Meeting with Mr. Sharon Baruch, manager of the Irtach checkpoint (Shaar Ephraim)
We started by mentioning the great improvements we've seen at the checkpoint over the years, for example the reasonably polite treatment of the Palestinians instead of barking at them. Recently there has been no pressure or crowding, even on Sundays. We also commented on the clean grounds. We asked if he read our reports, as the last manager did. He said that he looked for Shaar Ephraim but didn't find it. I explained that we call the checkpoint "Irtach" and he said he would look for it. Maybe we should learn from this and add the Israeli name to our reports...
According to the manager, every day about nine thousand people pass through this checkpoint. In the early morning, two thousand go through every half hour. On Sundays the total rises to ten thousand, but not more. Thanks to the streamlining that has been introduced, there is no more crowding, and in his opinion it's no longer necessary to open at 3:45 on Sundays. He plans to experiment with opening at 4:00 as on other days. If it works, that will become the standard.
The problem of young men climbing over the barriers and jumping to the head of the line has been solved, he said, not only by reducing pressure but also by closing off the gaps that they used.
We asked about the new locked gate that we encountered on our last visit, that kept us far from the Palestinians entering the checkpoint. He instructed his staff to unlock the gate when we come, and we promised to inform them when we leave so that they can close it again.
We asked about the separate lane for people returning to Palestinian territory, which we had been told was under construction. We asked why it isn't available in the morning. The manager said that there are places where it's possible to get from that lane to the entering lanes, which poses a security problem, therefore the returning lane is only opened after the morning rush, when the staff can supervise it properly. (I wonder why the return lane wasn't designed so that it could stay open.)
Another problem we raised is that of elderly workers, over age 55, who can no longer get work permits. At that age they can in theory travel freely, but the checkpoints only let them through after 7:00, which gets them to work late. Several months ago we heard a number of complaints about this policy. The manager answered that he already got permission not to enforce the limitation on hours of passage, and the elderly workers can go through any time of day, both at Irtach (Shaar Ephraim) and at Eyal.
We talked about the question of orderly entrance to the roofed entrance lines, and the manager said the problem was lack of cooperation from the Palestinian regional governor, unlike at Eyal. He said that a Palestinian offered to take charge of maintaining order, but he wanted to be paid for it, and no one was willing to pay.
Finally we asked about the businessmen's meeting building. It turns out that someone is employed to run it, and it is open every day from 8:00 till 16:00. It is used for occasional meetings, five or six a week, a lot less than its capacity. He said that it was built after, and because of, agreement between the (Israeli) civil authority and the Palestinians, but in the end there is no real cooperation. He said a similar center is planned in the North, where they hope for better cooperation. We stopped in to look at the building. It is lovely, a number of rooms around a courtyard with a garden. We peeked into one meeting hall. A clear plastic wall divides the entrance for Palestinians from the entrance for Israelis, so that the only way to get from one side to the other is through the building.