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Saturday, 6 April, 2002, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
Eyewitness: West Bank commuter odyssey
US President George W Bush has called on Israel to be more "compassionate" at the dozens of Israeli checkpoints throughout West Bank and Gaza - hoping to reduce the "daily humiliation" which fuels Palestinian anger about Israel's occupation.
Before Israel's latest military campaign, which has brought Palestinian travel to a standstill, BBC News Online's correspondent Martin Asser sampled the life of a Palestinian commuter, from the West Bank's administrative capital, Ramallah, to its biggest town, Nablus.
Without Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks, the 45-kilometre journey takes 45 minutes. On 21 March 2002 it took more than three hours.
The taxi picks up two friends who usually travel to Nablus with her and it heads for the Kassarat crossing, by which Palestinians leave Ramallah to travel to other West Bank towns.
[Since this journey was made, Kassarat has been closed and Ramallah commuters have had to pass through the much more intimidating Kalandia checkpoint. The wait at Kalandia can add more than an hour to Olfat's journey.]
Kassarat takes its name from the quarry which commuters must walk through to get to shared taxis outside Ramallah.
At the top of the hill dozens of shared taxis wait to take people to various destinations in the West Bank. But cars plying the Ramallah-Nablus route are in short supply because rainstorms have put off many commuters.
Israeli troops patrol through the throng - a jeep with soldiers on foot front and rear. The rearguard points his weapon menacingly at the Palestinian drivers and passengers, who avert their eyes nervously.
After a short wait, a shared taxi is found and the party sets off on the main Ramallah-Nablus road. After about five minutes we leave the main road and join a smaller road linking a string of Jewish settlements with Jerusalem, bypassing Palestinian towns.
The first part of this leg of the journey comprises 30 kilometres on good roads. We head north past Rimonim and Kochav Hashahar settlements among others. Their rows of red roofs and gleaming water towers contrast sharply with the irregular Arab towns visible on the other side of the road.
After half an hour, the taxi turns left off the settlers' bypass road onto an unmarked dirt road that climbs up through several small Palestinian farming communities, including Akraba and Beita.
We pass through the Israeli-controlled town of Hawwara, whose Palestinian residents spend most of their time under a curfew. Most traffic is from the nearby army base.
The taxi then turns left off the main Nablus road. The normal way into town is blocked by the Israeli army to all Palestinian traffic, although cars with Israeli plates can get to the outskirts of Nablus.
We must head towards Burin, another small farming community outside Nablus.
After Burin - more than two hours into our journey and only five minutes' drive from the centre of Nablus - we must leave the taxi because the road is cut by a series of ditches and heaps of earth.
The two-kilometre dirt road from the Burin blockade into Nablus has for the last week been cut by a temporary Israeli roadblock consisting of a tank and some soldiers.
Olfat discovers from people coming the other way that the tank is still there and soldiers are arresting any Palestinians who approach.
To avoid arrest, we have to walk around the tank, climbing over an adjacent hill - hopefully, high enough and far enough away to preclude any possibility that the troops might fire warning shots to keep us away.
A stiff, muddy climb against a head wind takes us to the brow of the hill where we can look down on the tank. Israeli soldiers are guarding a dozen-or-so Palestinian men on a piece of flat ground. Two of the men are kneeling with their arms behind their heads.
Olfat only relaxes when there is solid ground between us and the troops. Just then someone's mobile rings and we learn that a Palestinian suicide bomber has struck in west Jerusalem. The news means that I will have to stay overnight in a hotel in Nablus, as no taxi (even with Israeli plates) will be willing to drive back to Jerusalem for fear of further violence during the night.
We join a rough path which leads us back to the dirt road on the other side of the temporary roadblock. A number of shared minibus taxis are waiting there to take us to the centre of Nablus.
The walk, which has left everyone's nerves in tatters, has taken about 35 minutes. Our shoes are caked in sticky brown mud.
With others who have walked over the hill we climb on board the next minibus to leave for Nablus.
People call home on mobiles to inform their loved ones of their safe return. Fifteen minutes later, having arrived in centre of Nablus, we board a private taxi which makes the five-minute journey to Olfat's family's house.
She crosses the threshold at 1735, tired, spattered in mud and mentally drained, three hours and five minutes after leaving the office.
06 Apr 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Palestinian commuter's odyssey
06 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Palestinians' disrupted journeys
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