Apr 20 2005


Published by at 3:21 am under Blogs,Travel Blues

I was intended on not repeating my experience yesterday when I spent nearly 2 hours making the short trip from my office in Ramallah to my apartment in Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina office. The problem is that I could have made it in a lot less time by going the bypass road which I would be allowed to by the Israelis because I have a press card, but I had wanted to be like every other Palestinian and as a result I found my self stuck in the long line at the Qalandia checkpoint.

Today I was participating in a staff conference for Al Quds University held at the Jericho Intercontinental. I told the receptionists that I needed a taxi to take me to the Sheikh Hussein bridge at 8 pm. I figured that would give me plenty of time to make it before the bridge closes at 10pm. I was deep in the conference listening to professors and heads of departments and even students talking about how to improve college life with at least one professor showing a chart comparing the similarities and differences of Al Quds to universities in the states. A few minutes before 8 I decided to go out and check out that my taxi would be ready. The receptionists told me that they found a taxi with yellow (Israeli) plates but that he wanted 450 shekels. Woe I exclaimed that is a lot more than what I pay usually from Jerusalem where I pay 300 shekels and we are half an hour closer to the bridge.

Not wanting to be ripped off I ask the receptionists for an alternative and he makes a call. The driver is willing to get me to the bridge for 300 shekels but there is a catch, since he is not allowed with his west bank taxi to make it, he will get me an Israeli taxi to make the journey for the last 20 kilometers. I insisted that he will cover the entire trip for 300 shekels and he agreed. By the time he came it was 8:10. The receptionists came out with me and I wanted to repeat our agreement but he surprised me that the driver is his cousin and that he was going to come with us for the ride. When we got on the road it became clear that our Jericho taxi driver didn’t have any particular Israeli colleague and that he was planning to wave a taxi down. It was too late for me to change my mind so I figured to pray for the best and enjoy the adventure.

We hadn’t driven long before we saw a taxi with an Israeli plate, we tried to get him to stop but he wouldn’t. Our driver figured that he is either an Israeli or he is afraid. To reassure him that we didn’t intend harm our taxi driver drove slowly behind him for a while. Time was ticking and I encouraged him to pass him. We did and he noticed that the taxi was in fact owned by a Palestinians ( there was Arabic written on the side). We drove on and our driver kept us entertained by stories of the days when the Jericho Casisno was opened and how many trips he used to make to all parts of Israel often with losing gamblers and sometimes with those who hit the jackpot.

We reached the edge of the Green Line by 9:15. A ten minute drive would get me to the bridge in plenty of time. We told the Israeli soldiers of what our situation was and they seemed rather pleasant even offering us a chair as we wait for a taxi to come. None did, except for the taxi we had passed. It turned out he had a passenger with him and that is why he couldn’t stop. A number of Israelis passed by but we were hoping for a Palestinian driver who can help us out. A pick up truck came by. The passengers were clearly Palestinian. We asked them politely to give us a lift but they were afraid, the driver claims that he once gave someone a ride and got in trouble for it. Don’t worry we assured him the soldiers know about us. They drive up to the checkpoint and soon they leave without giving me a ride. We asked the soldiers and they said that they didn’t want to give us a ride. An Israeli soldier who spoke fluent Arabic shows up and offers to help. We tell him the situation and he promises to find us a tremp- the Hebrew word for hitchhiking.

Another Palestinian driver, this one from Nazareth drives up, we and the Israeli soldier ask for help but he refuses, saying he was at a hospital and he doesn’t feel good, anyways he tells us and the soldier no.

Our Jericho taxi driver shares some bizzer (watermelon seeds) with the Arabic speaking Israeli soldier whose comments about the last Palestinian made me smile. ” this is the problem with us Arabs, that is why we are trodden under, we don’t help each other.

A few cars drive by and refuse to help, I keep looking at my watch worried that I will not make it. A beat up Toyota pulls up and the Israeli soldier speaks to the kippa wearing Israeli. He agrees to give me a ride but wants money. I ask how much and he says 100. I say 50 ( my driver tells me to offer 70) I offer 60 and then he says 70. We agree and I get in the car.

He is a vegetable salesman named Shlomi who buys from Palestinians in the nearby village of Bardala he tells me in Arabic as he is driving very slowly and my heart is pounding fearing that I will miss the bridge.

I call up Nael, the bus driver who drives the Israeli bus crossing from the Isreali to the Jordanian side. He assures me that if I make it by 9:50 he will wait for me. It was already 9:28 and we had just began the 20 kilometer journey in a slow driving car.

Back in the Toyota, the Israeli driver says he is tells me that he is Kurdish born in Israel in 1956, I note that he is one year younger than me although I thought to myself that he looks much older. He tells me how much he likes the late King Hussein and I agree but insist that he should pick up speed. He speeds up a little then turns the tape recorder to Abdel Halim Hafez. The music makes him slow down. I ask him to speed up but he wants me to know that he has been listening to this classic singer since he was 15. There are four great musicians he tells me as he slows down to name them, I agree with him but insist that he speed up. We approach Bisan and he points to a settlement to the right side of the road where he lives. What do you think of Jalal Talbani, the first Kurdish president ever, I ask. Oh he will not be a president for a long time, he replies as he slows down his driving. I realize that every time he speaks he slows down . My nerves are shot as I want to be polite with him but without my small talk causing him to slow down.

I call Nael again, we are in Beisan, I lie to him. It will be a few minutes, what if the border police don’t allow me, I ask him. Don’t worry he assures me, just call me and I will make sure they let you in.

We arrive at the crossing point at about 9:45. I give the Kurdish good Samaritan 100 shekels and wait for change. He presents me with a 20 shekel bill and claims he has not more change. I am too nerve wrecked to argue. I rush to the border policeman who routinely checks my passport, asks me if I had any weapons on me and waves me in.

I made it in time. But wonder if the 70 shekels I saves were worth my nerves. On a second thought I realize that it had nothing to do with saving money as much as my constant search for adventure. I tell myself, that in the end, I know I will have a story to write about.


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