The Road to Bethlehem: Obama’s Commute and the Palestinians’

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US President Barack Obama stands alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres prior to departing from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, on 22 March 2013. (Photo: AFP - Saul Loeb)

By: Fadi Abu Saada

Published Friday, March 22, 2013

Bethlehem – On Thursday, 21 March 2013, US President Barack Obama traveled from Jerusalem to the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem. He entered the city through its northern entrance along the road Israelis call Route 300.

After all checkpoints had been opened and the roads were cleared of people, Obama’s trip took only a few minutes. However, the Palestinians do not enjoy such luxuries; this route is off-limits and access would necessitate a special permit from the occupation authorities.

If Obama wanted to arrive in Bethlehem via Ramallah, then his journey would not have taken him longer than 25 minutes, if not less. But what do Palestinians’ trips to Bethlehem from Ramallah look like?

Atef Louwais works in Ramallah and lives in Bethlehem. He told Al-Akhbar that he leaves his home every day at 6:30 am to catch a taxi to Ramallah, in the hope that he can get to work by 8 am.

After getting a taxi downtown, he makes his first mandatory stop at the Israeli “Container” military checkpoint at the southeastern entrance to the city.

If Israeli soldiers are in a good mood, they do not hold Louwais for very long, and let him continue his journey through the dangerous road known as Wadi al-Nar, which means valley of fire in Arabic. From there, he arrives at the town of Azarieh (Bethany) on the outskirts of occupied Jerusalem.

This takes him close to the Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, where Israeli border police vehicles often patrol the adjoining area. Louwais said that these patrols, which the Palestinians call “flying checkpoints,” are the real nightmare for commuters. The occupation soldiers habitually detain passengers, sometimes under the pretext of an ID or car registration check.

Next, according to Saed Abdallah, Atef’s commuting companion, “We head along the route known as the quarry road until we reach the Palestinian village of Hazma. We then take a bypass road around occupied Jerusalem. During that leg of the trip, we get to see the progression of the settlements devouring the lands in and around Jerusalem.”

“If we manage to cross the Jabba checkpoint, we walk a few minutes before reaching the Qalandiya crossing. But there, we will meet with another disaster: the massive traffic jam that comes with the arrival of thousands of commuters every morning and evening, all under the eyes of the occupation soldiers who enjoy torturing and humiliating the Palestinians.”

This is the arduous journey that Palestinian commuters must make every day. The return trip is even more difficult, and might take up to two hours, if not more. Perhaps Obama, who was met with red carpets and empty roads on his arrival, does not know these details. But even if he did, would he care?

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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