Dawn. Conversations with laborers.

Edith M. (translation), Varda Z. (reporting), Miriam (American journalist)

We arrived at 5:45. The area was full of people, but the ground was clean. In the corner of the parking lot near the roofed prayer area stood a dumpster, a new addition to the scene. It was nearly full, and people added their trash to it as we watched. We were amazed: what a wonderful idea, but how was everyone convinced to cooperate? After half an hour we discovered how the anti-littering campaign was enforced. At least one employee of the checkpoint confiscated work permits, and sometimes also IDs, from litterers. To get their documents back, they needed to speak to the station manager, who would be available between 9:00 and 4:00. I asked the shift supervisor if they had to pay a fine in addition. He said no, and also that he wasn't keeping anyone from going to work. However, it isn't healthy for a Palestinian to be found in Israel without his documents. Also, if one of them went to work and got back after 4:00, he wouldn't be able to get through the next morning. It's not surprising that everyone whose documents were confiscated chose to wait for the manager, and miss the day's work. People have told us that they earn about 300 shekels a day, so the punishment is effectively a fine of that much.

The checkpoint has a new manager. This is probably related to the new anti-littering policy.

A large crowd identified our MachsomWatch tags and gathered around us. Miriam the journalist spoke a little Hebrew and a little Arabic, and got into a lively discussion. We learned that the people standing around, and willing to speak with us, were waiting to be hired for the day - they don't have permanent jobs. They all said that they pay 2500 shekels a month to a contractor who signed that they work for him. If they don't pay, the contractor cancels their work permit. As long as they work steadily through the month, that's fine, but they still have to pay even if some days they don't get work. One man said that last month he took home only 1000 shekels after paying off the contractor. Another man said that he worked for one contractor steadily over a period of time, and had 2500 shekels deducted from his pay each month. We wonder if this happens in all the work places.

A group of older people said they had money in Mivtachim, an Israeli pension plan. Now that they've stopped working (reached retirement age) they can't get their money out. Does anyone know how to help them? Does anyone deal with complaints against Mivtachim?

A man told us he has a work permit, but his son was blacklisted by security. I gave him Sylvia's card, and immediately many others asked for copies, which I passed out.

When we arrived, we were part of a stream of vehicles coming to collect workers - some for their permanent staff, including two full-size buses, others for casual day-labor. Close to 7:00 the stream dwindled, both of vehicles coming in and of laborers passing through the checkpoint. A few Palestinians gave up and went home already. When we left, around 7:30, a few hundred people were left waiting and hoping, but it seemed to us that they would probably end up going home without employment.