Eyal, Sun 22.3.09, Morning
Translator: Orna B.
When we got there at 04:18 dozens of workers and many minibuses (approx 30-40) were already waiting beyond the border passage on the Israeli side. According to the group of foreign nationals who observe every week on the Palestinian side, the passage opened only at 4:04.
We split up:
A. Micky: I stood at the entrance between the concrete blocks on the other side of the
Security Road, where I could observe the queue of pedestrians from the other side of the fence. At this hour a very long queue of workers stretched all the way to the suburbs of Qalqiliya. The workers reaching this gate go through one narrow carousel, then through a narrow lane of about 20 meters, and then are 'swallowed' into the passage.
The turnstyle opens for a short time and the workers go through, and then is pauses. Here is the count I made between 4:36 and 5:30:
4:36-38 : 19 workers. A pause of 8 minutes.
4:46-50: 129 workers. A pause of one minute.
4:51-55: 165 workers. A pause of 12 minutes.
5:07-13: 239 workers. A pause of 4 minutes.
5:17-20: 120 workers. A pause of 7 minutes.
5:27-30 97 workers.
An average rate of 850 workers per hour.
B. Hagar: I stood at the exit from the Israeli side for 30 minutes, and counted the Palestinian pedestrians leaving the inspections in the passage, between 4:32 – 5:02. Overall I counted 375 people going through. An average rate of 750 per hour. During that 1/2 hour I heard that 5 people were refused passage (but it is possible that I did not hear of all the refusals since I only heard a female soldier who announced them on the loudspeakers, by calling out: DCO.)
Usually the refusal was as a result of the inability of the palm reader to read their palms. The refused waited from this very early hour until about 8:30 which is the approximate hour of the opening of the DCO. They lost a day's work.
C. Observation inside the passage.
According to the Internationals who entered the queue, beyond the turnstyle there were two open sleeves, at the end of each there was a magnometer and 2 computers. All in all – 2 magnometers and 4 computers.
At the passage there are 8 computer posts but according to Palestinian witnesses no more than 4 posts are ever open at the same time. The Internationals reported by phone that indeed at 5:10 4 computer posts were open, but the 4th was manned by a single female soldier, apparently a trainee. The Palestinians outside complained that there are only 3 computer posts open.
Hagar reporting: Between 5:00 -5:30 I observed inside the passage itself, standing by the inspecting posts. At that time I counted 4 inspection posts open most of the time, but at times only 3.
3 female soldiers and a male soldier were sitting inside each inspection booth. Those going through reach the post and lay their ID on the tray by the hatch, they lay their hand upon a palm reader and their photo and details appear on the soldiers'screen. She/he nods to the worker to go through. Most of those inspected touch their permits to the window screen so that the soldier can see it, but at times the soldier nods to him to carry on regardless and he emerges from the inspection. During the minutes I spent observing there, the queue was never more than 5 people long in each queue. If there are no problems, the inspection itself lasts a few seconds. Still, the number of people going through at this hour was no more than 1000.
The Military Policewomen were generally indifferent to my standing there, and seemed mainly bored with their job. One even smiled at me. On the other hand the male soldiers on shift were hostile. While I was standing at the exit from the checkpoint, when a male soldier approached me and wanted to know what I was doing there. The same soldier saw me again (while walking around on the glass ceiling above the inspection room) as I was observing by the inspection posts, and demanded that I leave the area. I cannot remember his exact words but he was rude.
5:30 – 6:00
The queue of workers stretches for 200-300 meters. At around 5:35 the flow of the queue was disturbed by workers worried because of previous experiences. They began to run towards the gate, pushing and shoving. Some started climbing over the carousel and threw their belongings to the other side. A terrible congestion formed while all tried to go through at the same time. 2-3 people entered the carousel together which slowed its operation and it hardly moved, and so the number of people going through was reduced. Some Palestinians reported that one worker broke his leg. Later we found out that that was fortunately false although the man did receive a very strong blow to his leg. Hagar approached to photograph those waiting to get in (without getting onto the security dirt road). At that time the shoving started and people started to climb on top of each other. The soldiers arrived and told us to leave the area, claiming it was a military zone, without producing any document to prove it. We asked to see their commander. He talked to us on the phone, also rudely (we do not know his rank, only his name – Dotan.) The soldiers turned hostile and threatened to call the police and to confiscate the camera we used to take the photos of the queue. We were forced to leave and went to the parking lot. But their hostility did not stop: when we got into the car and were trying to leave the parking lot, a jeep with soldiers arrived. They stopped us and asked to see our IDs. The soldiers were not satisfied with looking at our IDs but took them away and disappeared. We wasted 15 minutes trying to get the IDs back. We left the checkpoint without completing the observation.
Before we left we had a chance to talk to some workers.
A relatively elderly worker who had gone through, 'volunteered' the analysis of the problems:
1. Each time they bring in new soldiers and until they learn their role they are very inefficient at letting people through.
2. Women are waiting in the same queue and so despite the congestion people have to try and make room for them and protect their space with their bodies. And indeed we saw women going through early in the morning waiting apart from the men by the fence, hidden by the overgrowth (apparently waiting for their employers to arrive).
3. Others told us that many times if one arrives at 5:30 they do not go through in time, their employers do not wait for them and they have to go back and lose a day's work.
4. At random we asked people emerging where they had come from. Most were from Qaliqiliya and the region. A few came from Jenin (via Tulkarm) and from Nablus but from outside the checkpoints (Hawara etc).
5. Later, after 6:00 people from Nablus started to emerge and they told me that soldiers at the Barrels Gate at Dir Sharef opened the passage only at 5:10, despite the fact that when they opened they did not inspect anyone and the whole waiting crowd went through all at once.
We had already left the passage when suddenly we got a call from the Internationals reporting that a jeep of soldiers reached the carousel. The soldiers got out of the jeep and shouted at the crowd of workers trying to go through the carousel one by one. A minute later they threw two shock grenades at the feet of people who seconds earlier went through the carousel. Following that the startled people went back and formed one long line.
We contacted the DCO headquarters and were told that indeed shock grenades had been thrown into the crowd which is what should be done when there is 0vercrowding. When I asked the guy on duty at the headquarters if he knew that they had thrown shock grenades and if that was according to regulations, his answer was that he was not on shift and he had no idea if this was according to regulation. Later we enquired with the lawyer Smadar Ben Nathan who was outraged to hear of shock grenades used as a method of controlling the queue. She asked me for the report of the incident. (A reminder – 2 weeks ago an American guy was severely wounded by the shell of a shock grenade at a demonstration at Na'alin. Also a female activist from New Pofile was hurt in her face by the shell of a teargas grenade, at a demonstration at Um el Fahem against the march of Merzel and Ben Gvir.)
The Internationals informed us that they had left the place, when according to them about 3500 workers had gone through and 250 people were still in the queue to cross towards the parking lot, hoping their employers would be waiting for them.
Throughout our stay in the area there was no rep of the DCI there. Apparently he was sent there only at 6:30 after receiving our report about the congestion at the carousels. We could not verify that he actually got there.
Several primary conclusions:
If on average 3500 people go through the checkpoint every morning there is no way they can all get out of the inspections in time to get to their jobs on time. According to our random counting, about 4 hours are needed to process such a quantity of people and the last ones will emerge at 8 o'clock and will lose their day's work without a doubt. Even those who precede them – let us not forget that they leave the checkpoint, then board their transport and then they get stuck in the traffic jams of the Dan region. Therefore those who leave by 6:00 can reach their workplaces on time. Those who leave after 6:30 get stuck in terrible traffic jams. That explains the congestion and the pressure in the queues after 5:30, and indeed the queues lasted till after 7:15 and who knows if the employers were waiting.
a. There is a need to double the number of those who man the posts so that the workers can all go through by 6:00.
b. There should be several lanes for the entrance. It is impossible to expect that hundreds of people who all arrive at the same time will keep an orderly queue when their livelihood depends on the rhythm of progress of the queue.
c. It is essential to have a separate queue for women as well as a separate waiting area.
d. The soldiers' easy access to weapons and their light finger on the trigger turn the checkpoint into a quasi war zone. An army that lets its soldiers use shock grenades for controlling queues, when no danger is foreseeable to anyone is unforgivable and intolerable.
e. Although it is unpleasant to see the crowding of people towards the carousels and it is unpleasant to see young people pushing and stepping over older ones, one can understand the cause for it: if one does not leave the area by 6:30 one loses a day's work. Every day lost shortens the period in which one can earn. If a permit is given for 6 months, and that period includes Jewish holidays in which there is closure in the territories, and no passage of workers, and if every worker has to waste days running after the renewal of his work permit, the actual number of days a worker has in which to earn a living is not large.
f. The lack of public transport, the lack of adequate lighting outside the inspection hall, the lack of covered waiting area, toilets, sitting places such as exist in all other border crossing areas in Israel, are all symptoms of the fact that this passage is no more then a checkpoint, such as one find inside the territories. An awe-inspiring, sophisticated checkpoint, but all in all just a checkpoint.
There is no security reason to justify such a humiliating treatment of people that Israel gains a lot by their work. After all , everyone who goes through the checkpoint had been inspected and approved by the Security Forces , and had gone through 7 sections of a bureaucratic hell, and on their way to Israel have gone through 2 or 3 checkpoints before reaching Eyal Passage.
This 'border crossing' is shameful even if one forgets the occupation for a second.