Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim), Sun 3.5.09, Morning

Karin L., Nur B. (report and photos) Translator: Orna B.

Just as Karin was parking the car a security man approached us to ask what we were doing there. There was an astonished expression on his face.  And indeed- what is an Israeli citizen doing in this place? Why should he care? 

04:45 The entrance check post to Irtah Passage 

From afar we hear a tremendous noise. It is hard to estimate how many workers there are here. Certainly a few thousands. Mostly men. But one can spot a few women. The carousel does not turn regularly. It stops, at times for 2 minutes, at times for 9 minutes. Occasionally someone gets stuck inside it. Each time that the carousel opens they start running to the check posts at the entrance to the Passage. They know that the carousel will stop and he who does not go through has to wait longer. It is hard to estimate how many go through each time. Karin counted: 100, 80, 25, 55, 75. Waiting at dawn

There is a huge congestion. Unbearable. They stand on top of each other. A few climb over the fence to overtake the queue. At times people extend a hand to them, at others they are pushed back in anger to the other side of the fence. Occasionally an identity car or a lunch bag drops and it is very hard to find it on the floor in the crowd. The loser has to bend between the running legs, extend his arms in the dark trying to find in the garbage whatever he had lost. In one case I saw a man drop his carrier bag with pittah bread and vegetables. He did not stop to pick it up and just left it on the floor. "We are like sardines here" said someone while running out of the carousel , "Do something!" They all asked us to do something. 

A few men tell us that not always everybody manages to go through. They miss their transportation to work and return home. Hence the additional pressure to go through on time. Today it was our impression that everyone got through. We attach photos of the queue from a later hour, when there was daylight. 

05:10 The parking lot 

Once they leave the passage their mood changes. They greet each other and us with "Sabah a nur!" (Good morning). Someone whose face is familiar from Hawara, smiles at me and greets me. One can see people praying in the parking lot and in the exit lane. They throw a little prayer rug on the ground and crouch on it. Most people gather around in circles, having their breakfast, until the transit gets here. (We attach photos). An armed guard in civilian clothes is keeping a sterileinfo-icon area. Only Karin and I are allowed in. One cannot see the other operators of the Passage. Occasionally one hears an announcement on a loudspeaker, male and female voices alternate. It is very hard to understand what they say. One cannot see their faces. 

S. a resident of Tulkarm tells us: He reached the passage at 02:30 am. All three sleeves are open now. Occasionally they throw him into a room, they take away his ID papers and entry permit, in which case he misses his tansportation. Occasionally the inspectors talk on the phone thus wasting precious time. After presenting the ID and the entry permit they have to give their handprints. He works as an electrician. Not in a permanent place. At times he works in Petah Tikva, at times in Givatayim. The contractor is always the same and the foreman takes him to a different place each time. He is 33 years old. 

(Half an hour later they told us that one of the sleeves closed.) 

A Nablus resident who had arrived at 02:45 am also tells us of delays in rooms. He asks if they can open the place up half an hour earlier. It will not resolve the problems but will ease the situation. Even on the way back the queues are very long. 

05:30 The entrance check post 

The queue does not get any shorter. There is a terrible congestion. The place is poorly lit. One can see the shadows of people at the end of the queue. Nearer to the shelter where the queue starts, between the shelter and the carousel there is a fenced lane where they are crowding them. A 56 years old man with a heart condition, standing near me, tells us that he is afraid to go into the queue. Ambulances have been here before to take people to hospitals from this queue. He asks whether it would be possible to return through the Figs Gate. We did not know what to say to him. A little later we met him at the exit from the passage and he tells us that they had opened up a separate queue for the women and the elderly. 

05:45 The parking lot and the exit area from the Passage. 

A Nablus resident: They had told us that Dir Sharef checkpoint would open at 04:00, but today they only opened it at 05:00. They waited for an hour on the road and that was why they were late reaching Irtach. He was happy not to miss his transportation and hurries on. 

Someone invites me to join him for breakfast. When he sees me hesitating he rolls a pittah bread with a hot potatoe, dips it in za'atar and olive oil and offers it to me. While we eat he tells me that he is from Tulkarm, a father of three. He had been in the queue for three hours. Inside the Passage the inspection takes half an hour. He works picking oranges in Lod. He gets 30 IS a day. At times 40. He does not get his food and has to bring it from home.  

The exit check post: We estimate the time of the inspection – 25 minutes. Karin selected s few people who stood out (a yellow shirt, a red shirt with a white stripe) at the entrance check post, and then sought them out at the exit. This estimate is supported by the testimony of workers whom we met at the parking lot. Everyone said they had been inside for half an hour. 

06:05 The entrance check post

There are about 300 people in the queue. At 06:20 there were a few dozens.(100?)

The exit check post 06:40

Someone complains of the slow inspections. He says he is late for work. He is therefore detained – 10 minutes of educational punishment. He stands at the end of the corridor waiting to be allowed to continue. This was the only time we saw one of  the operators of the Passage, and even that was only for a split second. A few of the older workers ask us if it was true that men over the age of 45 are allowed through without a permit. We did not know the answer and promised to find out.

07:00 The entrance check post 

Totally empty. Waiting to be driven to work