Today was an exciting day. My colleague from work made it into the office from his home in Dheishe refugee camp. The atmosphere in the office was one of celebration, rightly so. We haven’t seen Nasser for 6 ½ weeks. It took him four hours and 70 NIS (~USD 15) to arrive today.
I have been in ‘survival’ mode for so long (doing what is necessary to get through each day, but avoiding processing any of it) that seeing Nasser just about sent me over the edge. It brought tears to my eyes.
But after the initial joy, came the weight of reality pounding down around me: How sad is it that the only bit of cheer in our office all day was the fact that our colleague, who lives not more than 40 kilometers (~25 miles) from here, managed to arrive to work?
In a sane place, a place where Nasser would be treated as a human being, going to work would be quick and painless. Based on the cost of transportation here prior to September 2000, the trip from Ramallah, through Jerusalem and into Bethlehem, was 5 ½ NIS (~USD 1.50).
Prior to the closure of Jerusalem in 1993, this trip would have taken Nasser, a West Bank Palestinian, around 30 - 35 minutes. He would have left his house, traveled through Jerusalem and on to Ramallah.
But when the Israeli government closed Jerusalem, West Bank Palestinians were forced either to obtain a permit to enter Israel (which were difficult, if not impossible, to get) or travel Wadi Nar, a treacherous, curvy road that by-passes Jerusalem. This new route made the old 30 minute journey, into one lasting around an hour and 15 minutes.
This was Nasser’s situation when I first met him in 1999. Everyday, he would spend about 2 1/2 hours of his day driving to and from work. For anyone who has ever commuted or is familiar with rush hour, this may not seem excessive, except for the fact that the cause is not congestion on the road, but rather the fact that Nasser is a West Bank Palestinian.
Since the beginning of the Intifada and prior to 29 March, the length of time gradually increased to around 2 hours coming and 2 hours going, prompting Nasser and another colleague from the Bethlehem area to rent an apartment in Ramallah, so they could stay here during the week. That was when the roads were open. There have been many days when leaving the Bethlehem area was impossible.
And Nasser’s case is not special. In fact, he is one of the lucky ones. Another friend of mine from the Bethlehem area tried to make it into Ramallah today. He didn’t get very far. He made it through one checkpoint, after being stripped down to his underwear and searched, but then was turned back from the three other checkpoints he tried to go through. So, he went back home. He’ll try again tomorrow. All in a day’s work.