Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim)
Very crowded and congested.
N.B.: It seems the number of permit holders who must cross through Irtach has increased, but the hours the checkpoint is open and the number of lanes have remained the same. Can some people be sent to other gates, or can additional facilities be opened elsewhere along the fence? Or open the gates earlier? Cf. the report.
04:01 The revolving gates open. A command-car blocks access to the fence separating the Palestinian and Israeli sides. At first no one prevents our passage; later we’re told to leave, as we report below.
When the revolving gate opens people rush madly to the scanner. The area between the revolving gate and the gate to the scanner fills immediately with a roiling, congested mass of people; the revolving gates stop for what seem like long periods of time to those waiting outside – until the entire crowd is finally swallowed up in the terminal.
The women’s gate opens at the same time as the main gates, and closes when they do. We see something new: many men crowd into the women’s line, more men than women. They squeeze in and push the women. Some of the women point this out to us when we arrive; they ask us to do something. We try to talk to the men, whose numbers keep growing– and they laugh at us. The women try to stand next to the fence so they’ll be protected on one side, at least. When the entrance gate closes during the initial confusion one of the women decided it would be better to move back; a second followed her.
All this goes on while a command-car with soldiers approaches the fence. One polite soldier asks who we are and explains that, for our own good, we should leave. His colleague, less polite, orders us to get out of here, and when we remind him we’ve a right to remain he threatens us again, saying “the army makes the law.” In other words: Here I’m the law.
A soldier who remained in the vehicle starts yelling over the loudspeaker: Don’t touch the fence. Move – that’s what he shouts to the Palestinians pushing into the line, to the fence. No one pays attention – the soldier turns on blinding lights and a siren, also to prevent us from speaking to a pair of Ecumenical volunteers – the first we’ve seen in a long time – who are flabbergasted and seem shocked by what they see. They ask: What are they saying? I explain, and a polite soldier interrupts, begins talking with us in fluent English, explains that touching the fence sets off an alarm at headquarters and they have to send soldiers to identify the problem. The women are unable, of course, to follow the orders of the soldier in the vehicle, and don’t obey. All this is going on while the deafening siren wails.
The rude soldier sticks out his chest: I want you gone in five minutes. We say that in any case we’re going to the other side in the next five minutes. We choose a woman who hasn’t yet entered the plaza but is near the gate in order to see how long it takes her to exit, Analin exchanges contact information with the Ecumenicals and we move on while the rude soldier makes sure he has the last word and the satisfaction of chasing us leftists away. As soon as we leave the command-car turns around and, with an impressive screech of its tires, siren blaring, lights flashing, charges into the exit plaza filled with Palestinians who’d already gone through the checkpoint – beware!.
04:25 The exit to Israel. It took the woman we chose 23 minutes to exit. No one complains about what’s happening inside the facility – they say it’s going reasonably well – but say nothing about the congestion and confusion outside. Someone tells us an ambulance took four people back home. We didn’t see anything like that.
04:50 The flow of people leaving slackens slightly; we decide to return to the fence. It’s still very congested outside. People still crowd against the fence – but there aren’t any soldiers to forbid them from doing so. People are admitted in clumps of 50 each time the revolving gate opens. A man attempting to go back is stuck in the plaza. I suggest to the Ecumenicals that they try and talk to the military governor so he’ll station soldiers to keep order on the Palestinian side, like at Qalqilya (this isn’t the first time, though – according to the manager of the Irtach/Efrayim gate checkpoint the governor won’t agree, but it won’t hurt to try again).
05:05 We left