Irtah, Jubara (Kafriat), Tue 11.11.08, Morning
Translation: Galia S.
No prisoner visits today. In Israel it is Election Day, for the municipalities and local councils. A memorial ceremony for Arafat takes place in Ramallah. Our shift is marked by the soldiers' determination to keep us away and prevent us from taking any pictures.
On the way to our observation spot, on road 444, not far from Eyal junction, a group of Palestinian men waits for the employer to come and pick them up for work. Further on we see more Palestinians walking along the road for another workday in Israel. We also see q group of women walking, at this early hour, in the opposite direction, on the way back to Irtah.
The fortified terminal is called also Efrayim Gate Terminal
06:10 – We go directly to the beginning of the line of those coming from Tulkarm. The sight is horrible! About 1000 people are crammed outside, along the fences between the turnstiles, in front of the terminal building, which is painted in pastel colors. A few minutes after we arrive, the line starts to move fast. People push in quickly, trying to take advantage of the favorable time and enter early, hoping to be able to make it and get to the employer's car, which is waiting on the other side. People get here as early as 03:00 in order to be among the first in line and, mainly, to avoid getting stuck in the mass of people who are jamming up the place. "It's very difficult", says one of them, "and I don't have the strength to shove people!" The checkpoint is opened at 04:30 in the morning and many arrive an hour and a half ahead of time to avoid the jam of people. A man from Qalqiliya is waiting for the DCO [District Coordination Office of the IDF Civil Administration that handles passage permits] to open. He tells us that last Sunday a 35-year-old man from the village of Habla broke his leg because of the crush. His leg got stuck in the turnstile and broke. An ambulance was called and he was taken to "Wakali Hospital" (of the United Nations) in Qalqiliya. According to him, the early hours of Sundays are extremely difficult. He asks us if we can come once in a while to see what is going on.
Inside the building, we shouldn't forget, more turnstiles and more electronics await them. Sentries wearing yellow baseball caps of the guarding company "Mikud" stand with their weapons pointed downwards above the heads of those who pass. Police tasks are no longer done by soldiers. Only paid civilians do it.
The inspection cabins are undermanned. Today only 3 out of 16 operate. They are cutting down on expenses, or it may be a sub-contractor whose motive is financial gain! The people outside, forcing their way forward, also want to make money. Some of them will probably lose money because the employer will not wait for them and they will have to turn back and, in addition, pay the fare on their way back home. Basic economics.
A Palestinian, about 40 years of age, raises his hand angrily and shouts at us from the crowded line, "What good do you do, anyway. You just come here, take pictures, write something down… Who does it help? How does it help us?"
The distance and the complex system of fences make it very difficult to take pictures and document. The people crowded here look blurred from afar, through the web of nets and fences. Making inquiries about what we can scarcely see is also impossible. We go towards the parking lot, where the workers set out to work.
About 20 people are waiting in the shed for the DCO to open. Among them there are 4 people from Qalqiliya who left their home at 04:00 in the morning. They have been waiting since 07:00, as they need to renew their magnetic cards (issued as evidence of security clearance). The DCO opens only at 08:30 – 09:00.
The parking lot at Irtah is empty. There are no buses waiting for families of prisoners. Today there are no visits of relatives in prisons because there are no police patrol cars to escort the buses. Everyone is busy with the elections for the municipalities in Israel. People who were given visit permits for today will have to wait for a new permit at another date. The prisoners will have to wait too.
At the exit, the last turnstile, people come out in slow trickles. We know that inside the building there are hundreds of people who are checked again and again, especially the young ones.
We shouldn't forget that all the people who pass through this building already have magnetic cards, which means they have already gone through a strict set of inspections by the Shabak [Israeli General Security Service] in order to get the desired card which enables working in Israel.
A man about 40 years of age, a merchant from Tulkarm who has a valid magnetic card, says that every morning he is delayed for half an hour of clarifications and questioning at the DCO. They tell him he is refused passage by the Shabak (?) On his way back from work he is not delayed. Only in the morning. He says he loses a lot of precious time and asks us if we can help.
A worker from the village of Illar near Tulkarm, who works in fruit picking whishes to go through the turnstile back to Tulkarm. We inquire what happened and why he wishes to go back. He tells us that he arrived at the checkpoint at 04:30 in the morning, one of a group of fruit picking workers, among whom some youths who are taken every morning to a special room for a separate inspection which takes a lot of time. The employer didn't wait for them, so they are going back. He says he spends IS 36.00 on fares for the round trip. He also says that many times, between inspections, the gate is closed for 15 or 30 minutes, which causes pressure, congestion and a lot of wasted time.
We talk to Yaron, in charge of the facility at Irtah, who insists that the inspections are fast and that they are all lying. Nevertheless, he calls one of the employers and asks why he hasn't come to pick up the workers.
Five women from Far'un, a nearby village, working in strawberries picking in Ra'anana, also arrived at the checkpoint at 04:00 but had to go back because the employer hadn't waited.
07:45 – On the way back from Irtah we see on the road men and women walking. They, too, are going back because of the same reason.
One cannot help being impressed, again and again, by their perseverance and determination to overcome all the obstacles without giving up on their right to work and study despite all the difficulties of life under occupation – fruit picking workers, students and merchants. It's really amazing.
08:00 – The checkpoint is almost empty. We want to pass at the gate towards the village but the commander refuses to let us pass and says that MachsomWatch women have tried to enter 5 times already but they have explained to them that Jubara gate in the direction of Ar-Ras stays closed. We don't insist, I take an overall picture of the checkpoint, which is really meaningless. The checkpoint commander comes running, waving hands nervously, and tells us to stop right away since it is a military zone and taking pictures is totally prohibited! He further asks to show ID cards and demands that we erase the pictures and move the car away or he will call the police because we disturb the work at the checkpoint. He goes on to ask if we are not ashamed to take pictures of soldiers. "I am a civil servant. Would you be willing to be photographed if you were one? We are protecting you." The man is very insistent that we comply with his request. The truth is, I don't quite understand why such a fuss is made over a simple photo of a checkpoint. The commander threatens again to call the police if I don't present my ID card.
We leave. At Anabta there are only 2 – 3 cars and one bored soldier in the checkpoint post.