We arrived a little after 5,and there were already lines at the vehicle checkpoint. The parking lot was blocked off and empty, probably because of Ramadan. We continued on a bit; in the next roundabout, behind the fruit and vegetable stands, there is a paying parking lot where we parked. The young man in charge of the lot explained that it was possible to approach the checkpoint on foot from the side. So we went that way and saw that they were preparing this entrance for Fridays - they had set up concrete bunkers and created a number of lanes. Right now, the area is abandoned and we continued on from there to the checkpoint.
When we arrived, at 5:15, the lines were already beginning to exit toward the parking lot, in good order. Because of Ramadan, the coffee stand was closed and the bagel and pastry sellers did not come. People do not smoke during the fast, even though they usually smoke non-stop. Perhaps because of Ramadan, the area under the roof was unusually clean. Only 3 booths were operating when we arrived. At 5:25, 2 more booths were opened, and then they opened the turnstiles and a lot of people went through at once. This reduced the lines up to the roofed area but, since so many people are arriving at this hour, very quickly the lines extended themselves again out to the parking lot.
The women who occasionally arrived entered the line at the entrance to the barriers and the men let them in. At a certain stage, a couple with an infant arrived. At first, the mother waited next to us and the father went to pray. When he finished, we explained that the humanitarian gate opened only at 6, but that they could get into the line from the side, at the entrance to the barriers. And indeed, people who were in line signaled to them that they should come and let them in. After they passed the barrier, we saw that they were allowed to go to the head of the line at one of the booths. But, after they had passed through and been checked, they returned, stood at the side and waited. They didn't seem especially anxious and we didn't understand why they were waiting. Later, when the DCO soldier arrived to open the humanitarian gate, we asked him to find out what happened to them, and we managed to hear from their conversation that their permit was only from the hour of 7, so they weren't allowed to go through until that hour. Then another man with a child joined them, probably for the same reason.
At 5:50 the pressure seemed to drop. There are fewer people because of Ramadan, or else they are arriving earlier since they get up early in order to eat something before the fast. A soldier from the DCO arrived to open the humanitarian gate at about 6:10. There was only one woman next to the gate, but, as soon as the gate opened, others came over from the regular line. They opened gate another 2-3 times; after that, there was no need, since the ordinary lines were quite short. The security forces decreased gradually. At one point, a policeman arrived with sandwiches; credit can be given to those present, who did not eat or drink outside of the "aquarium", which they ordinarily do. They must have been given instructions not to do so in respect to the Palestinians who were fasting.
We left around 6:30, when there were almost no lines. When we returned to the parking lot, we talked with the young man who was operating it. He is from A-Ram and spoke excellent English. He told us that he had been in the U.S. with his mother when he was a child. They were in NY and Florida and returned when his grandmother died. The piece of land belongs to his grandfather. Part of it was taken for the building of the checkpoint and a short stretch of road was paved there which led to the checkpoint. He is making a living from the part of the land now used as a parking lot...
We decided to travel this time by way of A-Ram and Hizma, arriving in Jerusalem through Pisgat Ze'ev. The road was pretty empty. At the roundabout at the entrance to A-Ram the remains of the previous riots were pretty conspicuous: burnt signs, stones at the side of the road, etc. Right now, it is quiet. At the checkpoint at the entrance to Jerusalem, one can go through without inspection. We were happy to see that also in Pisgat Ze'ev there were no traffic jams now, maybe because it is school vacation. On our way, we crossed the main road of Shuafat and Beit Hanina. No signs of the rioting here. The roads were open and traffic was flowing. In Shuafat, we even saw road-cleaning vehicles and municipal cleaning crews. It seemed quiet and ordinary.