By EA Miles
The Tarqumiya Checkpoint
“There is no point to go through. It has taken too long” says a man leaving Tarqumiya checkpoint, between the West Bank and Israel, in the early hours.
At 4am this checkpoint is a hive of activity. Thousands of Palestinian men are travelling from their homes in the West Bank to work in Israel, as jobs are hard to come by in the Palestinian territories.
West Bank unemployment
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics the unemployment rates at the end of 2016 were 18 per cent in the West Bank and 42 per cent in the Gaza Strip. During 2017 unemployment has increased further.
Outside the checkpoint, stalls sell food, drinks and assorted items like gloves for the hard manual labour many of these men do in Israel.
The men file in to the checkpoint in an orderly manner, more respectful of their fellow commuters than in my native England, winding through a long series of passageways within the metal cages that lead to the turnstiles.
The turnstiles are controlled remotely by Israeli security personnel, who are virtually invisible in the booth at the centre of this large machine.
I am struck by the men’s patience and resignation at the long waits.
“The bus that takes me to my work in Tel Aviv left at 5:30, so I cannot get to work. I will not be paid today, so I will go home.”
Later in the morning the tone changes. A murmuring carries back from the tightly packed crowd near the exit turnstiles.
The sound increases, and there is more tension in the air. Men start shouting, asking those further up the queues why there is a delay.
Gradually more and more people start turning around, working their way back through the waiting crowd.
Three men are leaving. Two are too angry to speak. The other shrugs his shoulders and says “The bus that takes me to my work in Tel Aviv left at 5:30, so I cannot get to work. I will not be paid today, so I will go home.”
Everyone who is asked how long it takes to get through the checkpoint says “It depends, sometimes it’s quick but other times it can take one and a half hours”.
I ask someone how long the total journey from home to work takes and he says: “Fifteen minutes from Hebron to the checkpoint, about one and a half hours at the checkpoint, and around an hour to Tel Aviv”.
It is clear from the sophistication and automation of the checkpoint that, if the security personnel controlling the throughput of people wanted, the process could be much faster.
“Fifteen minutes from Hebron to the checkpoint, about one and a half hours at the checkpoint, and around an hour to Tel Aviv”.
Sadly, after only a few days staying in the West Bank, it has become apparent that long waits at checkpoints are the norm for Palestinians going about their daily life.
The length of time they have to wait can depend on the whim of the security personnel manning the checkpoint.
By contrast, Israelis living in settlements within the West Bank can jump in their cars and drive direct without the long delays and uncertainties Palestinians experience as they wait to have their permits checked.
Checkpoints like Tarqumiya are part of Israel’s separation barrier system. In 2004 the International Court of Justice gave the following opinion:
“The construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated regime, are contrary to international law”, adding that if it were to become permanent “it would be tantamount to de facto annexation”.
Without the help of the international community there is little the Palestinians can do to persuade Israel to comply with international humanitarian law.
Learn more about restrictions on Palestinians’ movement here