Eyal Crossing, Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim)
The gates haven't opened yet, and no people are in the yard and parking lot, but the area is littered.
The new guard post on the way to the separation barrier is not manned. There still aren't more toilets. (Afterthought: are there toilets for women?)
At the entrance to the checkpoint, there is a big crowd. Men climb over the barriers to move to the head of the line; we see more and more of this. We assume that they enter the humanitarian line, which is open on the Palestinian side but closed until later in the day on the Israeli side, and use it to squeeze in ahead of people who have been waiting longer.
4:07 The turnstiles open (seven minutes late) and people run madly to the metal detectors: men and women, young and old, all trying to be first in line.
Edith suggests that we drive over to Eyal to compare, since last week we were there later in the morning and saw that there was no pressure on the crossing.
A well organized line (many people, but with no crowding) flows smoothly into the checkpoint. We choose a man to watch for, and he gets through in five minutes.
Again, we have a disagreement with guards who say we aren't allowed to walk up to the fence.
On our way back to the car we notice: (1) a long, orderly line of people calmly waiting for a bus (several public buses arrive at 4:40) and (2) the toilets are worse than at Irtach - there are two caravans, one permanently closed. The one that's open has two doorways, no light, and appears dilapidated.
4:55 Back at Irtach
There's a line of people waiting for the toilets.
A man tells us that this morning the turnstiles at the exit into Israel didn't open until a large crowd collected. He said he went back into the facility to tell a guard about the problem. The guard said the turnstiles were open. The eye-witness said they weren't, but the guard ignored him. Only when the crowd backed up far enough that no one could leave the building, did someone remember to push the button.
He also said that at one point the entrance to the facility closed for a quarter of an hour. We witnessed this ourselves when we came to Irtach on a Wednesday morning, but never on Sundays.
At the entrance, there's a lot of pressure. People climb over the barriers between the lines, and the people below shout at the ones who squeeze in.
The turnstiles open and close periodically - typically open for about two minutes, closed for three to five.
At the exit into Israel, both turnstiles are now in operation. People pass through easily, with no jams. A woman whom we chose to watch for comes through five minutes after she entered the building, a man takes eleven minutes.
What a difference between the two checkpoints. At Eyal the lines are controlled, public buses are available, the people are calm.
At Irtach the lines are crowded, the wait to get through is long, only private transportation is available, people are tired and angry before they even get to work.