All five checking stations were open when we arrived at 5:30 a.m. and the lines already extended beyond the shed. By 6:00 they ran deep into the parking lot, and so it remained until close to 7:30. People on line and sitting on the benches informed us that the situation had been even worse on the previous day. We are able to offer them little comfort and only the advice that they should encourage their employers to complain about the situation at the checkpoint.
We are happy to report that the soldier responsible for the Humanitarian Gate (who often did not arrive before 6:30), turned up and opened the gate at 6:00 a.m. and thereafter each time a group of people gathered in front of it. (One should never question the efficacy of Hannah’s letter’s to the Civil Administration!)
At 5:30 we found a woman with a toddler already seated on the ground in front of the gate with a huge bag containing their belongings. We were able to understand that she came from Gaza, was taking the child to St. John’s Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem, and had a permit. Nevertheless, when the soldier arrived at 6:00, she turned the woman away and we next saw her seated on one of the benches. With the help of a Palestinian gentleman, who translated for us, we finally understood that the problem was the date on her permit: it was for 21 June, whereas the date on her summons to the hospital was 28 June (today). The woman said her daughter was scheduled to have surgery today, so we approached the soldier and asked if she could help, since the problem was solely bureaucratic. But the soldier explained that only the DCO could help, by issuing a permit for today, and the DCO would not open (we know) before 8:00. So we had to explain to the woman that there was no way we could help her before 8 a.m., and she understood what she must do at that time.
The "cages" have been renovated and the two outer ones have been widened (the central one seems to have remained the same width). One chooses to believe that this was done with good intentions in mind. The problem is that because the bars no longer extend to the entrance to the cages on the left and right, it becomes easier for people to jump the queue, which has long been a sore issue at the checkpoint and is often the source of tension that ends up in shouting, pushing, and climbing etc. (though the climbing, admittedly, has been eliminated by the new set-up, and perhaps that was the thinking behind it).
Just before 7:30 a teenager drove into the shed on a motor scooter, parked it at the farther back corner, and walked out back in the direction of Kafr Aqeb and the Qalandiya refugee camp. That event was so unusual in itself that we pointed it out to the policewoman on the other (“Israeli”) side of the bars. She looked up the owner, via the license plate, and said it was okay because the owner is 51 years old. Although that seemed to us a non sequitur, we did not pursue the issue with her. She is, after all, the professional in such matters …
At 7:30 the lines still extended out beyond the shed when we joined the middle one. It took us 20 or so minutes to reach the checking window, and since there a problem with E.’s passport (it was a new one, whereas the visa to enter Israel was in the previous, stolen, passport) we were sent to stand on another line, where the computer would be capable of checking the history of his entry to the country and thus allowing him through. All in all, we left at 8:15. E. said that the morning was a truly an unsettling experience for him.