torsdag 18. november 2010

Checkpoint duty.....

The alarm clock goes off at 03.20 and I am about to go on my first checkpoint duty. My colleague in Tulkarem and I get quietly out of bed so as not to wake our two still sleeping teammates. It is pitch dark outside as we walk up to the taxi station. We had ordered the taxi the evening before so the driver was waiting for us. When we got to the checkpoint area a quarter to 4 the salesmen with the market stalls were already there selling tea, coffee, sweets and fruit.

The queue-up "cages"
I am on a placement visit to colleagues in Tulkarem, a town in the north western West Bank. One of the duties of the Tulkarem team is to be present at the Taybe checkpoint and count men and women waiting to go through and to register any human rights violations. We are also counting those people who for some reason are returned and ask them why they cannot go through. There may be several reasons. Some of them are; fingerprints may not match those on the computer, the work permit may be creased at edges and they cannot read it on the scanner or the employer has cancelled his permit without informing the worker - or they just do not know why they were refused to let through.
The data we register is reported to UNOCHA, ICRC and various human rights organisations (i.a. Machsom Watch and Btselem) . They want the data logged as witness reports.
My teammate Johan and two salesmen in the checkpoint area
The Taybe checkpoint normally opens at 04.00. On an ordinary morning you will see hundreds of Palestinians who work in Israel queuing up in the narrow cages from around 03.00. This morning was the third morning of Eid, so when we arrived not more than about 40 men and 2 women were waiting in the cages in front of the turnstiles leading into the checkpoint. Inside the checkpoint the people are cautiously controlled, led through a metal detector, a fingerprint machine, and a verification of their work permit.
The turnstiles in the entrance of the checkpoint
I saw one woman crouching in the front and the line of men sitting and standing behind in the cage mumbling, smoking and drinking tea. On the Israeli side of the checkpoint I saw the employers' busses waiting to take the people to work. We arrived 15 minutes before the checkpoint was to open. At 04.10 it had still not opened and we decided to call the Humanitarian Hot Line (HHL). The HHL is operated by Israeli army staff, and they may often help to sort out problems when checkpoints are not opening on time. They promised to find out about the late opening. After 10 more minutes the checkpoint still was not opened and we called the HHL again. This time they told us it will not open till 06.00 due to the Eid holiday. So we walked off to one of the stalls and had some tea - and then suddenly the checkpoint opened and people rushed towards the turnstiles.

Waiting to come through
It did not take too long before the comparatively small queue of people were through. This morning everything went relatively smoothly, however, my Tulkarem teammates tell me that on ordinary mornings chaos is routine.

Nevertheless, it made a huge impact on me to see these people in such a humiliating situation having to queue up in these narrow cages for hours not getting any information as to when the checkpoint will open. As I walked home I could not rid that picture from my mind - and I feel humbly impressed by the patience of these people who every morning have to wait hours only to get to work.

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