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At West Bank checkpoint, a fleeting victory for Palestinian laborers

Thousands of Palestinian laborers refused to pass through a West Bank checkpoint in protest of overcrowding and bad treatment from Israeli guards. A day later, their demands were met at the privatized checkpoint, but many believe the improvements won’t last long.

Palestinian laborers arrive at the first of eight metal carousels they must pass through in the Sha’ar Ephraim checkpoint separating the West Bank and Israel, December 22, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian laborers arrive at the first of eight metal carousels they must pass through in the Sha’ar Ephraim checkpoint separating the West Bank and Israel, December 22, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The Palestinian laborers passing through the “Sha’ar Ephraim” checkpoint in the early morning are a strange sight by any standard. Those passing through before dawn mostly look stressed, busy, tired and retreated into themselves. “The hour or two spent inside the checkpoint are more difficult than an entire work day,” one of the workers told me Monday morning. But that wasn’t the case on Monday.

Following a strike that took place a day earlier, in which thousands of workers from the Tulkarm, Nablus and Jenin areas decided not to cross into Israel in protest of their treatment at the checkpoint, they walked around with smiles and a sense of victory showing on their faces. They said it was as if a magic wand had been waved; their treatment inside the checkpoint suddenly improved. Inspection points were suddenly operating efficiently, and the guards were treating the elderly and women with respect — exactly as they demanded in their strike the day before.

The workers crowded outside the checkpoint — who were waiting for their employers to pick them up or for vans to take them to Tel Aviv and central Israel — were calm and appeared satisfied. “This is all because of the strike,” said one man with whom I spoke. But nobody was rushing to celebrate: “Two weeks, a month, two months — everything will go back to the way it was. Until the next strike,” said A., a resident of Jenin. Others we spoke to expressed similar sentiments.

The Palestinian laborers probably know what they’re talking about. Four or five years ago they struck for a day and refused to return. Thousands of workers lost a day’s worth of low wages in central Israel because they refused to accept the daily humiliation they were forced to endure at the checkpoint. When I spoke with them at the time they thought the improvements would be more permanent. A few years later, the laborers feel that without a strike every once in a while the situation will deteriorate all over again. To the best of my knowledge, it is the only checkpoint at which laborers organized such a strike — certainly two strikes.

“We work hard all day, arrive home in the evening, don’t see our kids, go to sleep, and at two or three in the morning wake up again in order to get in line at the checkpoint. They don’t even let us dream,” said N., a laborer from Tulkarm. Most of those whom we interviewed asked to remain anonymous. A day earlier, a Palestinian from Bethlehem who gave an interview to Israel’s Channel 1 lost his job in Jerusalem. Nobody wants to take that chance.

‘One officer plays with her hair, another gets on the phone’

The Sha’ar Ephraim checkpoint, which is between Taibe and Tulkarm, was privatized in 2006. The checkpoint is under the responsibility of the Israeli Defense Ministry, but in practice is operated by private security guards from a company called “White Snow”. There are 16 inspection points inside the terminal but the Defense Ministry only funds the operation of nine of them. The laborers claim that the security company occasionally tries to squeeze out more profit at their expense by opening only six, five or sometimes even four of the inspection points — which makes the long lines even longer.

Palestinian laborers at the Sha’ar Ephraim checkpoint separating the West Bank and Israel, December 22, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian laborers at the Sha’ar Ephraim checkpoint separating the West Bank and Israel, December 22, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

According to a number of the workers and Rachel Afek of ‘Machsom Watch,’ an Israeli organization that visits the checkpoint fairly often, even nine inspection points aren’t enough to deal with the heavy foot traffic of 6,000 to 9,000 people that pass through between four in the morning every day (the checkpoint’s opening hour) and six in the morning. Monday morning the laborers said that between nine and 12 inspection points were operating.

Some 40,000 permitted Palestinian workers enter Israel every day, according to various estimates, and another 40,000 un-permitted workers enter in other less-official ways. The laborers arrive from all over the West Bank, which is ruled in its entirety by Israel. Israeli settlers can enter and exit the West Bank without any difficulty or inspection.

“From our perspective, the problem is that everyone must pass through in a short period of time, and with that pressure comes the bad treatment from the guards,” said S., a Palestinian laborer who has entered Israel almost every day for the past 17 years. “The guards curse elderly people, arbitrarily delay people for an hour, an hour and a half — for no reason. You get to the officer and and then she decides to rearrange her hair, doesn’t speak to you, and you’re stuck. Another one gets on the phone. Suddenly, in the middle of the busiest hours, they have a shift change and everybody has to wait.”

“On Fridays [the checkpoint] only opens at five in the morning, and then the wait is even longer. When you arrive you have no way of knowing how long you’ll be there. People push each other, people are injured. On the other side, (the Palestinian side) ambulances wait and take somebody away at least once a week. A few people have died here in recent years.”

‘Striking is the only option’

Nobody organized the strike on Sunday and nobody expected it. A group of laborers who entered the checkpoint compound, somewhere in between the first two of eight metal carousels through which they must pass, got angry about the delays and spontaneously declared a strike. Thousands of laborers waiting outside joined them. Thousands of people lost a day’s wages and went home at around 7 a.m. after negotiating with representatives from the army and “White Snow,” who promised to improve the conditions.

(The last carousel at the Sha’ar Ephraim checkpoint, December 22, 2014. Video by Oren Ziv/Activstills.org)

“We don’t have a union, we don’t have a leadership, we don’t have a mother or a father to speak to them,” explains S.. “But the moment that some people decided [to strike] everyone agreed with them. And look — today we’re passing through smoothly. If every day was like this I could wake up at four or five in the morning instead of at 3:30. You know what a difference that would make?”

“Everyone joined the strike because they know that it’s the only way to apply pressure on the private company,” said N. from Tulkarm. “If we don’t go through the checkpoint they don’t make money, and therefore, when we refuse together it works very well, at least temporarily. Look, they know that nobody who passes through here wants trouble. The people who come here are laborers, with magnetic identity cards. Anyone who wants to make trouble goes around the fence, not the checkpoint. So why must they treat us this way? When you strangle people it destroys their lives and causes them to get even angrier. When they let people pass through they want to live in peace.”

“You need to remember that everyone who uses this checkpoint has gone through background checks by the Shin Bet in order to get an entry permit. Every day they undergo further checks at the checkpoint: biometric identity verification, bag searches, body searches, everything,” says Rachel Afek of Machsom Watch. “These are people who do this every day in order to make a living. Why can’t they open more inspection points? Why can’t the checkpoint be open all night long?”

It’s still dark outside as we speak to the laborers. They gather around a small cafeteria that sells coffee, tea and pastries. Some of them sit in the checkpoint’s only shelter, far too small to serve the many thousands who pass through each day. Others pray in groups, others still light small fires to stay warm.

Palestinian laborers pray outside the Sha’ar Ephraim checkpoint separating the West Bank and Israel, December 22, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian laborers pray outside the Sha’ar Ephraim checkpoint separating the West Bank and Israel, December 22, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The flow of workers in the checkpoint doesn’t let up for hours, but eventually it starts to thin out. They find their transports to another day of work in Israel’s central cities. The employers don’t wait for anybody. There’s always somebody willing to take the spot of someone who doesn’t make it through.

Palestinian laborers wait outside the Sha’ar Ephraim checkpoint separating the West Bank and Israel for their Israeli employers to pick them up, December 22, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian laborers wait outside the Sha’ar Ephraim checkpoint separating the West Bank and Israel for their Israeli employers to pick them up, December 22, 2014. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Monday morning the laborers from Tulkarm, Jenin and Nablus went to work with raised heads and pride about their small victory against the establishment. The only question is how long it will last this time.

“White Snow,” the private security company that operates the checkpoint, declined to answer questions and referred us to the Defense Ministry spokesperson. The Defense Ministry hadn’t responded at the time of publication. Their response will be published here if and when we receive it.

This article was first published on +972’s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Weiss

      Rudolph Hess would be impressed with the efficiency that the IDF makes life miserable for the captive “underclass”.

      And the “brilliant” Israelis wonder why they resist…

      And yet ANOTHER reason why I am Ashamed to be Jewish.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard

        What are your other reasons?

        Reply to Comment
        • Bryan

          Numerous Jewish critics have provided a galaxy of reasons, with which you may be familiar, Richard. These include the widespread use of torture, detention without trial, punitive house demolitions, racist legislation, overt discrimination, contempt for international humanitarian law and of the UN and the international community, frequent resort to disproportionate force, and blatant war-mongering, repeated massacres of civilians, refusal to enter into meaningful peace negotiations, the building of illegal settlements on stolen land, the extended occupation of conquered land, abuse of the Holocaust, ethnic cleansing, denial of the Naqba, the denial of free access to religious sites, contempt for human life (e.g. 521 Gazan children killed in Operation Protective Edge versus 1 Israeli child killed in that conflict), the cynical distortion of the truth, the attempt to suppress open debate, the manipulation of the policy of the US and other states by wealthy elites, double standards in so many areas, such as demanding a Jewish right of self-determination whilst denying an equivalent Palestinian right. Turning from matters of state policy, to matters of ideology, critics are also very uncomfortable with the contradiction of the universalism that developed in the Diaspora, the cynical exploitation of Diaspora support whilst constantly denigrating life in the Diaspora, contempt for key Jewish values of justice, peace and neighbourly coexistence, absurd notions of Jewish cultural and ethnic supremacy, and the distortion of sacred religious texts, by often secular non-observant leaders who insist on a God-given (and completely unconditional) mandate to occupy a bit of real-estate.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      Hey! I know you guys from Shin Bet are watching these discussions, so in the name of peace I want to tip you off: there’s going to be a revolt in Palestinian nursing homes. Roger Cohen, in his latest New York Times editorial, “What Will Israel Become”, cites a 70 year old Palestinian who says he wants to destroy Israel:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/opinion/sunday/roger-cohen-what-will-israel-become.html

      “There is a growing uneasiness, social, political, economic,” Amos Oz, the novelist, told me in an interview. “There is a growing sense that Israel is becoming an isolated ghetto, which is exactly what the founding fathers and mothers hoped to leave behind them forever when they created the state of Israel.” The author, widely viewed as the conscience of a liberal and anti-Messianic Israel, continued, “Unless there are two states — Israel next door to Palestine — and soon, there will be one state. If there will be one state, it will be an Arab state. The other option is an Israeli dictatorship, probably a religious nationalist dictatorship, suppressing the Palestinians and suppressing its Jewish opponents.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        Pssssst, Bruce, be quiet and listen: BDS gathering “critical mass”!

        “Some 40,000 permitted Palestinian workers enter Israel every day, according to various estimates, and another 40,000 un-permitted workers enter in other less-official ways.”

        Wow! Hey BDS-man (aka Bruce Gould), shouldn’t these Palestinians be boycotting Israel? How come you preach BDS in their name, while they are spitting you in the face, falling all over themselves to get to Israel and earn a good life and calling you and your fellow BDS-thugs morons?

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Nothing typifies better G. Eis’s heartless, clueless denial than this form of “Arbeit Macht Frei” that she spouts here. An intelligent, sophisticated, humane Israeli like Amos Oz, juxtaposed to the coarse romantic-religious-nationalist Eis, says it all.

          Reply to Comment
          • Merav

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phxRZXd6r9E

            ….nobody can hear you brian/Bryan….//…nobody cares about you…..//…nothing will come out of your stalking Ginger….///

            next minute “brian” is going to appear as “bryan” to continue stalking … wait for it…..hilarious..!!

            Reply to Comment
        • Bryan

          Not necessarily Ginger. The BDS movement has been very careful to ensure that the campaign is not anti-Israeli. It calls for targeted activity against “products and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions [that] directly contribute to maintaining, defending or whitewashing the oppression of Palestinians as Israel deliberately tries to boost its image internationally through academic and cultural collaborations”. Divestment “means targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that the likes of the university investment portfolios and pension funds are not used to finance such companies” Thus a small proportion of Palestinian workers seeking menial work in restaurants and on building sites is not necessarily disloyal, but is also hardly surprising given the impoverishment and high unemployment that the occupation has wrought.

          Reply to Comment
          • Merav

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phxRZXd6r9E

            aaaah, the little stalker brian/bryan is at it again….. following Gingi around moaning and groaning for Gingi like the little stalker he is… very envious and jealous; …..yeah, brIan has ADHD and is a compulsive obsessive stalker and has no job….//…but brYan has ADHD and is a compulsive obsessive stalker and has no job….# aaaah brIan and brYan: the SAME canine with two heads….. hilarious! #… keep fooling yourself brIYan …… LOL…..go home little stalker! # what a fool……

            Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        If Israel is becoming an isolated Ghetto why are foreigners busting their guts and wallets to get into ghettos like Meier-on-Rothschild building on Rothschild Blvd in Tel Aviv or slumming it at the Africa-Israel Residences at 7 Rav Kook St. in downtown Jerusalem? It seems that progressives with lots of money do not mind a little bit of isolation in Israel. Fringe left wingers like Amos Oz and their fringe views are a tiny minority of the Israeli public or those who support Israel.

        Reply to Comment
    3. RK

      Proletarian methods of struggle do work.
      Savri says that they “don’t have a leadership” but they do, and it is themselves.

      Reply to Comment
    4. “We work hard all day, arrive home in the evening, don’t see our kids, go to sleep, and at two or three in the morning wake up again in order to get in line at the checkpoint. They don’t even let us dream,” said N., a laborer from Tulkarm. Most of those whom we interviewed asked to remain anonymous. A day earlier, a Palestinian from Bethlehem who gave an interview to Israel’s Channel 1 lost his job in Jerusalem.”

      That is so sad. When the truth is under constant attack and threat, it is the sign of something terrible finally coming to an end, or getting much worse. This can’t continue as it is. Thanks Haggai.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Richard

      It is a sad truth that the Arabs who hate Israel and support Hamas and terroristic attacks against Israel do not see how hard God is in fact reaching out to them to give them blessings that they do not recognize and are not thankful for. If they could lay down their evil intents on Israel and focus on fixing themselves they would reap the windfall but this is what hate and war provide and THAT they love instead. They do not recognize Gods efforts for good things and gifts to them and will not often hear the word of salvation of Jesus Christ that is given and offered to them by various means continually. They then cry out that they have not received money or reconstruction and they cry to their god that they are suffering and they do not understand why he does not help them. To them I give a response. Arab peoples who hate Israel. Turn to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his son who died in your place as a sacrifice for your sins. Jesus died on your behalf, turn from the sin in your life and just accept the gift of forgiveness that God has given you. Time is running out. These are the end times the Bible talks about. I wrote a small book about the end times and prophecy and the tribulation period. It’s just for your information and consideration and it’s free. I don’t even accept donations on my or anyone else’s behalf. It’s a short read of about 7 pages. I encourage you to take a look. http://www.booksie.com/religion_and_spirituality/book/richard_b_barnes/after-the-rapture-whats-next

      Reply to Comment
      • Josh

        Only thing more disturbing than normal rightwinger zios are the evangelical religious nutsacks playing the zio melody.
        Religions suck

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          The truth is that G. Eis has far more in common with Richard than with Weiss, me, or Amos Oz.

          Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        And does the Zionist state “often hear the word of salvation of Jesus Christ that is given and offered to them by various means continually.” Richard you are a stupid dupe and your stupid indoctrinators like Hagee only receive Israeli support because stupid Christian Zionists are a potent force for ensuring that the US political system will continue to deny justice to Palestine.

        There may possibly be some hatred towards Israel in Gaza, where the majority of the population were driven from their homes in Israel in 1948, and who, having freely elected a government in 2006, have witnessed 4 brutal military onslaughts since then plus an almost total blockade which leaves them impoverished, malnourished and unemployed. Were Jesus to return you can surely imagine the stance that he would have taken to this oppression.

        Reply to Comment
        • Merav

          …brIan and brYan: SAME canine – raging everywhere fooling himself……

          Reply to Comment
    6. rk

      One of the workers is quoted as saying they have no leadership, but they do and it is they themselves that are forging it. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Robert

      “We don’t have a union, we don’t have a leadership, we don’t have a mother or a father to speak to them,” says one of the Palestinian workers, yet they are showing that they are part of the new leadership that is needed in the region. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

      Reply to Comment
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