Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim)
Crowding and confusion.
For technical reasons, we arrived a little late. The entrance to the parking lot was already overflowing with people and vehicles.
5:06 On our way to the separation fence we hear the crowd roar, which hasn't happened in recent months. We see the end of a group enter the building before the turnstiles close, and we wait to see when they'll open again. In the open space between the fence and the new roofed area where people wait before being funneled into the turnstiles, several women and a few men are standing. Usually this area is empty, because access to the lines is from the other side. A woman who speaks Hebrew says, Look, look and write it down! The women's line is full of men, and they aren't letting women through. They're hitting, pushing and shoving, like the entrance to the line used to be. They cursed me and shoved me away. She evidently thinks we can do something to help. When she sees that we can't, the group goes away - probably back to try the line again. One man stays to speak to us, and says that the workers in the checkpoint are slower than usual, which caused the fuss. We suspect that it's the result of closing agricultural checkpoints, and sending the farmers to cross at Irtach. More people passing through, and an extra kind of permit to check.
5:15 The turnstiles finally reopen, for just one minute. However, hundreds of people squeeze through and hurry to the metal detector. We don't manage to pick people to watch for.
5:17 On the Israeli side. Heavy pressure. The side gate that sometimes opens to relieve the pressure stays shut.
5:27 We return to the fence. The roar is less, women are getting through to the head of the "women's" line. The turnstiles evidently just closed, because a crowd of people is still waiting to pass through the metal detector. One man goes back into Palestinian territory. We ask him why, and he says that he has a valid pass, but he didn't get through in time, his ride left without him, and he missed the day's work. The entrance to the facility was terrible. We say, Israel can't control the territory beyond the checkpoint. Maybe the Tul-Karm authorities could, but they say they aren't allowed to. It isn't clear who's in charge. He answers, everyone has the power, but no one takes responsibility. Smart man.
When the turnstiles open, a woman passing through again complains to us about the mess at the entrance to the women's line. The turnstiles close, and one man is stuck in a turnstile. The guard responsible for opening and closing helps him get through.
5:35 We leave, trying to get to Habla. On the way to the parking lot we speak to a man who said today was bad, the checkpoint was working slower than usual. In the parking lot someone asks us for Sylvia's phone. We give him her fax, and instructions as to the documents he needs to send. This delay spoils our plans. We get stuck in traffic on the way out, and realize that we won't get to Habla in time to see the gate open. We turn back to Irtach, to see how long the pressure continues, and whether the checkpoint really is working slowly.
6:05 At the entrance to the checkpoint the shouting has stopped, but it's still crowded. People wait patiently in line. The turnstiles open, and we pick a man to watch for. On the Israeli side, the flow of people is strong. This time the side gate opens to relieve pressure. Two more people ask us about getting someone off of the security blacklist, so we explain and give them Sylvia's fax. The man we were watching for gets through in 18 minutes, which is slower than usual. We still don't know why.
6:30 We leave.
When we left the parking lot was not as jammed as earlier.
There still aren't enough toilets - we saw a line of people waiting to use them.
Shani, our guest, said Irtach seems worse, more shocking than Qalandiya, which she also visited. What a competition.