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The Long Road to Moon City

Fadi Abu Sada

When any Palestinian thinks of traveling outside Palestine for work, medical treatment, or for any reason, the first two moments he thinks about two things. The first is about the roads he will pass to arrive at the Moon City of Jericho at the crossroads between Palestine and Jordan, which is now the only way for a West Bank Palestinian to leave.

In the second moment one thinks of the Israeli restrictions at the borders, what the Israeli occupation forces will do to the Palestinians for “security,” as they say. The restrictions have become even more repressive since the assassination of Sheikh Yassin and Dr. Rantisi.

When one comes to the day to leave, the long and difficult trip begins. And every person refers to this treat by their own special name, based on the suffering he is about to endure and how much he can take in order to reach his goal.

A week ago I traveled to Jordan with colleagues for an international conference about Art and Religion in Amman. For Palestinians it is crucial to attend international conferences in order to explain our situation to people around the world. This means that going through this adventure is worth it.

It was 5 o’clock in the morning in Bait Sahour, just outside of Bethlehem. The city had been under curfew for three days. There were a few houses occupied by Israeli soldiers in the neighborhood, and we could not imagine if the car coming to take us to Jericho would succeed to arrive to us or even if it did arrive, would we succeed in leaving Bait Sahour without the soldiers preventing us or shooting at us.

The car moved through the city center to pick up more passengers heading to Jordan. At the same time Israeli occupation jeeps were circling the city announcing the continuation of curfew. The car was moving and stopping, just to avoid the Israeli jeeps until we reached Wade Nar Road, leading us to the first checkpoint that they call Container. This checkpoint links Bethlehem to the northern governorates of the West Bank.

The checkpoint was closed because Israel announced closure of all Palestine since the assassination of Sheikh Yassin on the 22 March. This checkpoint is at the top of a mountain and all around are hills and valleys, so it is easy to know that one must climb to the top of the mountain to get away from the checkpoint in order to continue the trip.

Thousands of people climb the mountain, especially laborers on their way to work. It felt as if we were walking in the main street of a capital city because it was full of people. We reached the top of the mountain just a few meters after the checkpoint, and took another car to continue. One must pass Asowahreh Asharkia and Abu Dees to arrive to Azarria Villages around Jerusalem. There one finds another checkpoint next to Ma’ale Adumim Settlement, one of the biggest Israeli settlements inside the West Bank. This road leads directly to Jericho, if you are able to pass it. The Israeli military usually imposes the checkpoint at 6:30 am, which means one must pass before that time because if you arrive after, you have to spend too many hours detained and feeling more the meaning of the occupation.

We passed the area a few moments before it opened, as Israeli soldiers were preparing the checkpoint in front of the settlement. We continued directly to Jericho. Everybody took the buses that took you from the PNA area to the first point of the border under Israeli occupation between Palestine and Jordan. One thought the same restrictions would be applied as any other time to travel, but everyone was shocked to learn of the latest restrictions.

To arrive at this first Israeli checkpoint, the bus passes a yellow gate where it stops for a few minutes for the Israelis to search the outside of the bus. Then the bus continues, but this time everyone had to get out of the bus to pass an electronic gate for body searches.

And just five meters after, one must board another bus which goes to the main Israeli building where they search papers, especially for their “security” issues. The new buses passed around 3 km to reach this building. It stopped about 20 meters away from the building and outside there was another electronic gate.

Inside the hall, we are searched for the third time, regardless of the search 30 seconds earlier. We have to line up to arrive at an Israeli soldier standing in front of a glass wall that separates the hall between them, the Israeli worker soldiers, and the Mukhabarat, the Israeli security. The soldier takes your passport and puts it in the slot and pushes it through to the Mukhabarat. And then you have to wait for the answer.

If the container returns empty, without your passport, you know you must sit down and wait for the Israeli answer. But usually, the answer will be that you must go back to the same point at which you began, regardless of what one has gone through to get this far.