Jobs are few and poorly paid in Palestine due to the depressed economy brought about by being in an occupied territory. Many seek a work permit from Israel and get jobs and are paid more. This means they must go through the tedium of crossing through a check point on a daily, weekly or much longer basis depending on how far they must travel once inside Israel. This is disruptive to family life and physically taxing as it adds significantly to the length of the work day or means they live while away in substandard accommodation. They are often seen carrying their bedding through the checkpoint as they go. Early in the morning while it is still dark around 5000 workers cross at Meitar checkpoint. Just 3 are women. The queuing starts well before 4am and then from 4 -7am there is a constant flow of workers mainly laborers and tradesmen often carrying their tile cutter, circular saws and spirit levels. They emerge from the cattle like grids through which they are processed to a stinking smell wafting up from the stream by the fence – waste frothy water from Israeli industry.
Meitar is extra busy as it is known as a fairly smooth crossing and because of this many workers from further up in the territory at Tarqumiya travel down in the hope of overall saving of hassle. Meitar is managed by a private security company while the other is Army run. The Israelis need the labour force so for many who are unable to get a permit the situation becomes shady. Sometimes the employer will provide a kind of permit at a price and this seems fine unless something happens then the money spent quickly becomes worthless. Other illegal options include travelling 3 hours down to Masafer Yatta where there is no fence since the gazelle movement meant that environmentalists lobbied for the good of the gazelle to maintain this unfenced stretch. But 3 hours travel is both expensive and time consuming. Still there is another idea!
There are 4 holes in the fence down at Barasj (sp) for a different price a worker can get to work there. At key times, like on Saturday afternoon or early Sunday morning prior to the work week starts, drivers on both sides of the fence receive very good payment while they play a kind of Russian roulette. This operation takes neat coordination and an eagle eye. Cars from Yatta travel to this quiet spot, there are little villages dotted in the surrounding hills and Meitar checkpoint is in view. The workers have paid their money to both drivers one Palestinian and one Israeli, and supporters stand by watching out for the safe passage of the workers. The Israeli army also waits sometimes in view or hidden in a dip in the road. The paid contact in Israel is also on view. Some people –usually internationals, optimistically have a camera to record the event but are disappointed as not many are happy to be in a photo for the risk of evidence is costly. Suddenly the race is on. The car on the Palestinian side drives off gathering speed towards the fence. If an army vehicle comes into view too soon a hasty phone call is made so the driver can divert. If the first attempt is unsuccessful they try again, it does not seem to matter that the army has seen a failed attempt. Then the paid driver on the Israeli side becomes visible also racing towards the fence. The spectators watch eagerly. The tension rises as the workers jump from their barely stopped vehicle. They run for the gap in the separation fence, scrabble through then run again to the Israeli paid vehicle. The army are now well in pursuit. Finally they are safely in the Israeli contact car and they speed away. The small remaining crowd cheer not just because they have got through safely and can earn to support their families but because they have managed to fox the wolf.
At home time, when ever that is, the reverse happens with the same kind of risk. And what happens if they don’t make a neat connection? Well the Israeli army carry machine guns and a simple flesh wound may take 9 months to heal. Or another shot may be the end. Or the they might get caught and pay a 3000NIS fine but I have been unable to determine if this goes directly to the poorly paid Israeli army member or is in fact an official fine, still others will have a jail term since they have little means to pay such a hefty fine. And the drivers – well they are a well-paid link in the chain. It is very big business but high risk work. Jail terms are common.
Really few would condone such open defiling of the law but in a land where the separation fence is 85% inside of your own border is there a moral obligation to be obedient? As the border established in 1967 the “green line” is not being adhered to. (Green line refers to the official border of a territory this one in particular is has been in place since 1967 following the 6 day war but the separation wall/fence does not adhere to this border).
It is interesting that the Israeli’s are happy to employ illegal workers and also interesting that the government makes no move to repair the holes that enable workers to cross at random but don’t mind the cost of having the army there monitoring – kind of, but after all they need the workforce.
Disclaimer: I am participating in a programme with EAPPI Australia as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained herein are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of my sending organization, EAPPI Australia, or the WCC. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact my Australian coordinator, email@example.com, or the EAPPI Communications Officer (firstname.lastname@example.org) for permission. Thank you.