Irtah (Sha'ar Efrayim), Sun 10.5.09, Morning
04:15 Irtach ( near Tulkarm)
I arrived at the inspection installation with three guests, two of whom were tourists from abroad, (a photographer from a German photographic agency, who works in Moscow, and his girlfriend who works for an advertising agency in Moscow). The third was my ex-husband.
Through the fences we saw that the square in front of the carousels was crowded with thousands of men and women. They were all waiting patiently, calmly. There was no shouting. Those closest to us greeted us with "Good Morning" (either in Hebrew or in Arabic). They were glad to see us and called to us: "Come every day!" and "When you are here everything goes quicker". Someone called to us: "I feel like in Guantamo Bay". Many women said: "They have to separate us from the men".
At the installation there are 4 carousels but only two are in operation. If one used the other two one could create a separate 'sleeve' for the women. This time the carousels opened at 04:23 which made the workers, who have been waiting since 04:00, very happy. When we are not there often it only opens nearer to 05:00.
During the turning of the carousels approximately 50 people can go into the installation. Having passed through the carousels, the inspected reach a gate with metal detectors. The loudspeakers instructed them to take any metal items out of their clothes and food bags, and to take off their shoes if they have any metal in them. Using a stop watch we estimated that the carousels turn about every 2 minutes during which time they let through about 50 people at a time. That means that every carousel opens up about 30 times an hour and lets through about 1500 people in that time. Until 06:30 on average about 3000 people go through the installation. After the metal detectors the workers go past a machine which tests a full handprint. A 50 years old single mother of 10 who has been going through the installation every day for over ten years, to go to her work at the nursery in Moshav Nitzanei Oz, was sent back because her handprint did not match her previous ones. It seems that an injury or an over use of bleach can alter a handprint. We talked on the phone to her employer who came to the installation and tried to convince the person in charge to let her through. The person in charge agreed that when the DCO opens at 08:00, the employer would speak to whoever was in charge there and ask him to let her pass. Eventually a new card was issued her and she got to work at 09:30.
Some of the people said they came from Kafr Ya'bed and that normally they would do through the installation at Rit'aa. But since they had closed that installation three months ago they have to go through Irtach. Traveling there incurs more expenses and forces them to get up two hours earlier. Many of those in the queue said they have to get up at 02:00 in order to reach the installation on time. They hardly have enough time for sleeping and for their family.
At about 04:30 a uniformed guard appeared and asked us what we were doing there. I showed him the 'Machsom Watch' tag and he started arguing with me. I told him that yesterday the carousels opened at 04:45 and that today they opened at 04:23 only because of our appearance. He claimed that I was a liar but eventually went away.
At about 06:30 we moved to the carousels at the exit from the installation and we parked in the exit parking lot. The parking lot is divided in two. Most of it is reserved for vehicles of the guarding company. A small part is used by vehicles waiting to collect workers and take them to their work places. This creates congestion and added pressure. Those who have been inspected told us that the main reason for the congestion and the delays is the small number of personnel at the installation. There are 16 check posts at the installation but only 4 are manned. The private contractor who leased the installation wants to reduce his expenses by reducing the number of personnel to a minimum. He also does not supply enough toilet paper in the toilets in the installation. One of the guards arrived and told me that it was forbidden to take photographs at the installation. I told him that I had specific instructions from the lawyers of Machsom Watch and that I was acting accordingly. He asked us not to photograph the guards. I told him that I did not photograph them, only those who were being inspected, and only with their full consent. The guard identified himself as the person in charge of the shift and his name was Meir. He left commenting that I was 'nuts'.
Many of those inspected asked to be photographed and asked us to bring newspapers and TV photographers. They know that the more their situation is exposed to the world the bigger the pressure would be on Israel to stop the occupation, and in the meantime to safeguard human rights rigorously.
Summary: Daily shifts of Machsom Watch can reduce the suffering of those inspected. If 14 members of Machsom Watch volunteer to attend a dawn shift once a fortnight this will avoid a lot of suffering. It is necessary to demand a separate queue for women and for the elderly. We have to demand the manning of all 16 check posts. That will reduce the waiting considerably. One has to insist on the erection of rain and sun shelters at the square.