THE LONG WAY HOME (Thursday 9 February)
After a day in Hebron, most of us were tired and probably a bit upset by what we had seen. It certainly left me feeling drained, physically and mentally, and in need of a drink.
But we had to get back to Ramallah, and we had a Palestinian on board who did not have an East Jerusalem residence permit. While it might have been possible to chance it and go through Jerusalem on the decent road and out the other side, it would have got him (and the East Jerusalemite driver) into deep trouble. It is quite possible to get stopped and hassled at an Israeli military checkpoint even within the West Bank, and our Palestinian friend had experienced this in the past. Because he has a Gaza-issued set of ID papers, he was threatened with deportation back to Gaza even though he was no friend of the Hamas regime there and would have been in danger from them, and even though his life was based in Ramallah now. Like many others suffering from oppression and arbitrary power, he tried his best to make a joke of it, but it really isn’t funny that an occupying army can threaten his livelihood in such a fashion. The Israeli authorities also arbitrarily deny transit papers between Gaza and the West Bank without making any security case against the individuals concerned, a real problem for ‘mixed’ families, students and anyone hoping for a better life than is possible in the hellhole of Gaza.
While the Wall grows taller and longer, however, the number of checkpoints scattered across the West Bank has tended to fall and movement between West Bank towns is now much less restricted than it was a few years ago. But this does not mean that it is an easy matter to get around Palestine. As the crow flies, it is about 41km from Hebron to Ramallah – remember that we are talking about a very small area? But also remember the other thing about the landscape – that it is crinkled and mountainous. Going from one to the other without going through Jerusalem involves a lengthy up and down detour on curving, badly maintained roads well to the east of the city. It took over 2 hours, and I was glad that the bus driver was familiar with the route as the prospect of crashing in the dark was not a pleasant one. Needless to say, the long detour does nothing for safety, economic development and modernity in Palestine. For us, it was temporary but tedious. For others, it is a depressing fact of life.