“Ishtinalak ktier habibi, miet ahlan wa sahlan, hayna mnistana” [“We missed you so much, you are more than welcome, weâ€™ll be waiting”] is the answer Khaled received from his elderly aunts in Nablus when he phoned them and told them that he was in the country with the intentions to visit and see them after four years of absence.
He was staying in Jerusalem and decided to make an early start that day. At 08:00 his taxi took off from Qalandia checkpoint (an Israeli military checkpoint on the borders between Ramallah and ar-Ram), heading for Nablus. The ride started smoothly, wonderful weather, beautiful scenary and some nice tunes on the radio to go along with it.
Fifteen minutes later the taxi road off the main road drove through groves, orchids and villages. Over rocks, dirt, ditches and clouds of dust the ride got more and more and tedious. They encountered increasing traffic from cargo trucks, ambulances, public transportation vehicles, personal cars.
He learns from the driver that the main road is blocked for Palestinian traffic and this is the improvised alternative necessary to keep going in order to meet daily needs of food, hospitalization, work and education. The risk is that if caught by Israeli police or military patrols, the alternative turns into two options. The first, they are stopped, fined and ordered to return. The second, they meet their fate with random bullets due to sporadic shooting. With a lump in his throat, Khaled accepts this new reality, and hopes he reaches Nablus alive and well.
Two hours later the taxi stops and passengers step out on the outer borders of the city and walk toward the second military checkpoint for document inspection and entry into the city. â€œYou cannot enter the cityâ€ is the answer Khaled received from a very rude and impatient soldier. â€œWhy not?â€ he asks. â€œBecause I say soâ€ â€œnow get out of the way, nextâ€¦!â€ the soldier responds. After ten minutes of questions and answers he realized the futility of negotiation. The soldier was armed to his teeth, and all Khaled war armed with were words. He walks back and sees other rejected people group up intending to walk an alternative route. He is invited to join and decides to do it because his aunts are waiting and he did not want to disappoint them.
When he accepted the offer he did not realize what he got himself into. They walked up three mountains high and low for three hours longs, in the middle of no where, nothing in site in the blaring heat (by then the time was 13:00 and the temperature 40 degrees). Palestinian commuters helped each other by sharing water and food with each other. They would constantly let each other know that the cost was clear, no military soldiers in site so that they could walk on.
He reached the center of town where he took another taxi to his auntsâ€™ house. Upon arrival the whole family jumped around him with mixed feelings of anxiety for the long wait worried about what had happened to him, and happiness for he was there, finally, amongst them. Food was immediately laid on the table, stories exchanged, mixtures of laughter of joy and tears of sadness at all that has happened in four years time.
An hour and a half later he did not have the heart to tell them that he had to leave but he had to, before it got dark. He had three hours of mountain climbing ahead of him and a two hour taxi ride back to Jerusalem. The risk of staying and getting stuck in Nablus was not an option. He told his aunts that he will be back some time the week after, accompanied by his wife. Nor he nor she ever made it in, and the summer vacation went by for both of them unable for them to visit with family members or friends living outside the borders of Jeursalem, and not knowing if and when they will ever be able to do that.
The clock struck 15.00 when he left and five hours later Khaled arrived in Jerusalem, relieved he made it alive and relieved to see his bed for a very much needed rest.
Nablus is a fourty minute drive from Jerusalem. Khaledsâ€™ visit took place this summer during Road Map peace negotiations supposedly meant to lead towards a two state solution. Sharonsâ€™ government, in return for a â€œhudnaâ€ (a truce) with three Palestinian factions, promised to open up military closures imposed on main Palestinian cities, ease checkpoints; even eliminate some, in addition to the release of 7,000 prisoners, the end of settlement construction, land confiscations, and house demolitions. Daily events proved that none of these obligations have been met by Israel. Today, both parties were brought back to square one.
Miral Assuli just returned back to the Netherlands from a visit to Palestine.