Habla, Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim)
4:54 Hundreds if not thousands are already out of the checkpoint, some stretched out to rest, others sitting and looking around or standing by the kiosk's serving windows.
By the separation fence, at the entrance to the checkpoint, nothing is happening. The turnstiles are stopped. Many people wait patiently. Two men walk slowly back into Palestinian territory. We don't manage to make contact with them. (The new, efficient facility is quite effective in preventing contact, even speaking, across the separation barrier. There is no way, for example, to meet and talk with the ecumenicals as we used to.)
5:00 The gates open and the crowd hurries in towards the magnetometer. Over a hundred people manage to get in, before the gates close again in two minutes. Another man goes back. We hear shouting in the building.
5:06 The turnstiles open again. We pick people to watch for and move to the other side of the building.
5:12 on the Israeli side: We notice that the out-of-service toilet stalls that stood for months in the yard have disappeared. "Gardening" - artificial grass - has been laid down around what will be the commercial center. Two new turnstiles have been set up near it. It looks like the plan is to move the exit from the building out to that point, so we will have less access and no way to see anything inside - currently we can peek in and get an impression of how many lanes are in use.
A large crowd is trying to get out the single turnstile, and pulling on the gate next to it, which eventually opens and eases the pressure. A man pauses on his way out to tell us that at the entrance to the covered lanes on the Palestinian side there's a lot of crowding. A man we noticed got out in seven minutes - nearly a record. Another man takes ten minutes.
Someone asks us for advice. His employer made him sign that he won't ask for compensation if he's laid off. He asks if this is legal, and what he can do about it. We give him the phone number for Kav Laoved.
5:30 On the entrance side. The turnstiles are closed, but there's no crowd waiting. The gates open and shut.
5:50 We leave for Habla.
6:25 When we arrive at Habla the gates are open, and the first group of five is leaving the checkpoint building. We hear shouting from the entrance - someone who gets through explains that it's because of people pushing into line from the side. We watch several more groups of five pass through without incidents.
6:40 We leave.