Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim), Sun 14.2.10, Morning

Naomi L., Chana A. (reporting) Translator: Charles K.

4:30  The terminal opens and Palestinian workers can enter.

On the path where the thousands of the “joyous” who obtained a permit to work in Israel are waiting, the pressure on the ramshackle, broken fence is unbearable.  Today is Sunday, when those with permits to remain in Israel cross after having spend the weekend with their families, as well as the middle of the citrus picking season (which, according to one of the Palestinian workers, lasts from after the high holidays until Passover), during which the Israeli economy benefits from a Palestinian labor force.  More and more people continue to arrive.  Some bypass the line and reach a narrow break in the fence near the entry turnstile.  They push their way through it, holding on to supports in order not to fall.  Later, when we left the checkpoint, we heard other Palestinians complain about those who bypass the line, and one man showed us how his trousers were torn on the broken fence. 

Groups of 30-40 men at a time are passed through the turnstiles on the path to the checkpoint.  Open-close-open-close, and a brief pause of one to five minutes after 2 or 3 groups have gone through.  People cross the short distance from the turnstile to the magnemometer that is beyond the sheltered area in a fast walk/a jog.  The feeling of those coming through is that “this isn’t a crossing for people, but for sheep.” 

The voice over the loudspeaker that accompanies the entry of the workers begins calmly, but as time passes it becomes increasingly impatient.  For a moment you could think that he was the one who awoke in the middle of the night in order to reach a location dozens of kilometers from his home and stood there outside for three hours, jammed in a very crowded line. 

We moved to the exit from the checkpoint. 

4:40  The first Palestinian workers began coming out, and we hear again and again the complaints/requests/pleas that Machsom Watch activists have been hearing for years here at Irtach:

Why isn’t there a separate line for women.  Women demonstrate how they’re forced to put up with being touched.

Why don’t they open a crossing for workers near Baq’a al Gharbiyya so they can get to their workplaces in that area.

And, in particular, an appeal to open the checkpoint earlier than at 4:30. 

People coming through report that three inspection windows are open. 

From 4:50 to 4:55, 120 people came out of the building.

From 5:50 to 5:55, 120 people came out as well. 

A foreman for a large construction company who oversees hundreds of Chinese laborers says, “The Chinese don’t suffer like we do.  They don’t have to suffer.  We’re all human beings,” and goes on, “Once I wanted to talk to the manager.  They told me:  If you’re not satisfied, leave.”  Humiliation, frustration and anger are expressed over and over.  Our feeling of powerlessness is growing.  The obvious gap between the investment in landscaping the checkpoint and the attitude toward the Palestinians who are building the country is also annoying.  Naomi tries her luck with the guard in the parking lot; maybe he’ll pass on the complaints to the right address.  Regarding the broken fence should have been fixed a long time ago because it’s unsafe, the guard says the Palestinians are at fault because “they keep cutting it.”  But later he thinks of an imaginative argument:  Security considerations prevent someone from entering the area where the fence collapsed.  He says that it’s no problem to come through the Barta’a checkpoint. 

6:34  Almost no one is waiting any longer to enter the checkpoint.  A man comes back toward Tulkarm after having missed his ride to work in Israel.  The voice on the loudspeaker notices him, asks what he’s doing standing for a few minutes in front of the turnstile which only turns in one direction.

The first bus from Tulkarm with relatives of prisoners arrives, and two people wearing vests indicating that they’re with the Red Cross follow the loudspeaker’s instructions to wait until the laborers have gone through. 

6:56  We said a pessimistic goodbye to the EAPPI activists [the ecumenicals] who stood the whole time on the other side of the fence, and left.