Friday, December 02, 2005

Traffic Jam

Yesterday I decided to skip my colloquial Arabic class and head down to Ramallah in the morning. Now, before you accuse me of being lazy, I’d like to explain that I was heading to Ramallah to use my friend’s high-speed internet connection to do research, work on conference stuff, and look for an apartment in DC (okay, and send out some emails, download some music, and just surf). Marcy had been staying with my for a couple days (she’s based in Amman at the moment) and she was heading back to Jordan, so we set off together. Because she had a huge bag with her, we decided to splurge and take a private taxi. . .

We got about 10 minutes outside of Birzeit before we hit a checkpoint. Well, we didn’t actually hit the checkpoint, we hit the traffic that was backed up for over a mile in each direction of the Surda area. This is one of the Israelis favorite places to set up flying checkpoints in the Ramallah area. Our taxi driver became very agitated and started insisting that Ramallah was closed (which was nonsense) and wanted to drive all the way to a town just outside of Jerusalem and try entering Ramallah from the other side. Most of the people in public transportation were just getting out of the taxis and services and walking. This is nothing new for them, last year or the year before this section of the road between Ramallah and Birzeit was closed by the Israelis for months. No cars were allowed to pass, and everyone had to walk 2 kilometers each way. My Arabic teacher told us that at that point, the value of donkeys increased dramatically because they were the only way to transport goods, the sick and the elderly between the two places . . .

I was in a bit of dilemma because my computer was already at R and D’s, and I knew that they had plans to leave Ramallah early that morning. If they left before I picked up the apartment key, my plans of a very productive day were going to be destroyed. After a few minutes of discussion, I said goodbye to Marcy and decided to walk through the checkpoint and hopefully catch a service on the other side to take me rest of the way. Marcy’s bag was much too heavy to walk (it was down into a valley and then back up) so she backroaded it with the taxi towards Jerusalem.

It was an absolutely beautiful morning for a walk, not too cold and sunny, and it would have been really enjoyable except for all the exhaust fumes from the traffic jam and weaving necessary to avoid cars and droves of people. On the way I ran into B, who lives in Ramallah and was walking to Birzeit – to attend the very class that I was skipping. We talked for a couple minutes, and he decided to ditch the class and walk back to Ramallah with me. We had a funny moment when he asked me where the checkpoint was, thinking it was closer to Birzeit, while I thought it was closer to Ramallah. While we were discussing this oddity, a truck crammed full of Palestinian police drove by. Palestinian police are never around when Israelis are around, so that was when we realized that it wasn’t actually an Israeli checkpoint, but was some kind of Palestinian Authority checkpoint/ security measure.

We walked along and eventually caught a service into Ramallah. Once there we stopped in a little store and I asked the owner what was going on. He started going off about the Israelis . . . so we stopped in another store and the owner there told us that the PA was checking all the services to make sure they only had seven passengers per van. No one seemed to know what was going on for sure, so B and I met R and D for breakfast, then I headed to their apartment and soaked up all the internet time I could.

On the way home that night, I noticed that the service I was riding in had removed one of the benches of seats . . . leaving only seven seats for passengers. I’m really surprised that the PA would set up a checkpoint, in the same place that the Israelis do, and hold up all the morning traffic just to check the number of seats in the services. I’m not sure if that is the whole story, but it seems pretty ridiculous if it is.


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