For Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water, part I click here.
It is hard to estimate how many workers are here. Certainly several thousands. Mostly men, but here and there some women can be noticed. The carousel does not turn constantly. It stops, once for two minutes, then for nine minutes. Sometimes someone gets stuck inside it. Every time the carousel opens, they start running towards the entrance posts, knowing that the carousel will stop, and whoever does not make it through will have to wait longer. It’s very hard to estimate how many go through each time. Once I counted a hundred, eighty, 25, 75, 55.
It is greatly overcrowded. Impossible. The stand on one another. Some climb the fence to bypass the line. Sometimes they get a helping hand, and sometimes they are angrily shoved back up to the other side of the fence. Once in a while an ID will fall to the ground, or a lunchbag. It is hard to find them on the ground, with everyone standing so close. The guy who dropped it will bend down between the running legs, his arms reaching out in the dark, trying to find his belongings among the garbage. Once I saw a bag with pitas and vegetables fall. The worker didn’t stop. He gave up his food and went on running. Someone says to me, “we’re stuffed like sardines here,” as he runs out of the carousel, “do something.” Everyone asked us to do something.
A few men tell that sometimes not everyone manages through. They miss their ride to work and go back home. That’s why there’s so much pressure around the carousel. Everyone wants to get through in time.
The line has not gone shorter at all. The congestion is tremendous. Some light appears, and by now you can see silhouettes of a few people at the end of the line, closer to the pavilion where the line begins. Between the pavilion and the carousel there is a fenced path, where they pack in. A man, 56 years old, with a heart condition stands aside – he’s afraid to go into the line. There have been cases of ambulances taking people from this line to hospital.
Here are photos of the line from 6:30am, after the sun rose (the line didn’t get any shorter. More and more people keep coming). I took the photos one after the other: First – after the carousels, at the entrance to the terminal; the second – before the carousels; the third – beyond the yellow gate. The line extends for a few hundred meters after that. I couldn’t manage another photo beyond the fence (see a note on photography at the Irtah checkpoint below).
5:10am – the parking lot
After leaving the terminal, they’re in a different mood. They greet each other and us with “Sabah al-nur” (good morning). Someone whose face is familiar from the Huwwara checkpoint smiles at me and greets me. You can see some praying at the parking lot and by the path on the exit from the terminal.
Most of them round up in circles for breakfast until their ride comes.
Someone invites me to join breakfast. When he sees me hesitate he roles baked potatoes in a pita, and dips it in Za’atar and olive oil. He offers me olives, too. As we eat, he tells me he’s from Tul Karm, a father of three. He waited in line three hours. Inside the terminal his examination took about half an hour. He works picking oranges in Lod. Thirty shekels for a day’s work (about $7). Sometimes 40 ($9.5). He doesn’t get food there, so he brings from home.
S., also a resident of Tul Karm, tells the following: he gets to the terminal at 2:30am. Sometimes they throw him in a room, take his ID. In those cases, he will lose his ride. Sometimes the soldiers who are supposed to examine him talk on the phone, and thus waste time. After showing the ID and the permit, they need to have their fingerprints takes. He works in electricity. He doesn’t have a permanent place, sometimes he goes to Petah Tikva and sometimes to Giv’atayim (Israeli towns). He works with the same contractor, and the manager takes them every time somewhere else. He is 33 years old.
A resident of Nablus: We were told that Deir Sharaf checkpoint will open today at 4am, but they opened it today at 5am. They waited about an hour on the road, that’s why they got late to Irtah. He’s happy he didn’t miss his ride to work, and runs off on his way.
Irtah checkpoint / Sha’ar Ephraim, Sunday morning, May 3, 2009, between 4:40am to 7:15. Irtah is south of Tul Karm, on road 557, an entry terminal for workers from the northern West Bank into Israel. Most work in construction and agriculture.
On photography at checkpoints in general and in Irtah specifically:
I studied photography (once upon a time, a long time ago) and I’m interested in photography for years now (in my amateur way. I wanted to be a photographer, but things happened differently). None of my excellent teachers prepared me for conditions as those I encounter at the checkpoints. It’s hard to take pictures beyond so many fences. In Irtah – also in pitch darkness. My photos are bad – and this is all I have. I don’t take photographs of a beautiful world. I photograph the dirt. I am a photographer of back yards.
A moment of satisfaction, en marge, in honor of my blog’s anniversary, sometime next week (Hebrew blog anniversary, that is):
Antony Loewenstein, an eminent Sydney-based blogger, recenty published an article on the role of blogs in covering current events. There are numerous blogs covering the situation in the West Bank. And still he chose this blog as an example for coverage of Palestine. He described this blog as “detailed”. You will find me (linked) on the last paragraph of this page. Thank you.