Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Nablus Adventure

Another day full of adventures and obstacles, the Jumpstart lead team went to Nablus to meet the GIS department at Al-Najah University, and to visit the Jumpstart team working in Nablus. The team set out in the morning from Bethlehem where they had been for the last two days meeting with the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem. Traveling north they passed through the "container" checkpoint , also passing by the villages of Abu Dis and Eizariya, to Nablus through Za'atara checkpoint and Huwarra checkpoint which is the worst in the West Bank.

The way to Nablus was uneventful; we didn't wait for long at the checkpoints. When we arrived in Nablus, we first went to Relief International's office to meet the Jumpstart team and the volunteers who are working with us. We spent a productive but enjoyable time with the group as they expressed their appreciation for Jumpstart's efforts with them.

Then Chris and Anas went to the Al-Najah University to discuss the partnership between the university and Jumpstart. Their meeting was successful and they planned to have a training for the GIS students at the university the following week.

We reached the Hawara checkpoint by five, and hundreds of cars were waiting in line for the Israeli soldiers to let them pass. We found out that there were cars there that had been waiting at the checkpoint since three in the afternoon, two hours before we arrived. After a long three hour wait in the car it was finally our turn to pass through.

Huwara checkpoint has its own instructions which require passengers to exit their vehicles ten meters before the checkpoint and the driver of the car should drive alone to the soldiers, carrying the identity papers of all the passengers. So Anas, who was driving, dropped Majd and Chris ten meters before the checkpoint. They acted nonchalantly, despite the obvious hassle. Chris didn't know that he shouldn't move until the soldier calls him to get into the car, so he start walking to go into the car and suddenly the soldier was shouting "wakef.. wakef " in Arabic which means stop , but Chris didn't understand; he thought they were saying "Ok, ok" and he kept going until the soldier shouted louder. After the inspection and scrutiny the soldiers started calling for the people to get into the car ladies first then the men, real chivalry in action. Before the men are allowed into their vehicle they must lift their clothes to show that they have nothing hidden under their clothes. So Majd got into the car and they searched Chris by asking him to lift his clothes. The guard stopped searching him once she realized he was an international.

So we continued our great journey, to be stopped again by another checkpoint called Za'atara, which is five or ten minutes past Huwarra. An hour later we moved on again, but of course the story wasn’t finished yet. We dropped Majd off at Jaba’a checkpoint, between Ramallah and Bethlehem. Majd got the last taxi to Bethlehem. At the last checkpoint the soldiers stopped the car and asked for all the IDs. The guy sitting next to Majd gave a paper saying that he had been released from jail a few hours ago.

“Why were you in jail?” she asked.

The answer was that he had a work permit to work in an Israeli settlement, with permission only to go into the settlement. But he went with his boss (an Israeli settler) to Jerusalem to buy things for work. The Israeli police caught him their illegally, and he spent two months in jail.

After an hour checking his papers, the taxi moved on, and a long day of checkpoints was complete. From Nablus to Bethlehem in six hours – five at the checkpoints and one for the way…

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