BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh
BBCi CATEGORIES   TV   RADIO   COMMUNICATE   WHERE I LIVE   INDEX    SEARCH 

BBC NEWS
 You are in:  World: Middle East
Front Page 
World 
Africa 
Americas 
Asia-Pacific 
Europe 
Middle East 
South Asia 
-------------
From Our Own Correspondent 
-------------
Letter From America 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 


Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

SERVICES 
Saturday, 6 April, 2002, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
Eyewitness: West Bank commuter odyssey
Palestinians walking to Nablus
The last leg of the journey into Nablus
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.


Time: 1430
Leave office

Palestinian office worker Olfat Hammad leaves Nablus
Olfat prepares for her journey
Office worker Olfat Hammad takes a taxi from her office in the Irsal district of Ramallah. She has been at work for about six hours only, but needs to set off early in the afternoon to get home before nightfall.

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.

  Click here for story in pictures

[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.]

Time: 1445
Kassarat crossing

Kassarat takes its name from the quarry which commuters must walk through to get to shared taxis outside Ramallah.

Kassarat crossing
Kassarat includes a heap of earth and a long climb
The muddy walk takes about 10-15 minutes and includes a long steep hill and a large pile of rubble put there by the army to prevent cars entering 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.

Time: 1505
Shared taxi to Burin

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 driver explains that he fears traffic accidents on this stretch of road, which is under full control of the Israeli military. Crashes involving Palestinian vehicles here are usually assumed to be "terrorist" hit-and-run attacks against settlers.

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.

Jewish settlement east of Ramallah
The road passes several Jewish settlements
The 10-kilometre drive on steep, winding dirt roads takes another half an hour, before we get back onto the main Nablus-Ramallah road near Odala, which is about five kilometres away from Nablus.

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.

Time: 1640
Walk over rough terrain

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 Hammad prepares to walk across country to Nablus
The road ahead is blocked, so Olfat must climb over the hill (right)
The presence of the tank has destroyed a thriving business for donkey-cart drivers whose vehicles had been the only ones able to penetrate the Nablus blockade. (This trade meant a donkey was worth more than a Mercedes in Nablus, according to one local wit.)

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 Hammad walking down hill to avoid Israeli checkpoint
The strain begins to tell during our descent
In the fading light, we pick our way down the much steeper slope on the other side with urgency, fearing that if we loiter the soldiers may become suspicious. Several people fall on the slippery, mud-covered stones.

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.

Time: 1715
Taxis to downtown Nablus and home

With others who have walked over the hill we climb on board the next minibus to leave for Nablus.

Nablus taxi drivers
Taxi drivers wait to take exhausted commuters into Nablus
Our joint exertion makes the vehicle's windows immediately steam up with perspiration and hot breath.

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.

See also:

Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories