Qalandiya - Delay in opening the humanitarian gate

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Virginia Syvan, Ina Friedman (reporting)

Christmas Day - Routine of Occupation

We had no problem finding parking in the free parking lot when we arrived at 5:20 (perhaps because it was Christmas Day?) Five checking stations were open when we entered the checkpoint some 10 minutes later. The lines extended only shortly beyond the shack. At 6:10 a security guard (a new one, or at least one we had never seen before) arrived and directed the soldier in the booth (the “Aquarium)  to allow a large group of people to pass through the cages. This created long lines by the entrances to the checking stations but greatly relieved the pressure on the lines moving through the cages (always welcome). The situation remained that way through the morning, with the exception of one hitch (see below).

At 6:10 the same security guard opened the Humanitarian Gate for a young couple with a sick child in a stroller but did not allow the other people waiting by the gate (mostly women) to pass through. The policeman on site was troubled by the fact that a Civil Administration (DCO) soldier had yet to arrive to operate the gate, and he was in touch with the DCO staff to inquire about when he or she was expected. Also obvious was his resolve not to open the gate without a DCO soldier present (as the rules require). After 6:20, we too called the hotline to ask the ETA of a DCO soldier , for a considerable crowd had by then gathered by the gate, but we received only the anodyne reply, “They’re on their way.”

At 6:30, when the DCO representative continued to tarry, the security guard (with only good intentions, we are sure), told the people waiting by the gate (some for up to 20 minutes) that it would be worth their while to join the standard lines moving through the cages. However, since women are accustomed, during the hours before the Humanitarian Gate opens, to be allowed to enter directly into the cage on the left, as a gentlemanly gesture of the men waiting in line -- now, too, they ignored the existing line and crowded at the entrance to the cage. This time, however – much closer to the hour when the men in line must show up at work -- they caused great annoyance that quickly translated into the collapse of all three lines and a general rush toward the entrances to the cages. As a result of the mess, the somewhat panicked women fled back to the Humanitarian Gate.  Fortunately, the dispersed lines re-formed after a few minutes.

Five minutes after this contretemps, a Civil Administration officer arrived and opened the Humanitarian Gate, operating it successfully until just after 7:00. At one point she explained to us there had been a technical hitch that prevented the standard Qalandiya DCO staff from reaching the checkpoint, and she was serving as their replacement.

At 7:05 we joined the shortest of the lines passing through the cages and exited the checkpoint  in under 20 minutes. The gatekeeper of the new pay-parking lot greeted us with a “Good morning!” as we passed by his lot on our way back to our cars. We were glad to have established contact with him.