June 21, 2009 - Yearning for Jerusalem

Dear Friends,
A friend of mine responded to my last post remarking how easy it seemed for me to travel around. It’s true that in this moment the checkpoints inside the West Bank are very open. Especially two of the major checkpoints that I frequent: Zatara which is on Highway 60 North leading to all the major West Bank cities, and Huwarrwa which is the major checkpoint into Nabulus. Additionally, my international status gives me the privilege of travelling to areas that Israelis are forbidden (Palestinian areas of the West Bank) and also where Palestinians are forbidden (Israel proper and Jerusalem, unless they have a Jerusalem ID).

The Palestinians I have talked to about the current ease of passing though checkpoints say that they are enjoying the relative freedom of movement. At the same time, they are acutely aware that soldiers are still staffing the checkpoints, just two steps away from the road and in less than a nanosecond the ease of travel between West Bank cities and villages could come to an abrupt end.

It is important to understand that this current relative freedom of movement is just that. Relative. Roadblocks, settlements, and bypass roads (on which Palestinians are not allowed) still mean that a 15 minute trip could now very well take 3 or 4 hours. Additionally, West Bank Palestinians are not allowed to go outside the West Bank unless they have the proper permits, which are extremely difficult to obtain. That is one reason why Gaza and the West Bank are often referred to as open air prisons. A permit to Jerusalem for West Bank Palestinians is nearly impossible, especially for males. I’ll share the stories of three young men regarding their dreams of visiting Jerusalem.

Abdullah is in his early twenties. He is a sweet young man whose eyes light up when he speaks of going to Jerusalem and visiting the Dome of the Rock which he has not been able to do since he was a very small child. He confided in me that once he snuck into Jerusalem. However, he was so terrified of being caught he didn’t do much. Even just being on the street with friends who have a Jerusalem ID was dangerous because if you look around at things, “they” can tell that you don’t belong there since you are acting like a tourist. You’ll be arrested. So Abdullah just stayed inside his friend’s house and went home the next morning.

Sadaam, our scholarship recipient, had also been to Jerusalem only once, as a small child. His mother is very ill and she obtained a permit for a hospital visit in Jerusalem. The permit allowed her an an escort. So Sadaam was able to take his mother into Jerusalem. His face beamed when he told us he was able to visit the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Amjad, my former student was given a permit to go to Tel Aviv with his wife. (His business buys goods from Israel and that is why he was given a permit.) He and his wife had an enjoyable day at the beach, another location that Palestinians yearn to visit but are denied. They decided to try to visit the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem on the way home. For some reason, Amjad was allowed to go but his wife was turned back. So they both went home together, neither having seen the Dome of the Rock.