Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim)
An easy day.
We arrived early, at 3:40. The parking lot was full of white vans lined up neatly. Beyond the separation barrier the roofed area was full of people waiting to cross, but not jammed. The gates opened promptly, maybe even a minute early, and people ran into the checkpoint. Within four minutes the first ones came out, still running. When asked, they explain that they want to catch the first van heading their way. (The drivers call out their destinations to attract customers.)
During the next hour there was no pressure, no lines developed, everyone went into the checkpoint as soon as he arrived. Transit time gradually lengthened from four to eight or nine minutes.
By the fence, we met a representative of EAPPI (Ecumenical). Edith had agreed to meet him there. We asked him to give slips of paper marked with the time to people entering the line, so that we could check how long the total transit took. Also, after we saw a man returning, we asked the ecumenical volunteer to try to find out what happened with him.
Around 5:00 the pressure increased, and the gates started opening and closing sequentially, as usual. Still, people we picked to watch for got through in eight minutes. Two people handed us notes with a time marked, which indicated that they got through 21 minutes later, implying that the line cost them about 13 minutes - not too bad in our opinion. One of them told us that today was a particularly easy day, and suggested that it was thanks to our presence. It would be nice to believe that. Another explanation is that many holders of valid work permits find themselves blacklisted by security with no warning. Some of them ask Sylvia for help. This is what happened to the man we saw: he had a valid permit, but was told he was blacklisted. I gave the ecumenicals a phone number to pass on to him. Later in the morning he called and got an explanation of his options... such as they are.
The ecumenicals reported that they gave notes to three other people, who evidently walked past us without stopping. Since we were waiting for the notes, we stayed at the checkpoint longer than usual. When we left, around 5:50, the parking lot was almost empty, but a vast crowd of laborers was still standing around. We wondered what they were waiting for, but quickly found out: the road leading out was jammed with pickup trucks and private cars, heading in. Probably they wanted to hire casual labor. The road was nearly impassible.
It seems to me that the system works as follows: Some workers have a steady job, but no transportation is provided. They hurry through the checkpoint as early as possible, to be sure of getting to work on time. Others have organized transportation, and need to be out by the time it leaves, usually at 5:45. The third group is people who have work permits, but need to wait around for someone to hire them for the day.