On Travelling in Palestine

Even though I love being in Palestine, I have to admit that I hate traveling around it. The idea of movement here scares me, but movement seems to be intimidating for most. Take my travel yesterday as an example. I went in a taxi with five other Palestinians from Ramallah to Balata refugee camp in Nablus. We started the journey going through the massive Qalandya checkpoint, a permanent fixture and now unfortunate mandatory stop for Palestinian travelers.

We then passed one flying checkpoint (non-permanent checkpoint set up by army jeeps in the road), had our passports and id’s checked, and then pulled up to another checkpoint five minutes later! The driver snarled with grief as we pulled into a never-ending line of cars.

A suffocating heat had descended upon Palestine, and no one had the patience to wait as each car was held up by a soldier for at least ten minutes. Taking no bullshit, our driver pulled out of the line, turned around 180 degrees, and started off for an alternate route. Of course, this alternate route was much less desirable than the first, and it brought us through crowded roadside villages and along bumpy, pot-hole riddled dirt roads.

No one was having a good time. The ride was long, hot, and stressful. When we finally got to the Beit Iba checkpoint outside of Nablus, we were exhausted and didn’t feel like putting up with the soldiers on duty.
 One of them had the gall to warn us against going to Nablus, saying, “It’s your life…make sure you’re careful.” It’s really strange hearing that coming from a man who is the only one holding a gun in the vicinity.

Anyways, I arrived in Balata where I felt the most safe as I had been in the last twelve hours. It doesn’t take anyone long to realize that checkpoints have little to do with security, but are rather part of an oppressive structure designed to systematically demoralize the people of Palestine.

On our way back out of the Beit Iba checkpoint this morning, a young man in front of us was stopped and pulled aside. I couldn’t hear what the soldiers were telling him, but it was obvious by the broken look on his face that he was not being allowed through. Feeling sympathy for this man who looked about my age, I went to ask him what happened. He told me, in fluent English, that he is a student at the Arab-American University in the Jenin area.

 He was trying to get to school, and the soldiers stopped him simply because he had forgotten his student id card. I thought about how mad he seemed. I thought about how this could be me. I thought about how the soldier who stopped him was probably the same age or younger than he was. Maybe he hadn’t had a chance to pick up the books before picking up the gun. Just last Thursday, the Israeli Occupation Forces announced that they would halt their policy of punitive home demolitions.

They had found that these home demolitions had probably made more enemies for Israel than they had stopped. This is really amazing deductive logic at work here. Good for them. Three enthusiastic cheers. But now I wonder how they have come to this conclusion about home demolitions and not about checkpoints. If I were stopped by a foreign occupying power every day outside my own town, and forced to prove not only my own identity, but also where I lived and where I was going, I would certainly come to hate my occupier. I think it is the only natural reaction.

Later on in the morning, we were on our way to a demonstration in the village of Kafer Qadum. After the outbreak of the second Intifada, the army put up a metal gate to block access to Qadum’s only main road. Settlers from nearby Kadumim are now the only ones allowed to use it. Qadum’s residents have been forced to construct a shabby dirt road to lead into their village.

Most cars can’t go more than 20 km/h on it, and we saw some milk trucks struggling pretty hard to make the turns. The school teachers have to ride to work on tractors. Villagers can barely come in or out. Qadum has been turned into a ghetto. However, unwilling to back down, and fed up by isolation, Qadum held a demonstration today.

 Under the banner “Free our only road”, hundreds of women, men, children, Israeli anarchists, international activists, and even doctors and nurses marched towards the gate in open resistance. Again, we were met by a line of soldiers with M-16s – a clear symbol that Qadum’s ghettoization will be enforced by any means necessary. As the grotesque and illegal settlement of Kadumim loomed above them, it became evident why the army was really there.

It’s sad, but Israel is good at what it does. Under a curtain of “protecting national security”, it has managed to implement a much more shocking and much less politically-correct project; the gradual colonization of Palestinian lands. One Palestinian woman at the demonstration put it best.

She said that her family had been using Qadum’s roads for generations, and Kadumim had only been there for 30 years. Now the occupation forces are there ensuring that the settlers are the only ones to use it. Traveling anywhere in Palestine can be a nightmare. Perhaps one day Palestinians will just give up and stay put in their homes, and I’m afraid that no one in the Israeli government would shed a tear.



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"The old will die and the young will forget"

"The old will die and the young will forget"
David Ben-Gurion, the founder of Israel, in 1949

Jerusalem is the capital. Palestine, currently under occupation, is located on the East coast of the Mediterranean Sea, West of Jordan and to the south of Lebanon. The territory of Palestine covers around 10,435 square miles.