5.15 I arrived with Johad, my taxi driver to the checkpoints at the monastery of Tantur. I prefer having a regular driver and an Arab who will not suddenly tell me that he does not enter such areas. I walked up to the checkpoint but found that after the days of rain and cold and the sidewalk which was not completely dry only the hardiest of Palestinians were sitting along the way and certainly not lying down and sleeping. In the field there was only one small fire and I wondered how they had found anything dry enough to burn. But there were large groups of men praying on the pavement.
When I came inside the checkpoint two security guards approached me and the one who was from Kiryat Arba knew what Machsomwatch was and there were no problems. In fact he even helped me to get my tape recorder on the phone working.
Later on a guard came out who seemed more senior and tried to send me off. It was rather amusing as he offered to bring me coffee as he said I looked cold but also tried to send me to sit outside. Did he think I would warm up there? He then said that he knew that I was not disturbing the guards but that I was a target for the Palestinians. I did not want to say that if a terrorist came through he was more likely to attack the guards than a small, crimped up old woman sitting precariously on a not too stable seat. I explained to him that we had been doing this since the start of the century (sounds so impressive,…that start of the century). And he moved off. All the guards were polite and not aggressive. Whenever I see one of them coming towards me at the beginning of such a shift I dread an argument.
In the beginning there was a steady but thin stream of people coming through. At 6.30 I asked several people at random from what time they had been waiting in the line and each one said since 4 a.m.. At about 6.40 there was a sudden but very definite surge of people coming through to the windows. Then when I asked people how long had they been in line they said since 5 a.m. I think there must have been a more efficient check on the Bethlehem side by the soldiers which would account for the discrepancy in the times.
People came through and some of the women especially said it was really bad on the other side. Many people came rushing through and just with a raise of the eyebrows, a despairing shake of the head a shrug, or a hurried…..balagan, balagan, went on their way. Some of them running and I remembered the man at Qalandiya who said he had lost his job because he could not get there on time.
A young woman who came through at 6.50 stopped to quickly tell me that she was doing an internship at Al-Makased hospital for her degree. Even though she is in line just after five she can rarely get there in time and they are not interested in her reasons. She says that any other hospitals that she approaches refuse to accept her because it is documented that she often comes late. One can, as always, think of what time she has to get up to get to the checkpoint that early and then still face a day of study or work.
The old gentleman who sells cigarettes one by one and who now in the winter is so covered up that I cannot see his face.
I left at 7.00 and on the way photographed two of the places in the field where people sit around the fire on other mornings. I guess the one is economy class. The next one is business.