Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim)
We decided not to try to see the gates open, arriving instead a few minutes before 5:00, at which point a large number of Palestinians had already passed through the checkpoint. I asked the guard to unlock the gate leading to the area where we watch people entering the checkpoint. He said it was open, and indeed it was.
The turnstiles that control entrance to the checkpoint were closed, but they opened immediately. We picked people to watch for, and they showed up on the other side in about ten minutes.
At 5:15 we returned to the separation barrier, and the turnstiles were closed again. The two closest to us opened immediately, but the others stayed closed for some reason for six minutes. People stood and waited quietly for their turn. Finally all the gates opened. Traffic flowed smoothly for a few minutes, emptying out all the lines, and then the gates closed again while two people returned to Palestinian territory. When the gates opened again we picked people to watch for, and they got through in 10-12 minutes.
We picked a third sample, in which two people got through in 4-5 minutes and a third took 11 minutes.
By the exit turnstiles stood two men trying to go back. Nitza, who speaks Arabic, asked them what was happening. One of them left his lunch on a shelf outside the building and wanted to retrieve it; his problem was evidently solved when he saw someone he knew pass by, and his friend brought him the bag. The other man said that after he had gone through the checkpoint on his way to work, he got a phone call saying that one of his relatives was sick, and he decided to go back home. When we left he was still waiting. When will the checkpoint provide a separate return line for cases like this?
6:00 We left.
I visited the checkpoint a year ago, it's now a little more humane.
I was struck by the conditions for the people who are waiting for their rides to work - sitting on the ground or on the sidewalk. Maybe the Palestinians are accustomed to being treated with contempt, but it was strange for me to see elderly people sitting on the ground like hippies.