On Travelling in Palestine

On Travelling in Palestine
by Aaron Lakoff
February 19, 2005

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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.