Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim), Thu 21.5.09, Morning
I have often been here during the "normal hours" of 7:00 - 9:00 AM to pick up people. This is the first time that I have seen the horrible overcrowding early in the morning.
4:00 - It is still dark and crowds of people are crowded into the area between the fences. It's impossible to see the end of the crowd. Many are sitting on the ground.
4:15 - People begin to stand up and get ready for the turnstiles to open.
4:30 - The turnstile opens for a few seconds and people exit them at a run. Every half a minute to a minute the 3 turnstiles open for 3-5 seconds and 10-20 people go through and run to the electronic inspection gates. They pass through one by one and disappear from view into the building. In most cases groups of women go through separately. They have no separate line, but the men make way for them so they are not crowded in together.
5:15 - The line of people waiting is gone and people arrive and go through almost immediately. I counted about 1500-2000 people who went through in 45 minutes.
There are now longer periods between the times the turnstiles are opened.
5:23 - The turnstiles are closed for 5 minutes at a time and about 100 people are waiting. When the open again for short "bursts" they go through within a minute. Keeping the turnstiles open constantly would eliminate the crowding and running in the building.
5:37 - A man comes back in the direction of Tul Karem. After he succeeds in coming back through the turnstiles he tells us the reason why he came back (while talking to us through the fences). Evidently he has been working for the same employee for the past 10 years and received NIS 120 per day. Several days ago he asked for a raise in pay. Today, when he came to the biometric palm check he found that his employer had canceled his request to work for him and had therefore canceled his permit. He was afraid to give us his name of the name of his employer (but agreed to talk and be videotaped.)
5:56 - 6:15 - The turnstiles are closed for almost 20 minutes. When they open again about 80 people pass through in 10 seconds.
People are sitting on the ground on the other side of the crossing waiting for their rides. Many tell me that our presence has had a lot of positive influence on the crossing procedure in the morning. There is less crowding and struggling and the passage takes less time even inside the building. I understand that today the large line of the morning has actually disappeared more quickly than usual. Many people ask to open the crossing at 4:00 in hopes that this will cut down the anxiety that they will not get to their rides on time. One woman told me that [the inspectors] took some of the food she had with her, claiming that she was taking too much food through the crossing. They also confiscated one of the two small bottles of water that her friend had with her. (The hot summer days are here, but it is forbidden to bring in large 1½-liter bottles.)
I met people who had come to the crossing from Ramallah and Qalqilya. Others said that they came from far away and rent rooms in Tul Karem in order to avoid traveling such long distances every day. They go home only on weekends. All claim that the crossings in the areas of Qalqilya and Ramallah are even worse.
People also asked to allow a booth where they can buy coffee while they are waiting for their rides. Ironically, they also asked to maintain the fences on the road leading to the crossing from the direction of Tulkarem. People are pushed against the fences because of the crowded conditions and they have begun to weaken. There are ditches on the other side and people are afraid of falling in.
6:30 - I asked to go into the fenced-in facility where people wait for taxis. A policeman in the facility approached me and said that according to instructions from high up we could not go into the facility. I asked to speak with the person who had issued the orders. After several minutes Ronen, the commander of the crossing from the Ministry of Security, arrived, He claimed that one of our women had taken items from Palestinians across the fence and therefore supposedly allowed the entry of dangerous materials.
Everything was photographed by the large number of cameras pointed at the place where we observe. They submitted a complaint against her and we cannot enter the facility until the investigation is completed. During a long discussion with him he was firm in his opinion, but insisted on going with me to show me the playground that was built for children of prisoners who come to the crossing. He was, of course, very proud that 1800 people came through by 5:20 this morning (Which is compatible with my calculations.)
I gave him information about all the requests that I had heard from the Palestinians but it does not seem that he was particularly impressed.
According to him there are four checkpoints where the contents of people's bags are checked with X-ray machines (not 16 as I was told), and three of these are operating. Until now only two were operating and he added one (perhaps as a result of our presence?) Each check post has 3 biometric palm checkpoints.
We left at 07:00.