Irtah, Fri 27.3.09, Morning
Translation: Bracha B.A.
04:20: We arrived at Sha’ar Ephraim and looked for a way to get to the places where we could wee the workers arriving. The truck area was completely empty.
4:50-6:30: Workers passing through Irta Gate. On weekdays the gate is supposed to open at 4:30, and on Fridays at 5:00. Workers said that other gates are already open at 4:00. When we were there the gate opened at 5:10.
Inside the building in which we could only peek there were 8 inspection windows from which the workers exit into a long corridor leading to the exit where there is only one turnstile. There are inspection rooms behind each window that we have only heard about.
While we were there only one inspection window was operating for the first 20 minutes, and another and then another were opened. All in all only three inspection windows were operating from 5:35. When one window was operating 30 people came out within 5 minutes. When 3 were operating about 170 people came out within 5 minutes.
Waiting to be checked:
The waiting area is fenced in from all sides and very narrow. The entire area is also fenced in and other parts that are parallel to the main building have a wall of 5-8 meter high concrete barriers. The entire area is not sheltered from the weather, and it is - in essence - a narrow corral for people. At the end of the corral there is an electric turnstile that lets 14-20 people pass through at a time into the courtyard, which is also fenced in. People wait there to enter two more electronic turnstiles that lead to the inspection area with its rooms and windows.
According to the workers, on regular days, (particularly on Sundays which is the best day for seeing what really goes on) they arrive an hour and a half to two and a half hours early in order to get through the gate and get to work on time. The crowded conditions are very difficult and everyone who talked with us spoke about people who got hurt and even some who died because of the crowds, the pushing, and shoving. Anyone who is late for work loses the work day and they can also lose the support of their employers and with it, their work permit.
There were complaints that on rainy days workers are not allowed to pray within the facility - despite the fact that there is an ideal place for doing so in the wide space in the broad corridor leading from the inspection windows to the turnstile at the exit. We saw between 3-10 people performing the early morning prayers while we were there.
There is no separate line for women. They stand in the area closest to the turnstile and are extremely crowded. They complained bitterly about the overcrowded conditions and the fact that the men push them in order to get ahead in line.
The Inspection Process:
As we reconstructed from what the workers told us, the process involves checking their magnetic cards and palm and an additional check inside the rooms of their I.D., the bag they are carrying and their outer clothing. Often they are asked to remove their shoes (we saw men and women running barefoot between the turnstiles in order to save time). Often they are taken into other rooms where they are asked to undress. The duplicate inspection of their documents makes the time spent in the facility even longer.
They are not allowed take coffee, [olive] oil, or labaneh (goat cheese) with them.
This morning we estimated that there were between 2500-3000 men and women crowded into the corral-like corridor.
Coming Back from WorkAccording to the workers, the main hours they come back are between 3:00 – 5:00 in the afternoon. Everyone’s I.D. cards are checked and there are only two or three windows operating. There is one entrance turnstile at the entrance to the facility, and an exit gate from the inner courtyard to the corral-like path. According to them, during the rush hour they have to wait outside without any protection from the weather between an hour and an hour and a half.
It appears to us that the name of the security company that operates the checkpoint needs to be clarified as well as the conditions they have agreed upon with the army-police-government. What are the conditions to which they are obligated in operating the inspection windows, the conditions in which men and women have to wait.
Many of the people who spoke to us repeated the sentence again and again: “We are being kept here like animals. We’re human beings!”