Bethlehem, Etzion DCL, Wed 2.7.08, Afternoon
15:30 PM, Etzion DCL : On our way we already got word that people were complaining that they had been waiting at the DCL since the early morning hours. Thus it came as no surprise that the parking lot was very full, but what met our eyes in the waiting hall was nevertheless out of the ordinary. Some 70 people there, some sitting, some crowded at the turnstiles, some stretched out on the benches, trying to catch a wink or two. Most of them have come to renew their magnetic cards. Two years ago, when the DCL was reopened following renovations, a large number of magnetic cards were issued and they were good for two years, ending round about this time of the year. Furthermore, during the past few weeks some fortunate few who had been refused on security grounds had nevertheless managed to acquire the sought after magnetic cards, so many others return daily, trying their luck again and again.
Tension is very high since on the waiting list the Palestinians make there were some 270 names and only 20 of them have been allowed in till then, they claimed. It was also very hot and the air conditioning wasn't working. The soldiers said the technician had been called in but failed to arrive.
Whenever the soldier behind the armored window tried to let a few more people in through the turnstiles, they pushed and shoved, fierce arguments developed, coming close to blows. At a certain point it was obvious that the soldiers dared not press open the turnstiles for fear of crushing someone's limbs. A young man in need of a permit to reach the hospital could not make his way in, but our desperate call to the Humanitarian Center paved his entrance.
When we asked the officer in charge why the slow pace, his reply was that only one station was operative and they were trying to do their best. According to him they had already let in some 70 people and would be able to deal with 20 more till closing time. The Palestinians were reluctant to accept the explanation, claiming that it had been like this for many a day and that there were people who come day in and day out, but still could not get in. It has to be said that the officers were very civil to the complainers, doing their utmost to calm down the frustrated Palestinians (presumably our phone calls to the Civil Administration helped), but most of all they tried to talk them out of further waiting in vain and into coming back the following morning.
17:15 PM, Bethlehem Checkpoint: 2 stations open and the lines are short. To our surprise there are no security guards in sight. A young church employee complains that he was contacted by someone from our Ministry of Tourism and informed that his permit to enter Israel would be annulled because he was actually operating as a tourist guide for the Christians on tour of the area.
In the meanwhile, the queues got longer, and when one of us approached one of the stations so as to have a closer look, a security guard shouted to us from above to move away, thus clarifying that the security guys had not disappeared and "Big Brother" is watching over all of us.