Eyal Crossing, Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim), Sun 6.6.10, Morning
Dawn Landscaping of the fenced and barricaded area seems to be the top priority at the checkpoints through which Palestinian workers enter.
At both checkpoints the greenery is flourishing: seasonal flowers (water, water!!!), young citrus trees; in the middle of one of the gardens at the Eyal checkpoint they also "planted" an environmental sculpture made of junk (see photos); green benches placed around a little plaza under construction. Decorations, decorations. And the new shelters from the sun and rain! In the wake of all that investment the workers won't want to go to their jobs, but just crowd around in the shade of the awnings and sit at the low plastic tables drinking the coffee available in the wooden shed (at Irtah)..
The entrance to the asphalted parking lot at Irtah has been closed to vehicles coming to pick up Palestinian workers (while a large area is available to the few vehicles belonging to those working at the crossing), and people exiting the facility have only a narrow path paved with decorative stones, following by paving stones and two steps.
The checkpoints are painted in the colors of the Orient - walls pale reddish-brown like the Saharan sands, and the railings are painted the blue of a Fijan lagoon. The fences, the concertina wire, the armed guards stationed above those coming through - they tell the real story. In any case, the early-rising laborers are treated worse than the environment around them.
They're the men and women who clean Israel (streets, hospitals, private homes), pick its fruits, build the spacious buildings of its citizens whose eyes see the benefits these laborers provide but are blind to their cost. We hear the same complaints that we've heard on previous occasions: the crossing opens late (at 5, rather than at 4 like on other days of the week) on Friday, which is a short day; the contempt of the inspection staff who lord it over the Palestinians they check; tearing up ID cards; no separate line for women...how often must this be repeated??? And the excuses???
The checkpoint opened at 4. The EAPPI volunteers are on the "Palestinian" side, counting how many people enter today. They say the Irtah checkpoint is calm compared to the one at Bethlehem, where people crowd together and climb on the fences to get a place in line. On the path alongside the fenced corridor we saw a revolving gate we hadn't seen previously. The entry path is partly empty at this hour, but more people continue to arrive.
At 04:30 the path looks full of people, at least as far as the falafel stand. The revolving gate allows 10-15 people through at a time. Sometimes no one is let through for a few minutes.
A man going back to Tulkarm says he wasn't allowed through because of a problem with his permit (lacking a common language, we couldn't determine what the problem was).
At first the voice giving instructions over the PA system is calm, mild, quiet. As the checkpoint became more crowded, and people were delayed inside the facility, the disembodied voice became tenser and louder, giving instructions in faulty Arabic, mixed with Hebrew. A new language is created at the checkpoint.
At the exit area a man from Nur A-Shams, near Tulkarm, tells us that although he doesn't live very far from the checkpoint he arrives at 02:30-02:45 in order to be on time to his job cleaning streets in one of the cities in the area. At least he earns the minimum wage (NIS 20 plus), and his employers are safety conscious and provide protection against the dust.
We tried to count how many people exit the checkpoint during periods of 5 minutes - between 83-133.Miki P. called a little after 05:00 and told us that an EAPPI volunteer at Eyal reported terrible crowding, pressure, pushing and considerable tension - even though the checkpoint opened on time. She also described conditions there as similar to those at the Bethlehem checkpoint.
We left about 05:50. The EAPPI volunteers reported that 2500 people went through so far.
06:12 We reached Eyal. The area in front of the checkpoint is filled with people, all bitterly complaining. Nostalgia for the past has made people forget how bad it was. People say that it was better when the army ran the checkpoint. There was a commander, and someone was in charge. Now there's no one to complain to. But the security personnel are developing an esprit de corps, and reply to those who complain (according to what we're told), "We provide better security than the army. The army sleeps on the job".
One man reports that he entered the facility at 04:00 and only now exited; another says that only one window is open and additional inspectors come on only at 06:00. We heard complaints that the female inspectors detach the plastic from people's ID, and then tear it off and tell the person to get a new ID. They tear it off under the counter, out of sight, according to the complaints. People feel it's done intentionally. A person without an ID has to lose a week of work until he's issued a new one. They say this has been going on for a month.
"Why don't they have a line for elderly men, 50 and over?"
"They put 15-20 people in a room measuring 1.5 by 2 meters."
"They create the conditions where everyone is tense and under pressure and then say that it's the Arabs who cause problems," says one of the people waiting, before we get to the facility itself.
When Annelien holds her phone to use it to count how many people exit during a 5 minute period, a security guard faces us on the other side of the bars and says, in an Anglo-Saxon accent (!), "You're not taking photographs, right?" We counted 113 people during 5 minutes. We called the EAPPI volunteer. They left the checkpoint at 06:30, because things had calmed down.
We left at 06:45.