May Marei
The Daily News Egypt (Opinion)
October 28, 2011 - 12:00am

No words can describe how I felt, as a Palestinian, the moment I got my permit to Jerusalem from the Israeli government. I had waited seven hours in line with other Palestinians trying to get permissions for emergency visits to what is considered as an Israeli forbidden area.

It’s been 12 years since my last visit to that holy amazing – as I believe – Palestinian city. The feeling of knowing that I will be in Jerusalem the next day was remarkable.

The next day my friend Maysa and I had to wake up at 5 am so that we can be on time for the 10:00 am meeting with the American council there. Originally, from Jenin, my city, to Jerusalem it is a two-hour trip, but with all the Israeli checkpoints and borders, you can never be sure how long the road will take, so you have to prepare yourself.

We arrived at Qalandia’s checkpoint at 8:00 am, which is known as one of the toughest checkpoints in the West Bank, because it is one of the gates that stands on the Apartheid Wall that the Israeli government built in 2004 to separate what they believe is an Israeli land from the Palestinian land. The checkpoint is considered one of the most crowded ones, because it separates many employees from their work and many students from their schools who must cross it every morning.

We spent an hour at the checkpoint waiting in line, when we had to cross the siege and the circular gates that only let one person at a time through. We reached the small glass booth, where a soldier with a gun was sitting to check our IDs and permits through the glass.

We arrived in Jerusalem. We had to take the bus to the consulate that is 15 minutes away from the city itself, on the way to Betjala, according to people we asked.

While sitting in the bus, half an hour had passed and I started to worry because I knew that it is supposed to take less time. By that moment, as we crossed another checkpoint between Jerusalem and Betjala, I found out that the bus driver, who we asked to drop us off near the consulate, had completely forgotten about us.

I started arguing with him, feeling angry and nervous, because it was almost time for my interview. He apologized, saying that he will give us a ride back on one of the other buses heading back to Jerusalem with no extra charge.

We got off that bus, took another one back to where we were supposed to be. As we tried to cross the same last checkpoint, the soldiers collected all the passengers’ IDs.

That was the exact moment I was hoping to avoid, because whenever your name is being called and your ID is taken by the soldiers, you know that you are in trouble. By that time my appointment with the council had already passed.

We stepped off the bus, as we were told, surrounded by the Israeli soldiers holding big guns, wearing helmets on the road that is closed off with cement walls.

The soldier came over and started shouting to our faces in Hebrew, which I don’t understand. I was tense knowing that I’m alone and responsible for myself and Maysa. I asked the soldier if she could speak English, then she explained to me that we cannot cross that specific checkpoint because it was only for blue ID holders, which means only for Palestinians that live in the Israeli areas, and we were Green ID holders, that is specific for people living in the West Bank, considered the Palestinian areas.

We didn’t know that of course since it was our first time in Jerusalem after the apartheid wall and all the new procedures. I tried to argue, saying that I had an appointment that started half an hour ago, showing her the document from the council so she’d believe what I am saying. She interrupted me and started yelling “Shut up and go back, you already missed your appointment, no need for you to pass.”

That was when I realized that I couldn’t argue any more, to avoid being arrested or getting myself or Maysa into deeper trouble.

I took a look around, we were in an isolated area, with no taxis or people. I grabbed my cell phone and was shocked to find that I have no reception, which means I cannot call anyone for help. I was terrified.

Maysa and I started walking, looking for a taxi. We walked for around 150 meters and no Palestinian cars passed us by, only Israeli ones which I couldn’t ask for help because it is to trust someone with a ride in the middle of Israeli territories under Israeli control.

On the sidewalk we found a factory owned by a Palestinian man. I started to tell him about what happened. He offered to give us a ride to the other checkpoint that is specified for green ID holders, and I knew I had no option other than accepting the offer of riding with a complete stranger in an isolated area, with no cell phone reception.

We got into the car and I kept looking at Maysa, sending her signals to be careful. I kept my window rolled down and my hand on the door, telling myself I would open the door and jump in case he tried to hurt us.

We finally reached that check point in Bethlahem. It took half an hour to cross it and another half an hour to reach the council. They agreed to meet us even though we were three hours late.

Our first mission was accomplished and now the tougher part begins.
We got our visas to be able to go to the United States. Palestinians cannot travel to any country without going through Jordan first by crossing the King Hussain Bridge; which is a one-hour trip.

Given the many restrictions on Palestinians’ movement, checking our passports and IDs multiple times, changing four different buses, standing in line for several hours to be able to cross, it took me 11 hours to arrive to Amman, Jordan from Jericho Palestine which is only 29 miles.

It took me the same amount of time to travel 3,450 miles from Amsterdam to the United States.


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