Security or bureaucracy?
All five checking stations were open when we arrived at 5:45, and people entered freely through one of the cages to join lines into the stations. But by 6:15 the lines already extended to the kerb of the parking lot, and so they remained until about 6:45, when they began to shorten and the cages all but emptied out each time the turnstiles were opened.
To the relief of those coming through the checkpoint, the Ramadan setup (which doubled the walk from the cages to the lines entering the checking stations) has been cancelled.
At 6:00 the NCO from the Civil Administration and a soldier who appeared to be learning the procedures came out to operate the Humanitarian Gate. They did not open it, however, and after a long wait those standing by the gate moved over to the lines going through the cages once the explanation for the wait was forthcoming: the soldiers in charge of the gate either forgot the key or took the wrong key with them, so that they could not open the gate at present. At 6:25 a policewoman arrived with the key, and the gate was opened a number of times within the next half an hour. The gate was closed (the two soldiers and security guards left) at 7:00, by which time the lines through the cages had shortened considerably.
At 7:05 we joined a line in one of the half empty cages and exited the checkpoint at 7:40. Most of the wait was on the line to enter the checking station because of an incident of a woman and her son who were headed to the American consulate to submit visa applications and had come equipped with a formal invitation to the consulate for that purpose.
The matter quickly turned into a classic case of lack of communication both because of language difficulties (which a young, kind-hearted, and Hebrew-speaking Palestinian man remained behind to help solve by serving as a translator) and because of hostility on the part of the soldier who “managed the event”.
Various reasons for not allowing the two to pass -- all having to do with rules about visas, which were at any rate irrelevant to the matter -- were given by the soldier From where we stood, we could not see whether the problem was actually the lack of a permit -- though we did not hear the word "permit" used either in Hebrew or in Arabic and, in this day and age,we find it difficult to imagine that any West Bank Palestinian is unaware of the need to obtain a permit in order to enter Jerusalem. (Then again, who knows?) At all events, the matter went on and on until the soldier finally agreed to check with his commander on whether to allow them through, and his colleague resumed the flow of people into the checking station while the issue was being resolved. Due to a work commitment in downtown Jerusalem within half an hour, we were not able to stay around to hear the outcome of the dispute.