I finally have my computer back after an awful and long experience with IsraelPost- so YoungGlobalCitizen.com has returned for daily updates. I must warn everyone, I feel a little out of the writing groove- so give me a few days to get into the right flow.
There has been an explosion of activity here in the real world and I’ve been carefully considering what to first share on the site- but I think I’ve concluded that the difficulties in getting to Nablus from Tel Aviv could be both interesting and meaningful enough to be relevant for the site. **I am not going to go into any of the political debates about why any of these difficulties exist. For the sake of brevity I am just going to explain what my personal experience was.
My study abroad program has a strict rule prohibiting students from traveling to the Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This situation has to do with danger and liability, as well as the general knowledge that young American tourists are both targets and incredibly stupid. Each student had to sign a form agreeing to this policy, but when I noticed in the fine print that it can be appealed “for special circumstances” I knew that I had to rebel and submit one right away.
My friend Islam, from the United World College, came home to Palestine this summer and since I hadn’t seen her in 2.5 years I wrote her a message and said I would try my best to get to her. I wrote a long email to the director of my program explaining that I wouldn’t be acting as a tourist but just staying with a friend and her family in a safe neighborhood and that it was to be a birthday celebration- my 21st! I received a reply saying that he had to consult with higher-ups in New York and would get back to me. So I waited, and waited, and waited. Five weeks later, the middle of July, I got the go ahead! Islam and I were so excited and we started to plan immediately.
When I arrived here in Tel Aviv on September 1st I went to the director again to discuss the trip which would be from the 9th-11th. He explained how he really wanted me to go but that we had to look closely at the transportation especially around the sensitive time of the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. Though they would have preferred me to take a cab I had to tell them I was too poor and so we agreed that I would take sheruts (local buses) and be picked up wherever possible by Islam and her family- who, as Palestinians, need permission to leave their city.
Early in the morning on the 9th I left from Tel Aviv. I first had to get from my place in Northern Tel Aviv to the bus station (45 mins), wait for a bus to Jerusalem (20mins), take the bus (1hr), get lost going from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station to the Old Arab Bus Station (1hr), take a sherut from Jerusalem to Ramallah (40mins), wait for a bus to Nablus (20mins), and finally take the bus to Nablus (1hr) and exasperatedly shake hands with Islam- who, as a conservative Muslim, cannot hug males other than of her family members.
It sounds exhausting but getting to Nablus turns out to be the easy part. I’m sure that everyone has heard of all of the “checkpoints” between Palestine and Israel- which are controlled by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Because I was traveling on Friday (the Muslim sabbath) and from Israel to Palestine, there were few interruptions (because there are few Palestinians traveling on the route, and few who can). Leaving Palestine is where it got tricky. It all went well from Nablus to Ramallah as Islam put me on the right bus, paid for my ticket, and told the conductor to show me how to do the next leg of my journey. When I arrived in Ramallah the driver led me to my next bus, which left quickly and we were on our way, or so I thought.
When we arrived at Kalandia checkpoint we got out to show our passports / permits, we formed a long line, and waited. Twenty minutes later, after the line hadn’t moved at all, there was an announcement first in Hebrew and then in Arabic- everyone got upset and turned around (which was difficult because we were basically in cattle rows). I found an English-speaker who explained to me that the IDF decided, randomly and without notice, to close the checkpoint… indefinitely. Everyone would have to go back to Ramallah, walk or pay to go to a further away checkpoint, or wait for what could be hours. I had no idea what to do, saw literally nobody in charge of anything, and was constantly badgered by cab drivers who wanted me to pay something like $60 to take me fifteen minutes to another checkpoint- from where I would have to walk across on foot and find another cab on the other side (Palestinians can’t cross without permits). Obviously I said no.
With nothing else to do I called the woman who I was planning to meet in Jerusalem. I had met her on a sherut from Jordan to Jerusalem the day I arrived in the region. We had a wonderful conversation then as she translated for me, paid for my taxi, and calmed all my fears of being confused in a strange land. She works for the United Nations and so I knew that, though she was Palestinian, she would have a permanent permit. She agreed to drive through the checkpoint (it was still open for those in Israel to come to Palestine, just not Palestine to go to Israel) and then we would drive to the other checkpoint.
I was relieved when I finally was with her and on our way- but nervous that the other points might also be closed or that we might have problems. However, it all went pretty smoothly. The soldier who checked my passport and her permits wasn’t nice, aggressively demanding that I show him my visa and not just the identity page in my passport (he even threw it at me) and not believing that her son was younger than 16 and therefore attached to her permit and didn’t have his own- but after a few minutes we were off. We had a wonderful dinner in East Jerusalem and I decided to stay the night with the family as we were having in depth discussions about the Israel-Palestine conflict. The next morning I got a cab to West Jerusalem, took the bus to Tel Aviv and walked back to my place in time for class.
From the struggles with my program, to the five different buses required, checkpoints- and most annoyingly the juxtaposition between easily getting to Nablus and the tough time getting back - I learned a lot just transporting between the two cities. Palestine and Israel are really two different worlds tied together by this sad conflict over land. The saddest part about this difficult journey is that these two cities are only 31 miles (42km) apart from one another. However, the two checkpoints, the imaginary and constantly changing border, culture, language, and religion make them completely at odds with one another.
- youngglobalcitizen posted this