Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim)
More than one group of people told us that last Friday was a particularly bad day. People collapsed and an ambulance was needed.
3:40 We arrive and find the parking lot orderly, the gates not yet open. We notice a row of water faucets next to the toilets, where we had never seen them before, probably because the area is usually crowded. We asked the one man who was there, and he said the faucets have been in place for ages. There is still only one building with toilets, two doors and four stalls, with no division between men and women (we've only seen men using it.)
By the separation barrier the lines are calm, no one is perched on top of the walls waiting to jump to the head of the line. The gates open without any announcement, on time, and the usual mad rush to be first into the building begins. We move around to the other side of the building. Usually the first people get through by the time we get to the exit, but not today. A guard tries to keep us away, saying work hasn't started yet. Indeed, the announcement about the start of work comes over the loudspeaker when we're already near the exit. The first people come out at 3:55, ten minutes after they went in.
In conversation with people, we are told that a number of workers are turned back in spite of having valid work permits. They also tell us about the problems last Friday. They say Fridays are always bad because the checkpoint opens late, and ask for it to open at 4:00. We've heard this request often, but the checkpoint manager always refuses, saying it would be unnecessary and expensive.
At the fence we choose people to watch for. One man comes out after twelve minutes, another takes half an hour. This is a much longer time than average. On our next round, neither of the two people we're watching for shows up even after half an hour. Maybe they were sent back? Everyone who speaks to us says that conditions are intolerable in the line before the entrance, largely because of the people who climb over the barriers between the lines. They are annoying, and cause serious crowding. We are asked to do something, like getting the barriers raised, to prevent climbing over. People again complain about last Friday, and Fridays in general.
5:00 At the entrance to the building the gates are closed temporarily. Seven or eight men are sitting on top of the barriers, waiting to jump down into the lines when they start to move. Some of the men on top look mature, not very young.
The gates open and we pick two people to watch for, a man and a woman. They both get through in 5 - 6 minutes.
5:20 We leave.