Sea on The Highway

I am a young Palestinian Christian woman in my early twenties. I was excited to receive my holiday travel permit, allowing me to visit lands occupied by the military in 1967, and Palestinian areas in Israel. Most other months of the year I am not allowed to go into Jerusalem, or to Yaffa or Haifa or Nazareth, because I am a Palestinian.

Mostly, Palestinian ID holders can only get permit for special cases like visiting a hospital when they are sick. Workers also get permits from their employers, via Israel, but they have to return to the West Bank before evening. As a Christian though, I get permits at Christmas, and sometimes Easter, so I can visit religious sites that I am usually barred from.

Twice! I went through the checkpoint only twice even though the permit was for a whole month. I still had to work and life carried on, so for the 31 days of permission I only had two where I managed to pass through the checkpoint. My first time was to get to Jerusalem and visit holy sites with the scout troop I guide.

On the second day, I was going to go to the sea.

It was 10 January 2010, and it started off as a normal day. I woke up, had breakfast, watched TV and waited for lunch. The phone rang. My aunt was on the line and said they were going to Yaffa. I thought: the sea!!

It’s been time since I’ve been to the sea and since I have permission I thought I should take the opportunity. I sent a message to all my friends. Some of them agreed to join me, and since we cannot drive Palestinian cars into Israel, we decided to navigate the Israeli sherut system. That was the first mistake.

Off we went to the checkpoint. Five young women and a teenage boy.

The Bethlehem checkpoint was crowded. Soldiers were videotaping the crowd. We stood there for more than an hour, humiliated as we were searched one-by-one on our way through the turnstiles and metal detectors.

Through the checkpoint and onto the Arab bus that goes to Damascus gate at the head of the Old City. We got off early and walked past the invisible armistice line into West Jerusalem where we met an Arab man, who was standing at the sherut lot. He told us to get on the van with an Israeli driver because it was “his turn.”

Off we go in the van heading to Tel Aviv, to the sea. With us, there were other passengers. A woman who spoke three languages offered to help us get from the sherut station in the city on to the sea. An Israeli man pretended he did not speak Arabic at first and acted like a philosopher.

Because of traffic we did not take highway one. We took the settler bypass road that runs through the West Bank, but is forbidden for Palestinians to drive on. We watched our villages fly past from angles we had never seen them before. Just in case Palestinians do get on the road, there is a checkpoint where it veers west, back into Israeli territory.

We stopped at the checkpoint. When the Israeli policeman opened the van’s door, he saw the youngest among us, the boy. He made him step out of the van.

My friend’s brother does not speak Hebrew or English. He didn’t understand what the soldier was telling him. He was beaten. The driver refused to wait and wanted to leave without him. He went out of the van, spoke to the soldier, came back to tell us the boy was being sent back to Jerusalem. The philosopher urged the driver to leave.

The five of us refused to go on without him, and we exited the van. We stood in the highway and waited until he finished being questioned at the checkpoint.

Imagine: five young women standing on the highway, waiting. The young boy finished after 15 minutes and reached us safely.

Since no car traveling on the bypass road has room for six, and we did not want to be separated, we started walking on the highway like in the movies. We tried to stop anyone to drive us to Tel Aviv but there was no point. I called my aunt’s husband to come get us, but he said it will take him more than an hour to reach us amid rush hour traffic.

We made the most of the enforced adventure, singing and dancing while walking through the highway. I made sure to take loads of pictures.

The plan, back at the first checkpoint, was to see the sunset over the Mediterranean as we sat on the beach. But guess what, the sunset on the highway was much more fun!

We walked for two hours until we reached a gas station.

Four-four-three is the road number. It was written on the top of the gas station. Road 443, the settler road that connects Jerusalem with Modi’in and Tel Aviv. Its is under heavy security and is for Israelis only.

So at the gas station for Israelis only, we Palestinians drank some soft drinks and ate chocolates. We waited for another hour until my uncle picked us up.

By the time we arrived in Tel Aviv, it was 7:10 pm. He drove us to the train station directly to catch the last train to Jerusalem at 7:55pm, so there was no time to put our feet on the sand, or in the salt water. I guess the sea at night is not that exciting anyway.

The rest of my Christmas permit passed with no more voyages through the checkpoint.

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