Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim)
3:45 Just as we arrive we hear the announcement that the checkpoint is opening - exactly on time. The gates open and we see the usual mad rush to get into the building first. The gate from the women's line doesn't open, and agile young men climb out of it into other lines.
On the Israeli side, four minutes after work started the first people have already gotten through the checkpoint. The flow is steady.
Back on the Palestinian side, the women's line is still closed, and people in it walk back out to get into lines that are working. We pick people to watch for.
3:55 On the Israeli side, only one of the exit turnstiles is working. A crowd gets backed up, apparently all the way down the path to the building. Varda asks a guard to open the second turnstile, or the side gate, but he isn't interested. After she insists, he calls the shift manager who speaks to the employees and gets the side gate open. The pressure eases. One of the people we were watching for gets through in ten minutes, another takes twenty.
4:15 On our way around to the Palestinian side a young man, later joined by a friend of his, stops us. He says that on Sundays, when the gates open at 3:45 and the checkpoint is fully staffed, progress through it is reasonable. On other days, when it doesn't open until 4:00 and sometimes fewer lines through the building are open, the pressure becomes intolerable. He asks us to do something. He also says that using the fingerprint reader goes quickly, but a line collects in front of other windows along the way. He says something should be done to smooth out the checking process.
The two of them say that they are charged seventy shekels "for the work permit" every day they work. They are employed via a manpower company, not directly by the company where they work. They only earn 250 shekels a day, and the seventy shekels come out of this. They don't know where the money they are charged goes. Is anyone familiar with this arrangement?
4:25 On the Palestinian side, hot drink vendors walk up and down offering coffee and tea. The problem with women's line has been solved, and at the moment it's the only line active. Of course people climb over the barriers between the lines. Other lines open, and we pick people to watch for.
4:30 On the Israeli side, the side gate is closed but both turnstiles are working. A man says that he can tell when we're around, the process flows better than other days. Maybe it's true. Two people we were watching for come out after about fifteen minutes, a third doesn't appear - after half an hour we decide he was probably turned back.
5:05 On the Palestinian side, the pressure seems to have eased. Two people slide through going back, while the lines are still moving into the checkpoint.
5:20 We leave.