According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, in the first quarter of 2016, approximately 63,000 Palestinians worked in Israel with permits to enter the country. These workers enter Israel via 11 checkpoints located throughout the West Bank: three in the south, five in the center, and three in the north. It is estimated that another 38,000 or so Palestinians work in Israel without permits.
Qalandia Checkpoint, 20 June 2016, 5:00 A.M.
Last month, during the Ramadan fast, B’Tselem field researchers Musa Abu Hashhash and Iyad Hadad documented the dire conditions imposed by Israel in two of these crossing points: Checkpoint 300, located north of Bethlehem and serving laborers traveling from Bethlehem and the villages north of Hebron into Jerusalem, and Qalandia Checkpoint, the main gateway from the Ramallah area into East Jerusalem and Israel. Every day, thousands of workers who secured a permit to enter Israel after passing an exhausting security screening process cross through these checkpoints. B’Tselem’s monitoring indicates that despite repeated reports and promises given through the years, the conditions in these checkpoints are still very harsh. Overcrowding and extremely long lines force laborers to arrive in the dead of night if they are to make it to work on time. Even during Ramadan, when many of the workers fast all day, the Israeli authorities do nothing to alleviate the suffering at the checkpoints. In 2013, B’Tselem documented a similar situation at Tarqumya Checkpoint, in the Hebron area.
Checkpoint 300, 27 June 2016, 3:00 A.M.
Monitoring and testimonies collected from laborers indicate that Palestinians begin arriving at the checkpoints at 3:00 A.M.; the busiest time is between 4:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. Though Qalandia Checkpoint has five security screening lines, during the rush, the checkpoint is not sufficiently staffed and only one screening post is active. The checkpoints are busiest on Sundays, the first workday of the week, as some workers only return home on the weekends. During the week they sleep at their workplaces within Israel, partly because of the terrible conditions at the checkpoints, despite the risk of arrest and permit revocation. The checkpoints remain busy on other days of the week as well, and the process of getting across them is extremely lengthy. Checkpoint 300 has 12 security screening posts, but only two to four are open during the rush, leading to waiting times of up to two hours. Most laborers who use this checkpoint work in the Jerusalem area and are able to return home every day, which means crowding does not let up later in the week.
Once across, the workers get on shuttles that take them to their workplaces. Drivers do not wait for late arrivals, meaning that delays at the checkpoints are not just exhausting and unnecessary, but may also end in the loss of a full day’s work. Others have their pay docked for the hours they are late. This reality, deliberately manufactured and maintained by the Israeli authorities for years, makes for an unbearable routine for the laborers. They have to leave their homes in the middle of the night, waste hours waiting at the checkpoint and return home to the West Bank in the late evening, if at all. Others have no choice but to sleep in their workplaces, in difficult conditions, and see their spouses and children only on weekends.
Z. S., 50, a married father of nine from Sa’ir, Hebron District, spoke about his daily routine with B’Tselem researcher Musa Abu Hashhash on 26 June 2016:
I have been working in Israel for 25 years. In the last few years, I’ve been a foreman for an Israeli construction company in Jerusalem. I go to work every morning and return every night through Checkpoint 300. Our company sends a bus to our village every morning. It picks up about 50 laborers from the village who work for the company, and drives us to the checkpoint. It lets us off at the entrance to the checkpoint and waits for us to finish the security screening on the other side. The drive is long and it’s as exhausting as the job itself. I leave the house at 3:00 A.M., and get on the bus. By the time I reach the checkpoint, it’s 4:00 A.M. When we get there, we join a long line of workers who are already there. I suffer from the pushing and the chaos. Workers who come late climb over the fence to cut through the line of hundreds of workers who are already waiting. It mostly hurts the older people, and the ones with medical problems, but I understand them. Every worker just wants to get across the checkpoint quickly and is scared of being late to work.
It takes about two long, exhausting hours to get through the checkpoint. These are wasted hours, tacked on to the eight hours of hard work and another hour for the way back home. I spend about 15 hours away from home every day. I have no time to be with my wife and kids. There’s no time for socializing with relatives and neighbors. I come home and make sure I turn in early, so I can get up early again and make it to the checkpoint on time. That is how I spend the five weekdays, and this has been my life for 25 years.
B’Tselem has been documenting the crowding at the checkpoints used by Palestinians who work in Israel since 2007. This reality, in which workers have to sacrifice a normal family life, a social life, and a reasonable amount of sleep for endless hours of waiting for a checkpoint to open, only so they can get to work on time, is not a necessary evil but a result of Defense Ministry policy. Though the issue has been brought up time and again over the years, services and facilities at the checkpoints have not been adjusted to match the number of entry permits issued to Palestinian workers by the Civil Administration. This reality cannot be excused on security grounds or by citing budgetary concerns or personnel issues. It reflects a deliberate choice by the Israeli authorities to maintain these inhuman conditions and force them on Palestinian workers. Whatever the reasons, this choice is unconscionable and unacceptable.