the soldier. At 17.00 there were still about a dozen die-hards trying to be heard. By this time (official closing-time) there was a new soldier at the admittance window, who wouldn’t even look up from his book(?) I-phone(?) At least the soldier who had been on duty previously, while not overly sympathetic, did answer questions and made enquiries so that he could give some information.
There were very few people today who had come for permits. But a few men were waiting for interviews with Security. (These are issued a separate series of numbers.) When we asked on their behalf, we were told that the Security personnel had not yet arrived and that they must simply wait. After 5 o’clock they were still waiting, the soldiers inside had no idea when the Security would arrive. By this time we were leaving so, phoning from the car, we suggested that at least someone tell these men what the situation was, but this seemed to be too difficult an effort.
We learned that Monday is the magnetic-card day not only for Bethlehem itself but also for Bet Jalla and Bet Sahur. There were at least 169 applicants (at least, that was the highest number we met by the end of the day). It is essential to have more staff constantly at the windows to handle so much traffic. Also, perhaps the load could be spread over two days (for instance, using Tuesdays when, at present, magnetic cards are not issued at all).
In the end, lots of people, after waiting for hours were sent away and told to come another day. And now, because of Pesach, this other day is to be on Wednesday 23rrd April. This is what we were told but Wednesday is usually the day allotted for another area. Also, as this will be two days before the Easter weekend and, no doubt, there will be lots of applicants for permits to go to Jerusalem churches, who knows what conditions will be like then?!