Today Geoff, Jane, John and I visited Ramallah. Once we had negotiated the bus traffic jam we found streets bustling with fruit and bread sellers, and loads of small shops overflowing onto the pavement. We found Yasser Arafat’s tomb a few streets away from this thoroughfare – guarded by Palestinian police it is a sweep of clean white stone and angles – then we set off to find an art gallery I’d spotted in the guide book. It took us over an hour, and on the journey we happened upon a new, but very quiet tourist information centre, which helped in our quest. Half an hour later we found the Al Sakakini Centre, but it was all but empty. No one there was pleased we’d come, but neither were they surprised we were there to see a non-existent art exhibition. We had to laugh.
But on the way back to the bus station a young man called out to us “excuse me”, and initially we ignored him thinking it was a hawker. But he persisted because he wanted to tell us what happened a few days ago to his class at Al-Quds University.
He related how soldiers stormed in during his lecture last week and threw tear gas into the room. This obviously shocked the students so much, many were injured by rubber bullets outside. He showed us his rucksack, opening it in his eagerness to explain his innocence in all of the Al-Quds fiasco, showing us its contents: “all I have is books!” Whilst he spoke with understandable passion, there was no aggression. I tried imagining how terrified I would be if that happened in the UK: the vast majority of students there just want to get on with their studies and building their country. It’s just so crazy that this has happened and the world isn’t up in arms: we certainly would be if it had happened in the UK! But from a brief internet search of the news coverage, much more was made of the Jihadist demonstration (see link earlier), rather than this recent invasion.
Going through the Qualandiya checkpoint at 4pm was fine going back into Jerusalem. We got off the bus and queued up for fifteen minutes to go through the turnstile, put our bags in the X-ray machine along with belts and anything metal, and showed our passports and visas to the soldier. He spoke no English. Then we hopped back onto another bus for the rest of the journey. If we’d tried to get into Jerusalem at 5am instead, we probably would have joined 5,000 people and waited two hours.
On the bus home Jane related her experience to us two years ago, “It was the most traumatic thing I’ve ever been through, we were in tears, it changed our lives,” says Jane. People queue from 1am to be at the front of the queue to get to work, so that there is some work when they arrive, so they can support their families. There are two lanes: an 8-hour permit lane, which is supposed to open at 5am but wasn’t open until later when Jane was there (she was pushed to the front and only then did it open), and a 24-hour humanitarian lane, which wasn’t open either (this is really bad). A man so desperate to get through had been queuing to get through the 24-hour lane, which was shut, so when the 8-hour lane opened he climbed over the barrier into the 8-hour lane, cutting his arms badly on the razor wire and pushing in front of 5,000 people. “But no one complained, there wasn’t a fight,” says Jane. He told her he had to get in because he has three children and is desperate to find work. “Please tell them we are not animals,” he said.