By Tadas Blinda
The Tayba checkpoint in the northwest city of Tulkarem, occupied Palestinian territories, is one of the main crossings for Palestinian workers into Israel. Tayba is the entry point for workers from the Tulkarem, Jenin and Nablus districts.
Between 5,000 and 7,000 Palestinians cross Tayba checkpoint into Israel every day in order to reach their places of employment. The crossing can extend Palestinian laborers daily commute to and from work by up to six hours.
Palestine Monitor met the EAPPI’s (The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel) Tulkarem crew to join them for their weekly Tayba checkpoint monitoring on July 7th. After getting up at 3:30 a.m. the EAPPI crew rushed into a taxi to get to the crossing before 4 a.m. when it is scheduled to open.
Upon our arrival the outskirts of the checkpoint were already busy with taxis and service buses dropping people off. After going through a make-shift souq (open air market), where laborers can get their breakfast and morning cup of coffee amongst other things, we witnessed hundreds of people already standing in a line to cross into Israel. Some Palestinians arrive as early as 3 a.m. in order to reach their jobs in Israel on time.
Palestinian workers wait in line for the checkpoint to open
As the gate opening time approached more and more people gathered in a line between two concrete barriers. The workers have to squeeze through a zig-zaging line in a fenced ‘cage’ before getting to the metal turnstile leading into the checkpoint.
A group of women were lined up outside of the ‘cage’ waiting for the women’s only gate to be opened. This gate is right next to the turnstile, allowing women passage through the checkpoint without having to stand in line with the other men. The Gate is opened for only 4 minutes prior to the offical oppening of the gate at 4 a.m. Women who arrive slightly after 4 a.m. are forced to join the crowd of men awaiting passage into Israel.
Tayba checkpoint is not operated by the Israeli military, but rather a private security company. There are 14 booths inside the checkpoint that manage the thousands of people crossing into Israel everyday. According to EAPPI, ther are usually only a few of these booths open, resulting in huge lines and frustration from the workers. This frustration sometimes leads to conflicts between laborers, who risk losing their jobs if delays at the checkpoint inhibit them from getting to work on time.
This particular Sunday the situation doesn’t look that bad and people are crossing through the checkpoint smoothly. Later we found out that 7 out of 14 booths were open that day. EAPPI crew told Palestine Monitor that it is the highest number since they started monitoring the checkpoint more than two months ago. If at least half of the booths would be open the problem of long delays could be resolved, yet this is rarely the case.
Palestinian man rests on fenced barrier as he waits to enter Tayba checkpoint.
“The problem is not here [outside of the checkpoint], it is inside. Sometimes it takes me two hours to move just 50 meters,” – Bilal, one of the many laborers who are traveling to work in Israel, told Palestine Monitor.
Many Palestinians choose to work in Israel since the pay is about twice as much as in the West Bank. Furthermore many Palestinian have lost their jobs as the ongoing Israeli closure policy and restrictions to palestinian movement have severely affected the economy of the region.
“I have no choice, I can’t find a job here so I have to work in Israel so I can feed my family,” – said Mahmoud, a construction worker in Israel.
Many people spend from five to six hours traveling to/from work five days per week. Palestinians get work permits on the condition that they will return to the West Bank at the end of every day, otherwise they risk losing their work permit and often the only source of income for their family. On Sunday, July 7th around 5,000 people, including 100 women, crossed Tayba checkpoint into Israel.