Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim)
Irtach (Efrayim gate),
Irtach checkpoint, innovations and improvements at the crossing including shorter wait times.
04:50 We turned onto the access road to the checkpoint. Still pitch dark. Isolated figures strode along the roadside and fires burned here and there. The closer we came to the checkpoint area the more groups of men we saw, smoking, drinking coffee, walking among the minibuses and transport vehicles. Some smiled and said good morning to us. An uplifting feeling. We’re visible and welcomed. A man, about 45, wearing a scarf and a hood approached us. While he sat on the curb holding a pita he told us he comes each morning from Jenin. He leaves home at 03:00. He begins work in Israel at 07:00 and returns home at night at 19:00. He earns around NIS 4000. NIS 2000 go for permits. NIS 1000 for transportation. He has a wife and four children. Where else, he asks, does a person work so many hours for so little. And he adds with a trembling voice, the children need medical care and clothing and school and food. We would have hugged him if we could. Shook his hand. Comforted him. We smiled and promised things will be better one day, and walked on.
We neared the crossing itself. From a distance we could see the changes and innovations. A large, spacious canopy for prayers had been erected alongside the access road. It was filled with rows of worshippers who overflowed outside because there wasn’t enough room.
We detoured around the exit plaza and went through the large hanger to the side fence from where we could see the people crowding to go through the revolving gates to the inspection entry corridor.
The place was improved and changed. There are separate, divided lanes, like corridors, ending at the revolving gates. The same revolving gates. From where we stood we saw four or five revolving gates. The lanes are lit, covered and clean. We were told there’s a separate women’s lane. Now women can cross safely without being harassed or physically molested.
From what we could see, the revolving gates open and close randomly. Not all the gates were operating. Later we were told by people we asked that it takes about half an hour to go through; That today one of the four lanes wasn’t open. And one person we spoke to added with emphasis that one closed lane lengthens by one quarter the time of the crossing. That it was better when the army ran the crossing because it allocated soldiers according to the need. Now, after the privatization, they save on manpower costs.
Later we observed the exit from the building through which people emerge. We stood at an opening which was also blocked by a revolving gate and saw the dozens of people, men and a few women, bundled against the cold, gloomy and quiet, waiting resignedly for their turn. One by one, one after the other, through only one revolving gate, they exit to the plaza. A difficult sight. It’s not clear why the exit has a revolving gate because those leaving have completed inspection and they’re on their way out
Since we stood there for a long time a security guard came out to us. He opened a locked gate right next to the revolving gate. He left it open while he spoke to us. We should note he was pleasant and polite. He told us that about 6000 people cross in the morning. While he talked to us everyone waiting at the revolving gate instead went through the gate he’d opened. The congestion disappeared. The security guard went back inside and locked the gate. A new line began to form at the revolving gate.
06:00 Dawn broke. We left the checkpoint.