Eyal, Sun 30.3.08, Morning
The Eyal Crossing is a border crossing between Palestine and Israel. It is primarily for Palestinian workers who have succeeded in obtaining a permit to work in Israel. This means that every Palestinian who has received such a permit has been given the okay by the Interior Security Agency (Shabak). These men have no history of political or subversive activity against Israel. These are men who are, for the most part, over 30 years old, married and with children. In addition, business men and families of Palestinians in Israeli prisons pass through this boarder crossing. They, too, have received permits.
The Palestinians enter the terminal by way of a single, narrow turnstile. This turnstile allows free passage when the light above the turnstile is green and when the light is red, the turnstile is locked. Once a pedestrian has passed through this entrance, he must then wait on line in order to go through a body check and checking of his parcels (a metal detector station). After the metal detector station there are stations that check his personal identification cards and permits by computer. The problem today was that only one of the 2 metal detector stations was open and only 2 (out of 8) computer stations were opened. We were told by the Palestinians that the second metal detector station has not been working for awhile. The head of the Qalqilyia DCO whom we called at 6:30AM verified this.
The crossing opens up at 4AM in the morning. Today it opened on time and the first hour seemed to go smoothly. A single line of about 80 meters long was formed on the Palestinian side of the fence (according to Scot from the EAPPI whom we were in contact with) and the turnstile light was green allowing people to pass through smoothly. When we arrived at about 5AM we were told by workers waiting for their rides that in order to avoid the rush they make sure they get to the crossing as early as possible.
A little after 5AM things began to change. More people were moving into the area, the terminal was filling up (the capacity seems to be about 200) and as a result the turnstile light turned red and people were not allowed in. The men are under a great deal of pressure to get to work on time. They are in fear of losing their job or having their pay with held for the hours they have missed. This sometimes causes a panic response. When the turnstile stops and the light turns red, the single line becomes a mass of people in a bottle neck. Each person is determined to be the next one through when the light turns green. We started hearing complaints from those exiting that the situation at the entrance was unbearable and some people were injured. We didn't think we had a way of seeing the situation.
However, at about 5:45AM we realized that we didn't have to stand at the exit to the crossing on the Israeli side where we had been standing since 5AM. We saw there was a way to still be on the Israeli side but in clear viewing of the Palestinians lining up to enter the terminal. The area at the entrance was packed even though only one person can go through at a time. People were squeezed together and were pushing, shoving, and climbing over one another in an attempt to reach the opening. As a result some people were pushed out of the line or were dragged along by the crowd or falling down. It was a very difficult scene to watch. As stated above, the maximum number of checking stations was not opened today and as a result the maximum allowed into the terminal was reached very quickly and there was a long wait before others were let in. This triggered the chaos. We called the DCO of Qalqilyia any number of times. The person on duty was not able to help us.
We were told to leave the area by soldiers in the tower. At 6:15AM we found another vantage point that allowed us to see the line without being too close. There was a long line snaking around and at 6:27am the light turned red and the turnstile stopped. The turnstile was closed for five minutes. When the light turned green, the turnstile reopened and remained open for 13 minutes. During that time 258 people passed through this initial entrance area. The majority moved out of sight into the terminal and about 50 remained outside although they had made it through the first turnstile. This time the moving into the turnstile was less violent. It seems that the Palestinians themselves had organized a method in which only a certain number of people were allowed close to the turnstile and the rest were behind a yellow gate. A Palestinian who was standing on something in order to be in view of the crowd gave the signal when more people could move into the area closer to the turnstile.
At 6:45am the red light went on again and this time the turnstile was closed until 7:06am (21 minutes). This means it took that amount of time to check the 258 people who had been allowed to enter. This correlates with the count that we took at the exit. We counted that an average of 12 people per minute were coming through. Sometimes it was as many as 20 or as little as 10.
The end of the crowd of people was not visible to us. Approximately 700 + people were in our view. This was true throughout the time we were there. At 5AM when we spoke to Scot, he told us that from 4AM to 5AM about 1500 people had come through. It seems that the more people that were on line, the slower the checking became. Twelve times 60 minutes means that only 720 an hour were presently coming through at about 7am. (According to a report that Scott wrote for this date, he estimated that by 9AM over 5000 people had passed through the crossing.)
We were told by the Palestinians that when there are at least 2 metal detector stations opened and when at least 4 stations for checking IDs are open, there are no delays and things run relatively smoothly. They complained that in the last month things have gotten very bad and not only on Sunday which is the start of the work week..
It seems the Palestinians would like help in keeping the order entering the terminal and that they have asked if the Palestinian Authority could police the area. They claim that the army will not agree to this arrangement. Their hope in taking over the job among themselves, which they did a little after 6AM, as I described above, was that then the Israeli's would do their part and increase the man power. This was not done. The feeling the Palestinians have is that the Israelis want them to fight among themselves and to break each other's bone.
Getting a permit to enter Israel is not an easy process. At best it can take months and it most be constantly renewed. At any time it can be revoked. Once a Palestinian has this permit it is only the beginning of a whole new set of hardships. A worker, who does not live right next to the crossing and wants to get to work on time, must get up at 3AM or earlier. In order to get to this crossing, he first has to pass through other checkpoints as well. At each CP he must wait on line, get a ride and move on to the next CP. If this final crossing is not running efficiently, and the wait on line is long, it means that the worker will be riding at the peak of the morning traffic. That is, if he hasn't missed his ride all together. Only then does the work day begin which may be hard physical labor for 8 or more hours. After this, there is the laborious task of returning home.
A worker who had to wait on line for over an hour today arrived to work late and he called us and asked that we speak to his boss in order to explain to the boss how difficult the situation was at the crossing.
Today we were in contact with two Palestinians who called to tell us that today there was an improvement in the situation at the Eyal Crossing. The crossing opened at 4AM and both metal detection stations were open and four computer stations were open where personal identification cards and permits are checked. Those who arrived at 4AM passed through within 15 minutes. Those who arrived at 5AM waited between 40 to 45 minutes.
According to the Palestinians Micky spoke to, there was a big difference between today and the last 2 weeks. It's been a long time since they went through so fast. There were reporters from channel 10 at the crossing today and some Palestinians were interviewed. They complained about what had been going on and stated that they hoped that the situation would continue as it was today.
Tuesday, 1/4/08 Micky checked also today and at 5:40AM waiting on line took only a half hour.