Monday, September 22, 2008

Taking the Arab bus to Bethlehem

On Thursday, September 18, our last day in Israel and Palestine, I took a group of seven to Deheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. We walked to the bus station near the Damascus Gate and found the #21, which would take us to Beit Jala, near the camp. The Arab transit workers are very helpful -- telling us how much, making sure we are on the right bus. The bus was full of students and older people.

We were stopped at a flying checkpoint near Tantur, where the Hebron Road turns, just before you get to the checkpoint at Bethlehem. The soldiers made some of the people get off the bus, the ones who were standing in the aisles. The IDF soldiers got on and looked at our IDs. The older woman at the front of the bus did not get her ID out fast enough and the soldier jabbed her with his automatic rifle to hurry her up. Our group was sitting at the back of the bus and when the soldier saw our American passports, his expression changed. He gave us a big smile and said, "Oh, hello -- welcome!" Of all the passengers -- people who probably ride this bus every day -- they singled us out to be friendly. The other passengers just got gruff stares and disrespect.

On the way back, we were stopped at another flying checkpoint, just outside Beit Jala, about a hundred feet from the real checkpoint on Road 60. This time our driver had to show his permits and then get off the bus and wait by the police car parked at the side of the road. After about ten minutes of waiting on the bus, Don called out, "Does anyone speak English?" No, we were told. So we just had to wait, not knowing what was going on. Even if we spoke Arabic, we would not have known what was going on. There is no explanation. No one knows why the soldiers make people wait--it's simply because they can. They have the firepower.

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