By Ammar Awad
There are two ways for Palestinian workers to cross into Israel every day. Those with work permits can pass through a military checkpoint. Those without a permit have to find a way through the controversial Israeli barrier, and sneak across the border. Both ways are time consuming. Neither is pleasant.
“I have no other choice,” said Tayser Sherif Abu Khader, a 57-year-old Palestinian from Qalqiliya who for two decades has been making the commute. “If I don’t work in Israel, I will die from hunger.” I met Abu Khader in line with hundreds of other Palestinians who were waiting to cross through the Eyal checkpoint in the northern West Bank. He told me that about 7,000 Palestinians cross daily through the checkpoint. He had gotten there before dawn to make sure he would be at the front of the line and make it to his job on time. You can never tell how long the wait will be, he said. There are fingerprint scans, x-ray machines for their bags, and sometimes workers are delayed for additional questioning. But the hassle is, at the end of the day, worth it. The work opportunities are better in Israel than in the West Bank, where the economy is struggling.
Abu Khader works in construction in the area of Tel Aviv and was one of the few willing to talk to me. He is considered one of the veterans of the group and is in charge of a small group of volunteers who every morning make sure people stay in line. It is common for workers to try to cut the line, and that could quickly cause a scuffle. When things go well, Abu Khader returns home at night with 300 shekels. That’s at least four times the average salary in the West Bank, Abu Khader said. But if there are delays, or if for some reason he misses his ride to the construction site, he loses a day’s pay.
“I’m already thinking about how we will suffer at the checkpoint tomorrow,” Abu Khader said upon passing through after nearly two hours. Once in Israel, some of the workers lay down outside to catch up on sleep before their rides came.
Abu Kader recalled it wasn’t always such an unpleasant experience. The situation became difficult during the intifada, or Palestinian uprising, about 10 years ago. Palestinian suicide bombers coming from the West Bank were carrying out deadly attacks in Israeli cities. The Israeli army went on an offensive against militant groups in the occupied territory and Israel built a separation barrier. “Before the intifada and the separation wall, we could easily go and work in Israel and make a good living,” Abu Khader said.