Hamra (Beqaot), Ma'ale Efrayim, Tayasir, Za'tara (Tapuah), Tue 10.1.12, Morning

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Nur (photographing), Sna’it (reporting), Erika (guest)

Translator:  Charles K.

We pass through the area of the Za’tara checkpoint before 3 AM.  It’s completely deserted, no soldiers in position, just a light in the guard tower.

We go through the Ma’aleh Efraim checkpoint before 3:30 AM.  It’s also empty.

We pass by the Hamra checkpoint at about 3:45 AM.  No cars, no people; soldiers at the checkpoint.

4:05-5:45  Tayasir checkpoint

No people or cars at the checkpoint before 4:15.  Soldiers are at the vehicle checkpoint and the location where documents are checked up the hill above the road.  They didn’t object to our standing very close to each of those places.

The first car appears at 4:15 AM, then a minibus, then additional cars gradually arrive between 4:30-4:45, transporting laborers to their jobs at various locations, from Ro’i and Na’ama to Beit Ha’arava.

The inspection proceeds very slowly, 3-5 minutes per person, even though they’re only checking documents and the soldier in the booth has continual access to a computer.  The minibus driver waited from 4:20 to 5:40 for his passengers, and during this hour nine cars waited for their passengers.  People who have to begin work at Beit Ha’arava at 6 AM, for example, won’t get there on time.

We asked the shift commander why things are so slow, but he didn’t provide any explanation.  We telephoned the army’s “humanitarian office” who said there had been an infiltration attempt during the night so the roads are jammed.  An answer which is completely irrelevant to the situation at this checkpoint.

People told us that at this time of year, particularly during the coming month, there’s not much work, and most of it is in tomatoes.  The pay is still poor and the employers still avoid their legal obligations to their workers.  The people say that heads of families who have no supplementary source of food such as goats, chickens or a vegetable plot will have great difficulty surviving on that income, which also depends somewhat on the season.  Everyone – laborers and drivers – complained about how slow the Tayasir crossing was, both early in the morning and when they return in the afternoon.  Some said that it’s worse when religious soldiers are stationed there.

6:10-6:50  Hamra checkpoint

There are usually very few people here at this hour.  Today it was filled with people and cars.  38 vehicles waited for their passengers.  Some 200-250 people waited on a very long line behind the checkpoint buildings, many of whom had been there since 4:30 AM.  There were always 7-8 people in the building where detaineesinfo-icon are held, waiting a long time for their names to be called and replaced by others.  Some went on to their jobs; others were turned back.  During the time we were there we counted 11 people who weren’t allowed through the checkpoint and went back.  Two of the detainees were there during our entire stay.

The line only started to get shorter quickly as 7 AM approached, people coming through in groups of three and four, much more rapidly.  Most of the vehicles had left by 7 with their passengers.

Teachers, most of whom work in Jericho, the Jiftlik and the school not far from the checkpoint, arrived slightly before 7.  They told us they cross quickly so as not to be late for school.  They, as well as others at both checkpoints, told us that the pupils cross at about 7:30.  They’re never allowed to remain on the school buses.  Even though they don’t have ID cards they must get off, go through the metal detector and walk a considerable distance (exposed to the winds at the Tayasir checkpoint) to the bus which is already waiting on the other side.

We told the humanitarian office about the long lines as well as about the two detainees who hadn’t been released.

The soldiers here also didn’t object to our standing near the checkpoint itself all the time we were there.  They didn’t have a clear answer to the question of why everything is so terribly slow.  The checkpoint commander didn’t either.  At about 6:45 we saw three men wearing coveralls, not Palestinians, going through the checkpoint in the opposite direction.  Who they were, what they were doing, did they have any connection to the fact that crossing was slow this morning – we can only guess.

A military vehicle was positioned in the area where cars waited.  Its soldiers detained two youths for a short time; they apparently hadn’t crossed through the checkpoint itself.  Two of the soldiers, faces almost completely hidden, weapons drawn, continued to stand next to the vehicle even after the youths had been sent back.

It was very cold the whole time.

The Ma’aleh Efraim checkpoint was empty when we crossed on our way back.