Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim)
We hadn't observed the opening of the checkpoint for months. Since the addition of the new building, and moving the opening up to 3:45, it seemed that there was no pressure that early. This time we decided to see if it was still so. We arrived in the parking lot at 3:40.
Since we arrived before anyone came through, we peeked around the toilets. There's no faucet for washing hands. Even the drinking fountain nearby seems not to be working.
3:45 The gates are still closed. They open at 3:50. In the meantime we notice two men patrolling the area between the "slalom", the roofed area where people wait, and the separation fence. They don't speak Hebrew or English, but we get the impression that that they are there to maintain order, as we saw at Eyal CP when we observed there. This is something new at Irtach. Maybe it's a local organization?
The first people into the checkpoint get out in only four minutes. They run. We ask what the hurry is, and someone answers, the first minibus to Tel Aviv. In fact, they leave immediately, and don't hang around waiting as so many do.
4:00 By the fence, the gates are open, people pass through into the checkpoint freely, as soon as they walk in. We pick two to watch for; one gets through in ten minutes, the other takes fifteen.
4:20 Pressure is beginning, and also pulsing, opening and closing the turnstiles according to the number of people in the checkpoint. The gates open, inside of a minute and a half at least two hundred people enter, then they gates close again.
Four people head the other way, back into Palestinian territory. We ask why, and one answers his fingerprints didn't pass. We ask about his permit--he says the permit is fine, but the fingerprints aren't. (We have no idea what happens to people like this. What can he do to establish his identity?)
When the gates open again, we choose another two people to watch for. They each get through in twelve minutes.
A man complained to us about pressure at the checkpoint in the afternoon, on the way home. We asked others, who said it's nothing. The procedures haven't changed, people going into Palestinian territory aren't checked, there may be momentary pressure if several buses arrive at the same time.
4:45 We leave.
Last week I (Varda) phoned the checkpoint manager. We discussed several topics. One - the workers who use the checkpoint have complained about insufficient toilet facilities. The manager said he has requested more, and been turned down. He will ask again.
Second topic: Is the new trade center building in use? He answered that it officially opened, but doesn't get much use. There isn't much cooperation between merchants on the two sides. (Is it a white elephant?)
Third topic: The previous time we visited Irtach, a guard asked us to identify ourselves. We refused, saying he wasn't a policeman and had no right to question us. The manager said his guards do have the right as long as we're in the checkpoint area. Does anyone know what the law says about it?