Makkabim (Beit Sira), Mon 28.1.08, Morning
Natanya G, Idit N (reporting)
Campfires visible on the roadside immediately beyond the vehicle checkpoint on Route 443. During the day, when passing here, the hut alongside the road is hardly noticeable and no one knows that in the very early hours of morning the placed is bursting with pedestrian traffic. We are surrounded by people the moment we step out of the car, which we park on a yellow stripe like the contractors who come to collect workers.
Natanya talks to a group of women. Seven of them work in agriculture. They arrive each morning, leaving home at three am, coming by taxi (30 shekels), work in the fields at Beit Shemesh, earn 200 shekels a day. Now they hasten to enter (all of them) in a small pickup , which is doubtfully a taxi or doubtfully the vehicle of the contractor that came to get them.
On the other side I talk to a worker, who speaks a better Hebrew than mine. He blesses us, is grateful for our presence and asks for a phone number in case of emergencies (I give him Hanna's mobile number). Today is relatively good, he says, perhaps because it is so cold... for the soldiers too... He knows most of the soldiers and their political opinions. According to him, one who is particularly right wing happens to be the most human of all those here. I wonder how he is still able to find something human.
Slowly, very slowly, all the problems of the checkpoint are emerging from their usual invisibility. There is, for example, a roof, but it is very small and totally inadequate for the long line that materialises at this hour. Apart from which, someone designed it so that only the end of the line benefits from it, and the submission of documents to the soldiers has to be done under pouring rain, while the soldier who is checking stands under his own roof! And they tell us that many times the soldiers will not allow people who arrive before 05:00 (when the checkpoint opens) to stand under the roof, because they say it is intended only for the line that begins at 05:00. Human – certainly not!
We are told that people with 24 hour permits also have to wait for the 05:00 opening. Why? Just because... Here in the dark the soldiers can do anything – who is to know, and who will complain? There is no magnometer and each check includes removal of clothes despite the weather conditions, and there is nothing to be said about privacy!
Two soldiers in the document checking stations, raised on high, protected by concrete and a roof. Two soldiers doing the hand check of bags, and three others just standing around.
05:30 – we see many praying by the roadside. Unlike the traffic of Jewish religious observers on their way to heated synagogues protected from the rain – here they have to make do with the frozen road and hope they will not be run over, or that a soldier won’t move them in the middle of their prayers.
The soldiers are quite nervous about our presence. They try a number of times to move us, not to let us photograph, etc. We explain that there is no reason why we shouldn’t be here, and taking photos is permissible.
05:45 – the soldiers are trying to prevent crowding beyond the checkpoint. A number of times they come to tell people not to stand in groups behind the electric boxes – the only place where there is any protection from the biting winds while they wait for their contractors to arrive.
They tell us that there is another checkpoint – an easier one, at Qiryat Sefer. Perhaps next time we’ll go there too.
Waiting time today – in our opinion, and that of a number of people whom we asked, is shorter than usual: 20-30 minutes.
One passes by, actually rejoicing: today ahla, only half an hour to wait.
They tell us that women get priority and when they arrive, they are allowed through immediately because there is no separate line.
06:20 – Hanna arrives with a guest. We are already almost frozen.
Traffic is thinning out, and after quarter of an hour we flee to the car.