Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim)
1. A man lost consciousness while passing through the checkpoint. He
received basic treatment and was transfered to medical care on the
Palestinian side. We were told his troubles resulted from being
squeezed in the crowding.
2. This report also includes a description of the entry to the checkpoint from the Palestinian side, one afternoon last week.
3:50 Soldiers were still checking out the access road that separates Israeli from Palestinian territory. They drove away after closing their gates, which delimit the path across the road to the checkpoint. Work at the checkpoint began - just five minutes late - with people running as usual, hurrying to be first into the building.
3:55 At the exit from the building: people are already gathering at the exit turnstile, which is locked. We point out to the guard in front of the offices that the exit is locked, and it opens. We ask people when they started waiting to cross. A young man says three o'clock. An older man says he got there at a quarter to two, and six or seven people were waiting before him.
Another visit to the other side--the entrance turnstiles open for reasonable lengths of time, but not all the lanes open at once, so the flow of people is regulated. And of course young men climb over the dividers, looking for the best line. On our way around the building, this time we see a man coming towards us carrying a large bag. We ask what he's doing, and he shows us the bicycle that he parks on the side, which he uses to get to work and back.
At the exit, the side gate is open. (A new guard tries to keep us from approaching it.) People leave easily. After a few minutes the guard comes and closes the gate, leaving only one turnstile (of the two at this point) active. A woman we were watching for comes out after five minutes. A man who entered the same time she did, gets out after eight minutes. He turns out to be someone we have spoken with before. He says everything is fine, no problems. Others tell us the problem is not in the line or the building, but in the crowd trying to get into line.
4:25-4:30 The single working turnstile shuts down, and a sizable crowd collects and shakes the fence. After five minutes the side gate opens. Maybe something is wrong with the turnstile activation?
At the entrance we again see people climbing over the dividers between the lines. One outdid the rest: he managed to climb up and squeeze through a slit just below the roof, and get into the area in front of the building without waiting for a turnstile. The gates into the building were closed, and his calls to the guards to open up were ignored for several minutes. Eventually a turnstile opened to let a man go the other way, carrying a large bag. We asked why he was going back, and he said he had meat in his bag, which he wasn't allowed to bring into Israel. After he went back, the gates opened again.
On our way around the building some people stop us to complain about the toilets. Hygiene is lacking, for two weeks there has been no water to flush the basins (Eastern-style holes in the ground, from what we saw), and the total quantity is too small. This situation is still better than what we saw at Eyyal checkpoint, but it's deteriorating.
At the exit we find the side gate open. A man says something in English as he passes us without stopping--it sounds like he said someone died, but we can't be sure. We go back the other way, and on the side of the building we come across a group gathered around a stretcher, with a young Palestinian lying on it. A Hebrew speaker, evidently a medic, kneels by his side. Two armed guards watch, along with two or three Palestinians. The patient shivers and coughs, and seems not fully conscious. He is hooked up to a machine that beeps. The medic tries to revive him and phones for help. Two stretcher-bearers come from the Palestinian side, through a special small gate in the fence, and immediately after them an Israeli military vehicle drives up and a man, checks the patient. They prepare to transfer the patient to the Palestinian side.
5:40 We leave.
Report on the view from the other side.
After numerous complaints in recent months about new problems with the procedure of returning from a day's work in Israel, we arrived at Irtach last Sunday afternoon (Feb. 14) at 16:00. We joined the throng of people returning, and together with them walked along the path, which does not go into the checkpoint building, into Palestinian territory. It turns out that the complaints relate to the addition of turnstiles along the route, where in the past simple gates used to open wide in time for the mass return. Now there are turnstiles at three different points along the way. The last one in particular doesn't have a side gate to ease access, causing the return trip to slow down especially when people try to bring large packages through. This caused complaints. It seems that people have gotten used to the new reality, though.
Beyond the exit a market has developed, selling fruits, vegetables, notions, and what not. The new building that shelters the lines waiting to cross in the morning, though it looks impressive from the Israeli side, is actually not very big. It can't hold more than a few hundred people at once, even crowded together. It's no wonder that on Sunday mornings a war is fought for entry to the shelter, when more than ten thousand people pass through between 3:45 and 5:45. And it's no wonder that conditions inside are so crowded.
We made our way back along one of the lines, until we reached a checking station. Along the way we noticed a sign for toilets that are available to the Palestinians before they get through to the Israeli side. The guard performing the checks made us wait while he called his boss. The assistant manager arrived and got mad at us for 'endangering' ourselves by mixing with Palestinians. It's forbidden. He warned us not to do it again, and led us out through a side door, not the exit the Palestinians use.