ארתאח (שער אפרים)
The checkpoint opened exactly at 05:00. Great commotion and shouting at the entrance. We see a line of women trying to enter through the women’s gate. It is apparently already open. It is hard to see because a there’s a crowd of men at the gate pushing and crushing the women against the fence as well as squashing each other.
Men are also climbing the metal barriers, through the barbed wire stretched across the roof of the “cage.” They are trying to reach the head of the line; people waiting on line yell at them.
Suddenly there is a surge of pushing in the line to the women’s gate. It is in the opposite direction – everyone is pushing to get out of line, retreat from the gate. The women are pressed even more against the fence and move away. It turns out the gate has closed.
We see an elderly man and woman moving aside, away from the line. The man sits down on the ground. We ask what happened to him; “He was choking,” someone says. A man approaches him about five minutes later, apparently a Red Crescent paramedic (though he has not brought any equipment) and helps them.
The woman complains to us the situation is unbearable.
As soon as the revolving gates at the entrance open, people rush in. Many empty cans litter the floor, sometimes getting stuck in the revolving gate, jamming it. That only adds to the noise and the tumult.
It is a madhouse until 05:40.
By now many fewer people are waiting on line, the shouting has died down, and almost no one is climbing on the roof of the cage.
We spoke with people standing on the other side of the fence. One tells us he’s not pushing. He has a permanent job five days a week; on Fridays, he tries to find temporary work. He crosses, waits, and someone usually comes looking for a temporary worker. He says some people arrive at the crossing at 23:00!
Someone says he sells food and coffee on the Palestinian side; he does not cross through the checkpoint. He says the behavior of the laborers is terrible, horrible. In his view, it is a matter of education, of culture.
06:00 Things appear calm at the entrance to the crossing; we decide to move to the exit.
New construction has made the exit plaza smaller. We understand it’s a “commercial” crossing where Israeli and Palestinian businessmen can meet. Meanwhile, many laborers wait in the smaller area.
We ask them why they are waiting. Some are waiting for friends who have not yet come through. We are amazed people who were so intent on going through quickly they pushed and shoved into the line are now sitting and waiting.
We receive part of the answer when we approach the revolving gate at the exit. We hear yelling and commotion coming from inside the building. People come though looking tense, in a bad mood. “Balagan, balagan” they complain. “Do something,” they say to us, and also, “You can’t do anything.”
It turns out that building is full of people and it is taking a long time to get through. We see a “window” across from us and a staffer who is talking a lot on the phone. We have the impression there is a malfunction, or he is new and asking for help. In any event, there seems to be a delay there. The man on the other side to whom we had spoken, who said he is not pushing, came through the crossing 45 minutes after he entered.
Based on our experience, that is really a long time. It used to take 15-25 minutes.
From time to time, for no apparent reason, the revolving gate stops. Locks. People who have waited outside for hours, and for almost an hour within, and are finally over this nightmare – must now wait again with no explanation and without knowing how long. And, just as the revolving gate suddenly stops – it suddenly opens again.
People approach us:
One man shows us a deep cut on his wrist. He said he was pushed against the bars (he seems too old to have been one of those climbing on the roof).
Another says he has a plot of land had a permit to cultivate it, which was cancelled. He does not know why, or whom he has to speak to.
Still another tells us a soldier took his friend’s permit, told him to go to the DCL. At the DCL they said, “Why did you give him your permit? It’ll take a month to get a new one.”
Someone is looking for a relative arrested two days ago, wants to find out where he is.
We gave each person an appropriate phone number for their problem.
06:45 We decide to leave.
Next to our car we meet a man who says he missed his ride and will return home. He says he has worked 25 years for the same employer; he keeps working for him even though he has his own gardening business. He shows us photos of gardens he’s created. They are lovely.