Virginia Syvan, Ina Friedman (reporting)

Crowded morning despite attempts to run the checkpoint properly

All five checking stations were open when we arrived at 5:30 a.m. but the lines already extended to the second row of cars in the parking lot despite the fact that the lines leading into the checking stations were quite short. The pace of progress into the checking stations was also slow. At 5:50 a policeman arrived and began directing the opening of the turnstiles at the end of the three “cages,” in an attempt to hasten the pace. And he continued to direct the soldier working the turnstiles throughout the morning, though to a large degree unfortunately the damage had already been done. At 6:00, for example, the lines had only grown longer. And at 6:45 we began to follow a man from the end of one of the lines until he entered the checking station. It took him 37 minutes to do so. Imagine him experiencing this every morning.

There was, however, a welcome change at the Humanitarian Gate. The soldier in charge arrived at 6:00 and began immediately checking the permits of those waiting at the gate to determine who was entitled to pass through it. Once the initial group had passed through as a group, the soldier opened the gate to each person who arrived at it when he or she arrived at it. This is a very positive change because the drip, so to speak, of people via the gate eased the pressure on the lines waiting to enter the checking areas. We could not tell whether it is a change in “policy” regarding the operation of the Humanitarian Gate, or a decision by the soldier on duty this morning, or perhaps an experiment to examine the effect of this change on the pace forward of all the lines. We favor continuing this manner of operating the gate for the welfare of all concerned.

One of the security guards, whom we had not met before, approached us, of his own volition, to tell us how important it is, in his eyes, to treat the Palestinians at checkpoints with politeness and respect. From this gesture, together with the active stance of the policeman and the change in the operation of the Humanitarian Gate, one could gain the impression of a concerted effort to project goodwill toward those waiting on line – perhaps as a result of directions from above.

On the other hand, it’s not clear that this message (if there was one) reached the soldiers operating the checking booths, as all morning there was a feeling that the pace there was slow. At 7:25 we joined a line at a point inside one of the cages, but it nonetheless took us 25 minutes to exit the checkpoint. When the first of us reached the checking station window at which we show our identity cards, she was met by a soldier engrossed in the screen of her cell phone. The wait for her attention was probably no more than 10-15 seconds. But for a person who has already been standing on line let’s say for an average of half an hour, that is naturally annoying in the extreme -- and to no small degree erases the positive impression created by the other soldiers and police operating the checkpoint that morning.