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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
The long race to Jerusalem
Matthew Price (left) shakes hands with fellow correspondent James Reynolds
Reynolds [right], the winner by 15 minutes, shakes hands with Price at the "finishing line"

For Palestinians, travel in the West Bank is a daily challenge. Israeli military roadblocks, checkpoints and occasional closures make journeys difficult and sometimes impossible. Israel says its measures are designed solely to prevent suicide bombers from reaching their towns and cities. The BBC sent two of its Middle East correspondents to see what day-to-day movement is like at the moment.

Each started at the same time, about 65 kilometres (40 miles) from Jerusalem - Matthew Price in the northern West Bank, and James Reynolds in the south. Their mission was to reach a rooftop cafe in Jerusalem's Old City, using only local transport.

Here is an account of their journeys:

1115: Matthew Price:
On your marks, get set, go! We're off. We're starting at a road junction. To the east and west runs the road used by Israelis - the one we've just travelled on to get here.

Cutting it, north to south, is the gravel road most Palestinians have to use. This is the one we're going to take.

Amin, our taxi driver, tells me it's going to take a lot longer to get back to Jerusalem now that we're on the roads used by Palestinians.

1115: James Reynolds
Engines running and go. We start in the Palestinian town of Dhahiriya - on the southern edge of the West Bank.

We team up with Asser, a local taxi driver, piling into his yellow van.

Normally, he'd wait until all seats are full before heading off. But we're in a rush. So we persuade him to go, even though half the seats are empty.

He thinks it'll take us about six hours to get to Jerusalem. We guess it'll take about three.

1125: James Reynolds
We leave Dhahiriya and Asser decides to take an unpaved road north towards the Palestinian city of Hebron.

He says this is to avoid the possibility of an impromptu Israeli army checkpoint on the better road he normally uses.

So we bump along the unpaved road, passing shepherds and olive groves along the way.

1145: James Reynolds
On our way to Hebron we see a young couple standing by the side of the road, waiting for a taxi.

We have plenty of space, so we stop and let them on. They tell us they're heading north for a doctor's appointment - they're trying to have a baby.

They sit quietly at the back of Asser's van.

1205: Matthew Price
We have hardly moved. Amin took us along the gravel road, into Tulkarm and through the town centre.

Reynolds consults map in car
Where are we going? Reynolds consults the map
Then, on the other side, we came across two unmanned roadblocks.

Then we got to another road junction but instead of turning left, which the map seemed to show was the quickest route, Amin turned right.

"We can't go that way, they won't let us through," he said.

Still, we were on an Israeli road which Amin didn't have a permit for so we were risking things a bit. He'd have had his car impounded if he had been caught.

A few kilometres down the road we turned off and onto a gravel track. Precisely two kilometres from where we started - and having travelled a total of 27 kilometres!

1210: James Reynolds
We reach central Hebron. Traffic moving normally.

Asser tells us the Israeli army has removed a number of roadblocks that used to stop cars from getting into the city.

The young couple tell us they need to get off. We wish them well and head on through Hebron.

1220: James Reynolds
We leave Hebron and get to Israeli army watchtower on main road.

View of road towards Hebron through car windshield
Life on the (unpaved) open road: Reynolds and team on the way to Hebron
We see an Israeli jeep - but so far we've seen no soldiers. Yellow-plated Israeli cars head north towards Jerusalem on this main road.

But we can't join them - our driver has green Palestinian plates and doesn't have the right permit to get on this road.

So we head east, trying to get to Bethlehem on a side road. Asser stops all other drivers we pass - checking the road ahead.

1230: Matthew Price
The gravel road is getting a little tiring. It's about 36 degrees. There are potholes everywhere. The motorways I normally use to get around Israel are certainly better and faster.

We're winding through the West Bank, up and down hill, past olive groves. It's very pretty, but it seems to be taking a very long time.

1305: James Reynolds
Our first sight of Jerusalem - a handful of spires and skyscrapers on the horizon. A very exciting moment.

1305: Matthew Price
Things have got better. We're now on a faster road. Amin tells me he has to take the back roads to avoid the checkpoints.

Now we're heading towards the Palestinian town of Ramallah. We haven't seen a checkpoint yet.

But sometimes there are what are known as "flying checkpoints".

If the Israeli army decides to set up a road block, it will do it with no warning. So journeys get interrupted.

And no-one knows how long their journey will take.

1315: James Reynolds
We come to a more permanent Israeli checkpoint, outside village of Zatara, just south of Bethlehem.

We're the sixth car in the queue. A white Israeli-plated car carrying men wearing religious skullcaps skips the queue on our left, followed by an Israeli army jeep - probably their escort.

We guess that the Israelis live in a nearby Jewish settlement - easily picked out by its red roofs.

1330: James Reynolds
We reach the front of the line and soldiers let us pass. We drive into Bethlehem, past signs for Shepherds' Fields and Manger Square.

1350: Matthew Price
Qalandia Checkpoint, Ramallah. We're close to Jerusalem, but still so far.

 Reynolds and colleague walk towards Bethlehem-Jerusalem checkpoint
Nearly there - Reynolds and colleague at the Bethlehem-Jerusalem checkpoint
This is where everyone passing from Ramallah to the Jerusalem side is checked.

I chat to a man who's just spent half an hour getting through.

He says it's not too bad today but sometimes it can take a few hours.

"You can never plan your meetings, anything to do with your life. You just have to hope you get through in time," he tells me.

Palestinians with the wrong identification are not allowed through.

Israel, of course, says it wouldn't need to check everyone if there weren't suicide bombers trying to get through to Israeli towns and cities.

Palestinians say it's collective punishment.

1350: James Reynolds
Reach the main Bethlehem-Jerusalem checkpoint. Groups of Palestinian taxis are parked by the side of the road.

We leave Asser here - like most West Bank Palestinians, he doesn't have Israeli permission to enter Jerusalem.

He seems happy that we've done the journey this quickly.

1400: James Reynolds
We cross the checkpoint on foot and step onto the outskirts of Israeli west Jerusalem.

We flag down an Israeli taxi driver. He drives us towards the Old City. After two hours on winding roads, it feels strange to be back on good, straight roads.

1410: Matthew Price
One last checkpoint. This time heading into Jerusalem. The soldiers open the door and look at our IDs, Then wave us through.

It takes a few minutes, but it's pretty painless.

1435: James Reynolds
We arrive at the rendezvous point - the rooftop cafe in the Old City. Relieved that all has gone to plan, and that the journey didn't take six hours.

1450: Matthew Price
At last we make it! Jerusalem's Old City. Our journey from here took just over an hour on Israeli roads. The return leg is three and a half hours on Palestinian roads.

And our driver said often it takes a lot, lot longer.





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