At 4.05am a woman exits the carousel. The carousel won’t turn, and she is locked inside (for the first few minutes the carousel is not in constant motion, and practically all those exiting Eyal terminal get locked in). She is from Qalqilya, arrives at the terminal by 1am to get a good place in the queue. When the army operated the checkpoint, she says, things were much better. This is an opinion shared by many of the people I spoke with. She tells me there are some goods that are not allowed through the checkpoint – sugar and oil, for example – and she also describes a big glass facility, which is said to be cancerous.
About two weeks ago a private security company began managing the Eyal Terminal. The operation of checkpoints by civilian companies is part of the civilianization of the occupation. Less and less military, more and more “normative”.
The terminal is open for Palestinians from 4am. I met people from Qalqilya, Nablus. The arrive early to secure their place in the queue. If anyone is late for the ride to work, they lose a day’s work. Most of the people going through are adults, over 50. Most work in construction or agriculture. One woman told that she works at an old-age home in a nearby kibbutz. They exit the carousels, and then buckle their belts, put their shoes back on.
Here are some things I heard two days ago, July 12, 2009, between 3.45am to 8.30am:
The “Rooms” – some of them tell me, terrified, of the “rooms”. They are taken into a very narrow cell, groups of six each time, where their IDs or inspected. They wait there about half an hour. It is a wait that may cost them a day’s work.
Food rationing – a man of 45 years old told me that his food was sent to the dustbin, fresh meat: “they threw away 60 shekels worth”. After that he told me the instructions were not consistent. Sometimes they throw away a can of tuna, and on other days they don’t. Two women tell that a bottle of oil and a bottle full of olives are not allowed. Read more on the food rationing at Irtah checkpoint, in an article by Amira Hass.
(the reason provided for the rationing is the fear of unsupervised trade of food. The permit is for taking food for personal consumption over a day’s work. In itself, the prohibition is legitimate. The situation is twisted in a much earlier stage, when citizens of one country work in another.
A joint pass for men and women – Many women complain of the joint pass. For them, this is the main problem of the checkpoint, even more than the food rationing, the early rise. “I’m a mother with children, it’s not right this way,” says one of them.
The inspection – including inspection of the bag and its contents (mainly the food), the IDs and entry permits to Israel, the fingerprints and the screennig booths. One man joked, saying “we’re all working at the nuclear reactor in Dimona.” Another asked: “Is this South Africa?”
The screening booth – many of those passing through here tell of the full body screening booth. They need to go in it, stand and raise their hands. Each one stays in the booth for several seconds. Everyone goes in the booth, it’s part of the routine inspection (not even random). It’s absolutely clear that this is a new device that has not been used previously in the checkpoints (certainly not the metal detector, with which the Palestinians are well-acquainted). Many say that they heard a daily exposure to the booth can be cancerous (I could not imagine it. I am not familiar with anything of the sort from airports. Later on, when I arrived home, I called Physicians for Human Rights. They are not familiar with the device either and have not seen it yet, but similar testimonies have reached them as well).
A man in his fifties from Shlush (south of Nablus): up to four months ago, he would enter Israel through ‘Azun ‘Atme. Now that’s impossible, he goes through here. He works in construction at Rosh ha-‘Ayin. Another man, from Salfit, also in his fifties tells: he got here at 4am, and got out by 6am. He tells that they are told to go in the carousel in very large groups. Some of those going through are old people, and have no air. Two men from Nablus tell: they got up at midnight, arrived at the terminal at 1.15am to get a good place in the queue. One of them works in Be’er Sheva in agriculture, he still has a long way ahead of him. He stays there overnight, because otherwise he would pay 150 shekels on transportation, and it wouldn’t be worth his while. His permit only allows him a 24 hour stay in Israel. The other man works in a weaving factory in Jaffa. They tell they’re not allowed more than 3 pitas, and also some Hummus.
The sidewalk at the end of the lane, by the parking lot became a prayer area. Some pray elsewhere, by the carousel or in the parking lot, but it seems that most workers agreed to this organized prayer area. Here and there I see groups of men in a long line along the fence, praying.
At the parking lot, some of the lucky ones who went through early, sit down and have breakfast, others fall asleep on the sidewalk.
The drivers who come to pick up the workers are Israeli Palestinians. One, from Kafr-Qasm tells me that he drops off the workers at Geha junction, where they need to catch another ride to work. In the afternoon he picks them up again from Geha junction, then takes them back here, to Eyal terminal.
Eyal terminal, north of Qalqilya, an entry port for workers to legitimate Israel on the West of the Green Line. July 12, 2009, dawn.
Tomorrow – a demolition order for tents.
After that – on the entry of workers who work in settlements, and on owners of agricultural lands.
Click here for a Hebrew version of this post.