Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim), Wed 17.2.10, Morning
We arrived at the checkpoint at 4:30AM. It was still pitch black out and there were thousands (two thousand according to the Ecumenical Accompaniment Group who are located on the Palestinian side) of people crowded at the entrance to the terminal. The three turnstiles at the entrance had not yet been opened. Several minutes later they opened and the rush began. The turnstiles were opened for less than a minute at a time and anywhere from 20 to 40 people pushed through running to the one magnetic doorway where they must pass through one at a time to check if anything on them sets off the metal detector. An unseen person using a microphone kept up a constant barking: "One at a time"; "Why are you running;" "Open the bag;" "You, go back through again"; "Open your jacket"; "Take off your shoes"; "Get going". Most of these orders were in Hebrew with a sprinkling of Arabic. If someone did not understand, the crowd behind the turnstiles would shout an interpretation into Arabic.
The rush for the magnetic doorway seemed like some kind of parody of a relay race. The turnstiles are closed and opened again depending on how quickly the initial check at the metal detector takes. In a 10 minute span anywhere from 250 to 330 people pass through the turnstiles into the entrance of the terminal.
There is no order and the line is about 10 people deep the whole length of the line. The line curves around out of view about 50 meters away from us. The area is hemmed in on both sides by wire fencing but there is no covering against rain. (On the Israeli side there is an inadequate area protected from rain.) Near the front of the line part of the fencing is broken and some people cut to the front of the line by going through the opening in the fence. Some people try to object but there is no room to really start a fight since everyone is crushed in by the crowd from behind. The more aggressive just push their way through. We have been told that from time to time people have been injured in this crush.
Many people complained to us about the lack of order. We were told that the Palestinian authority does not have jurisdiction here since it is area C and therefore it is Israel's responsibility to provide this service. (At the Eyal CP, near Qalqilyia which is area A, the Palestinians do watch over the order of the line.) Off to the side of this mass of people is a huge sign with a delicate flower on it saying in English, Hebrew, and Arabic, "Hope is for all of us". It seemed somewhat misplaced and ironic in such an atmosphere. Flowers are also being planted at the entrance to the CP from the Israeli side.
According to the workers four to six of the sixteen windows were open for the check of ID cards today. When Micky called the DCO to complain, they told her that "that is just the way it is". In a five minute check at 5:55AM 125 people exited from the terminal. The complaints did not focus on the restrictions of food or the examining rooms which has been true in the past. The majority of complaints were about the mass line up at the entrance to the terminal which is so chaotic and that fact that this CP opens at 4:30AM instead of 4:00AM as in Eyal (Qalqilyia).
At 6:00AM about 1500 were still on line. By the time we left at 6:44AM I had counted that 3,200 people had entered the terminal and the line was still very long. We were told by the Ecumenical Group that at 6:50AM there were about 600 people on line. At 7:10AM they told us that 300 were still on line. At those two last times the people waiting on line included the women waiting to see relatives who are prisoners in Israel as well as workers
One person told Micky that there is a lot of pressure in the months from October to May because it is the vegetable and strawberry season. May through October there are less workers. There was a complaint that on this past Friday a man was kept four hours in the terminal and was told to undress. Micky suggested he complain to Yesh Din.
Two women from Tul Karm told Micky that they left their homes at 2:45AM, they arrived at the CP at 3:30AM and at about 5:00 they exited the terminal. They earn 100 shekels a day for working 9 hours. Eight of those shekels are spent on taxis to get to and from the CP.