Camino Re’al and the Real Road in Palestine

While talk of “The Roadmap” continues, what also continues are relentless attacks on Palestinian civilians who try to travel the real roads within Gaza and the West Bank. Strange how the natterings of diplomats are rarely informed by the cries of the people. It is reminiscent of Tennessee Williams’ brilliant play, Camino Real,in which we witness the depths of human despair through a nightmare vision of what our world may be coming to, and in some cases has already become.

Williams juxtaposes the “Royal Road” (Camino Re’al) with the “Real Road” (Camino Real). The so-called “Roadmap” is the royal road of presidents, prime ministers, and pundits. The real road is something altogether different, as evidenced by what has happened in Palestine in just the few days that I have been back. The Washington Post, unfortunately, reports only from the royal road and ignores the reality of life on the ground for millions of Palestinians.

Last week, as reported in the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, 32-year old Nadia Shehadeh was ready to give birth to her baby. Knowing her husband would not be allowed to pass through the checkpoints, she and her mother-in-law made their way through the dirt and concrete barricades and sewer channels used to seal off their village of Salam and made their way towards the Raffidiyeh Hospital in Nablus.

At the Beit Furik checkpoint, Nadia and her mother-in-law were forced to wait two hours in scorching heat before the Israeli soldiers agreed to allow only Nadia to pass. In the end stages of her pregnancy, Nadia was forced to walk on foot, alone, to the hospital. She returned to the checkpoint on Thursday, with her newborn baby in her arms. The Israeli soldiers forced her to wait three hours before they allowed her to walk back to her village.

Nadia’s baby made it home safely, but a much more tragic fate befell the Milhems family from the village of Aanin. Their baby was born at the Jenin hospital, but suffered from severe respiratory problems that could not be treated at the ill-equipped and understaffed hospital. The doctors tried to transfer the baby to an Israeli hospital. The Israelis who control Jenin, however, told the family that before the baby could be transferred, they would need to get paperwork completed by an Israeli hospital that would accept the baby. Without such documentation, the baby would not be allowed to cross the checkpoints. The Milhems’ baby died 24 hours after she was born.

As the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy writes, “Palestinian leaders can promise the earth and infuse hopes in the Prime Minister’s Bureau, but as long as mothers are giving birth and infants cannot get to hospital on time and return home in a humane way, as long as a groom cannot get to his wedding, there will be no peace here.”

By the end of Camino Real, the despair mapped out by Tennessee Williams is balanced by a quote from the great poet, Byron: “Make voyages! Attempt them! There’s nothing else!” But it is not enough for ordinary Palestinians like Nadia Shehdaheh to retain hope. For the sake of a new life, she attempted a journey down a road filled with hostility, ethnic hatred, and religious bigotry. Peace requires that the “royals” recognize such brutal realities and make active attempts to stop such assaults on human dignity.

Daniel Quinn is a licensed clinical social worker with a local public school system. Last summer, he lived and worked for 2 months in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, volunteering as a clinical consultant with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.