Virginia S., Ina F. (reporting)
Although all five checking stations were already open, there were already long lines when we arrived at 5:00 a.m. The reason was that one of the turnstiles (no. 1), which we reported out of a week ago, has still not been repaired. The result was that usual three initial lines that move via the “cages” were reduced to two and were each longer than usual, extending out into the parking lot. And that meant not only that not people were forced to stand exposed to the freezing wind (which is quite strong at the checkpoint) but also out in the rain when the weather was inclement. It would be instructive to discover why it has taken a full week (perhaps longer by now) to repair a turnstile.
A new addition to Qalandiya is the presence of an elderly man who is apparently not in control of his faculties. He comes there not to pass through the checkpoint but – despite the hour and the cold --apparently to help pass the time of day. First noticed by us last week, when he was relatively quiet, he progressed to ranting as soon as he arrived just after 5:00. We couldn’t make out everything he was saying, but did catch the words “my children” and “hell.” The men standing on line reacted to him with chagrin. But since everything north of the Qalandiya checking stations is considered “hefkervelt” (the equivalent of no-man’s-land, in this case as far as the Jerusalem authorities are concerned), there is no one to turn to – a policeman or social worker – to help the poor man out. Thus he will apparently remain a wretched addition to this already wretched place.
Adding to the gloom is the fact that two-third of the overhead lights in the waiting area are not working (that is, two of the three rows of neon lights in the tin roof – from which, by the way, water continues to drip even though it hadn’t rained recently).
At 6:05 the line discipline collapsed and, while some men struggled with each other at the entrance to the two “cages,” many others pulled far back in order to avoid injury and continued to mill around the area. Disgruntlement at both the behavior of their colleagues and the pace at which the security checks were being handled were expressed to us by more than one man. Orderly lines did not form again for almost half an hour.
At 6:10 the Civil Administration soldier came out and opened the Humanitarian Gate for the crowd of people already gathered there. A healthy number of people used the gate this morning, so that a crowd built up more quickly than usual -- and people were more nervous about their chances of getting through it the next it opened. Part of the reason for the increase in numbers is the return of children to school; there also seemed to be a larger number of parents carrying or accompanying infants and small children (though this could have been entirely random). At all events, each time he opened it, the soldier allowed through all the people entitled to use the gate.
As 7:00 approached, the pace at which the two turnstiles were opened, and the number of people allowed through them, picked up. Nevertheless, the lines still extended well beyond the “cages” when we left at 7:15.