Saturday the traffic was light, but it took an hour and a half and over 25 km’s to reach Ramallah. Numerous roadblocks of sand and large stone boulders were scattered along the dusty unpaved Palestinian streets and two checkpoints were closed. Traffic was thus forced to turn around and search for the one way that was opened.
By the time we arrived at the Kalandia checkpoint into Ramallah, seven lines of cars and trucks were funneled into one and the cars attempting to exit through the same narrow path merged onto the same lane and patience and manners were on display.
I wondered if such a thing happened in the U.S.A. what explosions would erupt from road rage.
I asked my driver why wasn’t there any police directing traffic, and with a wry smile he retorted, “This is area C; Palestinian land under Israeli security and the Israeli’s don’t care about our traffic problems and Palestinian police are not allowed here! Palestinian police don't even have guns!”
On the way home, we exited through the VIP checkpoint, only open to NGO’s, media, politicians, and church cars, and my driver had one. The road from the checkpoint was newly paved and smooth and brought us to an apartheid byway that only NGO’s, media, politicians, and church cars cars, and settlers are allowed to use. As we drove on the empty road, miles of rolled barbed wire fences and cameras on the light posts belied the claim of ‘holy land.’
Although the apartheid road added some extra miles to our journey, it took half the time to return to Jerusalem.
I had returned to Ramallah for two reasons; to visit with a few friends who endure there; Palestinian Christians who have been re-labeled refugees and Arab Israeli’s by the Israeli government but who are denied equal human rights with Jewish Israelis.
And to hear American Palestinian and business man, Sam Bahour address the youth attending Sabeel’s 2nd International Conference: 40 Years in the Wilderness…40 Years of Occupation…
My friend J, is a 22 year old devoted son to his widowed mom and hard working man who will spend the next few weeks of his life volunteering his time and being of service to 45 children from 25 Jewish Israeli families and 25 Arab Israeli families who have agreed to live in very close proximity in an Oasis of Peace: called Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, which is a cooperative village of Jews and Palestinian Arabs of Israeli citizenship. Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam’s vision is of an egalitarian society and embraces pioneering educational work at The School for Peace, Children’s Educational System and Pluralistic Spiritual Centre.
J also told me, “The Israeli government doesn't support Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam’s, in fact they are against it, they don't like the Israeli and Palestinian people being friends...Two weeks ago I went through the new checkpoint and it is worse than Kalindia. The soldier made me get out of the car and tried to intimidate me with arrest when I spoke up for my right to pass through without having to get out of the car, for I have Israeli citizenship.
"My father fled from Jerusalem in ’48 to Jordan and then returned to Ramallah thinking he would soon be able to return home to Jerusalem. My mother is from Ramleh and Israeli law is that the children belong to the mother, so I have Israeli citizenship. According to Israeli law, I am living illegally in Ramallah! I was born here and I live here, but I have no ID. People in Jerusalem have ID cards only and the army can confiscate ID cards at any time and then that person is stuck right where they are.”
Those without ID’s in the ‘Holy Land’ become a non-person and I have met many of these Palestinians who cannot move beyond the confines of the refugee camps for they have no ID, and are stuck in a Catch 22; the bureaucratic illogic of occupation.
More on that topic from Sam Bahour:
“I was born in Ohio and have always been involved in Palestinian affairs. In ’88 when the first intifada erupted, I brought back American Palestinian youth, community activists and officials. We traveled from Rafah to the occupied Golan Heights; non-stop back then.
“I got married here and my wife and I went back to America and with the Oslo Peace Accords and Article 36, which stated the Israeli’s would transfer telecommunications-which is my field-to Palestine, I tracked down investors to relocate and contribute.
“I also read the Oslo agreement first and while many thought the occupation would end in five years that is not the case in what Oslo said. What was the case was a rearrangement of the occupation to another tier; a Palestinian occupation also.