Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim)

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Vivi K., Naomi B.T., Nurit P., Leora A. (reporting and photographing),Charles K-

04:55 Somewhere inside Qalanswa we turn onto the access road to the crossing. It’s dark and cold. Figures walk on the roadside, wrapped and swaddled. Here and there groups of men huddle by the side of the road around small bonfires. A group of women in traditional dress surrounds one fire.

05:00 We reach the access road to the crossing. Congestion - jitney taxis and minibuses. We parked and walked toward the crossing. As we approached we saw more and more men wrapped up against the cold, sitting, standing, milling around, smoking. Waiting. It became more crowded and congested the closer we came. We spoke to a few people. They told us the checkpoint opened at 03:45 this morning, the crossing proceeds smoothly and there were no unusual incidents. It takes about thirty minutes to go through at this hour. They say 20,000 people cross this morning and many are still waiting to go through.

We walked toward the checkpoint, bypassed the exit and the large area where many who’d come through waited. We went through a wide, empty hanger standing next to the separation fence and approached the crossing from the side. We stood watching through the fence for about twenty minutes until the cold got the better of us. We saw them (just men) pushing and crowding into the revolving gatesinfo-icon from the fenced area above which were high coils of razorwire. We couldn’t see what was happening beyond the mass of people crowded at the revolving gates. From time to time someone climbed the fence trying to bypass the line, hung on, made his way through the coils of wire and jumped down into the packed crowd. Very dangerous. The wire and the posts supporting it are unstable and dangerous.

Each revolving gate, constructed of horizontal bars set close together on a central axis, allows only one person each time it turns. They’re remotely controlled and open or close suddenly with no prior notice. We counted four revolving gates. Only two or three actually operated (it was hard to tell from where we stood). Those waiting press against the fence and when the revolving gates open they go through and hurry to the fenced corridor and then crowd again in a line to go through the gate for the metal detector while passing their knapsacks, bags, plastic bags and cellphones through a separate window. That was all we could see from where we stood.

The revolving gates remain open between half a minute and one minute. Then the clump of people goes through the metal detector and then there’s a break of 3-5 minutes when the revolving gates are closed, the crossing corridor is empty, those seeking to cross crowd against the fence and it doesn’t seem like anything is happening.
From time to time a woman’s voice announces over the PA system, “Resume the routine.”

We returned to the main entrance of the building. We couldn’t come near. We spoke to a few people who said they leave home every morning at 02:30 or 03:00. That the congestion and disorder in the line is stressful and dangerous. That people become frightened and are injured every day. That at the end of their workday in Israel, about 4 or 5 o’clock, the return through the checkpoint goes smoothly, with no problems. They do it six days a week.

05:42 We left