Thursday, October 29, 2009

You can't get there from here

Our journey from Nazareth through Jericho to Bethlehem provided a classic illustration of the absurdity of travel restrictions between the West Bank and Israel.

Yes, I know the Israelis would say there is nothing absurd about protecting there citizens from the threat of terrorism. But on this day, the absurdity played out in a journey that went on far longer that it needed to.
We drove from the Galilee region down the Jordan River Valley, entering the West Bank with just a nod from George, our driver, to an Israeli guard at a check point. So far so good.

But when we got to Jericho, we had to bypass the first entrance to the city -- just a couple of minutes into downtown had we been able to take it -- to the only open entrance several miles down the highway. We went through an Israeli checkpoint where the soldier said he was just checking to make sure we were all wearing our seatbelts. (We were.)

The main issue here was to make sure no Israeli citizens entered into this West Bank area which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Then we came to a Palestinian checkpoint, where George and the guard had a brief but friendly conversation.

When we left Jericho, we could take a direct route to Bethlehem, which is also in the West Bank. We had to head out past the same two checkpoints, although now both were unguarded. Then we had to drive to Jerusalem, enter Israel (another checkpoint) and drive to the main entrance to Bethlehem from Jerusalem. There we were waved off because there was an Israeli celebration at Rachel's Tomb near that checkpoint and the checkpoint was closed. ("When they celebrate, we suffer," said Rev. Mitri Raheb when we arrived at the International Center in Bethlehem.)

The next nearest entrance to Bethlehem had about a two-hour wait, so George drove a circuitous route to a third checkpoint that would let us in through Beit Jala, a city adjoining Bethlehem. We could get in that way, but George pointed out that as tourists, we could not leave through that checkpoint.

What should have been a couple of short journeys into Jericho and into Bethlehem became extended and exasperating adventures in life in an occupied territory. For us, this was just one adventure. For the residents, it is a daily reality.

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