Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim), Sun 31.5.09, Morning
We arrived at the checkpoint at 0420 and stayed until 0730.
When we arrived, five minutes before the checkpoint opened, it seemed very busy and thousands were waiting behind the carousels. Men and women were together in the queue, the rule that women go through first has not been implemented.
Each time the turnstiles opened, between 17 and 35 people went through. All three turnstiles were in use. The DCO turnstile is closed and could have been used for the women. We were told that out of 17 inspection posts inside the checkpoint, only 4 are active.
People who were coming out kept asking that the checkpoint should be opened earlier and complained that they are not clear about the food items and quantities that they are allowed to carry which many times results in them having to go back to get rid of items that are not allowed. There are also quite a few problems with the biometric hand check, we counted about 30 people that were not allowed to go through for this reason and had to wait for the DCO which does not open until 10 on Sundays. One person who was waiting for the DCO is a merchant who’s always using the checkpoint and all his permits were in order. He had arranged to collect 3000 nis’s worth of dairy which could be spoiled due to the delay.
We were also told that, recently, the examination on returning is as thorough as on exiting so the checkpoint is as busy in the afternoon as it is in the morning. People who don’t arrive by 19:00 cannot return and risk loosing their permits.
We met someone who lives in the village near the checkpoint and he said that his house and some other houses were demolished following the construction of the separation fence and the checkpoint and no compensation was given.
We spoke to the operations manager to clarify the issues that were raised:
· Food – there are two main rules. The first rule is that anything that the screening machine cannot identify, is not allowed, ie frozen foods. The second rule is that the quantities should be for personal daily use, ie no more than 100gr of powders such as sugar and 0.5kg of solids such as bread. The manager believes that most people understand these rules although that was not our impression. We suggested that clear instructions should be published.
· Number of examination units – the number is determined mainly by budget considerations but the number of people waiting is also taken into account. The manager believes the situation is worsened because everyone wants to cross early and not necessarily at the time arranged with the employers. This might be true but cannot be controlled.
· Separate entrance for women – initially the manager thought this would be impossible. He explained that the DCO carousel cannot be used and that even if it will be used he cannot guarantee that men will not attempt to use it. Adding another carousel will also not be considered due to budget constraints. Finally, after a long discussion, he agreed to raise the issue with his colleagues.
At about 06:45, most of the workers were through and the families visiting prisoners started arriving. They were accompanied and assisted by Red Cross volunteers. We talked to one of the bus drivers and some of the families. The busses are funded by the Red Cross. The busses are not allowed to stop on the way to the prison and this is a problem for small children that need the toilet. Each bus is accompanied by an army vehicle so there is no reason why it should not be allowed to stop. The families visit every two weeks. Some families have been doing this for years since their relatives are sentenced for 20, 30 years and in some case for life.