BBC News
July 17, 2009 - 12:00am

Israel said they were necessary security measures to prevent attacks on its civilians, but many Palestinians viewed them as collective punishment.

The northern city of Nablus, previously a stronghold of Palestinian militant groups, has been surrounded by six checkpoints since the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, which began in 2000.

For the first time in about nine years, its residents can now drive their cars out of the city. Journey times around the West Bank have been cut significantly.

Three Palestinians from Nablus describe how the changes have affected journeys they need to make.


Ahmad was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and had to travel five days a week from his home in Nablus to a hospital in East Jerusalem for radiotherapy.

West Bank map

2006: Hospital bus
Hawarra: 1-2 hours wait
Zaatara: 45 mins wait
Jerusalem checkpoints: At least 1 hour wait
Driving: 1 hour
Total: 4-5 hours

Jan 2009: Two taxis, one bus
Hawarra: 1 hour wait
Zaatara: 15 mins wait
Qalandia: 1 hour wait
Driving: 1 hour
Total: 3 hours 15 mins

July 2009: Own car and bus
Hawarra: 10 mins wait
Zaatara: 5-10 mins wait
Qalandia: Up to 1 hour wait
Driving: 1 hour
Total: Approx 2 hours
Breathing life back into Nablus

He has since been given the all clear, but still has to make the journey about once every six months for tests to confirm the cancer has not returned.

He says the journey in 2006, by hospital bus, used to take several hours. "I had to be at the hospital for 10am, but often I was late."

During his treatment, the West Bank barrier was under construction and the Qalandia, the new, main crossing from the West Bank to Jerusalem was opened. But Ahmad says it took about two hours to cross because it was accommodating traffic from two old checkpoints that were closed.

The patients had to cross on foot, he says. "I was lucky at the time because I could walk. There were some patients who could not walk. It was so difficult."

By January 2009, the journey was a little quicker, but he still had to take two different taxis and a bus, crossing two checkpoints on foot.

Ahmad plans to make the trip within the next month, and expects it to be much quicker until he reaches Qalandia, where he says nothing has changed.

"In general the atmosphere is much better than before - now I can go with my family to visit the zoo in Qalqilya. I haven't been able to do that for a long time.

"I could go to Ramallah anytime today. Yesterday I was able to come back from Bethlehem at 11pm at night, in my own car. I have missed driving on the highways. It's a really good feeling."

Ahmad spoke under false name as he wishes to keep his illness private.

Now movement has been eased, kindergarten teacher Aisha Masri, 42, is planning to go to the Palestinian Authority offices in Ramallah to apply for a Palestinian ID for her brother.

He lives in Jordan and she says he cannot visit without it. She says the main reason she has not tried before was "the checkpoints" - "and I wasn't hopeful that I would succeed".

From what she has heard, she thinks the trip should now take 45 minutes to an hour - compared to 90 minutes to two hours before.

"The changes to the checkpoints are good, but we are still waiting for them to be removed 100%. The soldiers are still here, and they could close them at any time."

"Of course it's made me feel more positive. The economic changes mean we will have better relations with the rest of the world, and also that the people here can get back to their normal lives."

But she is not optimistic that her brother will visit any time soon. "Maybe in five years, 10 years, inshallah."

He says the journey to the border could take as long as three hours until recently. It now takes only about 45 minutes.

Before, he had two choices to exit Nablus, and would choose either to go south through Hawarra checkpoint, or if the queue was long, to loop north through Beit Iba.

Times depended on the length of the queue at the Nablus checkpoints. "Once it took 15 minutes for each person, and we were seven people in the taxi," he said.

Then he would drive south to the outskirts of Jerusalem and then east to the border.

Now two quicker routes are open, cutting through the hills to the Jordan Valley.

The recent changes "will make a lot of difference", Mr Mohammed says, but his views on the wider situation have not changed.

He is still trying to leave the West Bank to live in Jordan, where has invested in a coffee shop.

"I have started to hate this place. I am tired of life here. I want to go and live somewhere else - anywhere."


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017