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A Dangerous Car Ride Through the Clashes

By Shaqooq fil Jidar - Posted on 14 October 2015

My best friend just visited me for two weeks.  The entire time I have been here, it has been pretty quiet.  There hasn’t been much violence or conflict.  But four days after she arrived, violence and clashes started happening every day.  They are still happening everyday and as I write this I can hear the clashes in the background (gun shots and a baby crying).  We mostly chilled in Bethlehem where I live and each evening if we were able to go outside, we would go to a different restaurant or meet different friends of mine in the area.  Other nights when the clashes were booming just blocks from my apartment, we stayed in.  Although the situation is heightened, we still wanted to do stuff and I still wanted to show her Palestine.  Not only do I love traveling around the West Bank, but I also felt it was my duty to show her around and do the best I could to explain things. Each day we planned to go to a city or town, we would hear that it was closed or not to go there so every day we would rearrange our plans according to where there weren’t clashes that day.  Nablus is my favorite Palestinian city and I love going up there.  I really wanted to show it to her.  It has an incredible old city that is an endless maze of shops and historic Palestinian landmarks such as the world famous knafah place and a Nablus soap factory that gives free tours (if you buy some soap).  I love Nablus because it is a truly Palestinian city. 

So against the advice of a few different people, my friend and I decided to go on an adventure and go up there.  Everyone kept saying the roads were dangerous.  When you travel from Bethlehem to Nablus, you pass countless settlements and countless checkpoints.  There could have been clashes or violence at any of these and we really didn’t know what we were getting into.  Settlers have guns and we were in a Palestinian taxi so we were rolling the dice.  But the ride up to Nablus was fine.  We switched taxis just outside of Ramallah and then went the rest of the way up to Nablus.  We spent several hours in Nablus and were told to leave early so that we wouldn’t get stuck in the clashes or any protests.  We didn’t really listen and we ended up leaving around 7:30-8.  This was the beginning of probably the scariest, and most adventuresome car ride I have ever been on.  The fear is indescribable.  The fear of not knowing if you are going to make it back ok or not or if you are going to make it back at all.  We had no idea what to expect but we both just prayed as we sat in the 10 seater sherveese (Palestinian taxi). 

The adventure began right when got in the car.  We drove a little bit and then came upon a HUGE crowd of Israeli soldiers in full riot gear.  They had their bullet proof vests, and their helmets, and their guns.  They were all lined up in a long row, side by side brave heart style.  I looked across the way to see what the soldiers were looking at and on the other side was a HUGE crowd of Palestinian men, all of them ready to go.  No riot gear, no helmets, no bullet proof vests (although the Israelis are the ones with the guns) but rocks in hand and kafiah (traditional Palestinian, black and white checkered head-scarf for men) around their heads.  It was a standoff. It reminded me of how people in history used to fight before there were guns, standing across from each other, staring in fear, misery and hatred.  The tiniest flinch and I knew in any second it was going to completely explode. It was an eerie feeling knowing that something horrible was about to go down. 

We drove a bit more and arrived at the checkpoint to leave Nablus.  A soldier opened the door with the gun pointed inside the van.  I don’t know exactly what he was checking for but he pointed the automatic weapon right at my friend and at the people sitting in front of me, including a mother with a two year old baby.  I was in the back left of the vehicle so I wasn’t near the door and was saved from having a gun pointed in my face.  We passed through the checkpoint and literally 10 minutes later they closed it.  No one in or out of Nablus…we made it just in the nick of time.

We have reporter friends in Ramallah who invited us to come hang with them for a bit before we went all the way home.  They told us they would take us home afterwards.  These reporters have seen so much and have been in so many clashes and protests in their lives and I trusted that if we were going to go the rest of the way with anyone, it would probably be safest to go with them.  These two guys know what they are doing and have seen it all in Palestine.  So we went for tea and sheehsa in Ramallah and before it got too late, they told us it was time to go.  I was nervous about leaving Ramallah because I thought it might be better to stay in a hotel and leave the next day. But the reporters were saying that a martyr had died and everything in Ramallah would be closed the next day ad for sure there would be clashes.  They told us it may be even harder to leave tomorrow.  They assured me it was smarter and wiser to leave tonight.  So against my best judgement, I followed their advice, and agreed to leave that evening instead of finding a hotel. 

Before we left Ramallah, we stopped by their office and they got their bullet proof vests, helmets and gas masks for the ride.  When they were bringing all this stuff to the car, I started to get really nervous.  They were taking serious precautions and the energy in the air and in the car was really heavy and thick.  I could tell both of our friends were terrified to make the drive.  They are both Palestinian and they would be passing countless settlements and checkpoints on the way down and on the way back.  They were really risking a lot to take us home that evening.   

We started driving through Ramallah and almost immediately we ran into a protest.  I had seen a protest earlier when we arrived in Ramallah and I am not sure if this is the same one or different.  But this mob had gathered outside the house of the martyr who was murdered by Israeli forces that day to show support to the family.  There were hundreds of Palestinian men surrounding this house, chanting allah al akbar!  Most of them covered by the kafiah.  We went a little further and we came upon piles of things on fire in the street.  There was a burning tire and up ahead a huge bonfire. There were people everywhere. Cars were trying to get around the people and the fires and were driving on the wrong side of the road, people were yelling and screaming in protest and anger.  It was complete chaos everywhere and I thought to myself that this is what anarchy looks like.  We got around the first fire with not much problem but we got stuck right next to the second fire because we couldn’t get around it.  There were so many people and rocks in the road.  The driver was screaming “SHIT, SHIT, SHIT” because we were stuck next to the fire, but he slammed on the gas and we finally made it through.  Luckily we didn’t hit anyone or damage the car from the rocks.  It is better to possibly hit someone then allow the car engine to catch on fire.  It was insane and so scary.  I have never felt more terrified but also never felt more alive in my life. 

The two parts of the ride that both reporters were nervous about were passing Qalandia and passing the settlements.  These are the two most dangerous areas on the ride from Ramallah to Bethlehem.  Qalandia is a refugee camp and they built a checkpoint right next to it which is known as the Qalandia checkpoint.  It is the toughest checkpoint, with the meanest soldiers in the West Bank.  Qalandia is dangerous to pass because there are always clashes there.  There were clashes at Qalandia just before we got there.  The settlements are also the most dangerous thing to pass because the two reporters are Palestinian and if the settlers are protesting, they never know if one of the settlers will have a gun and shoot them on the spot.  These places were the part of the ride that two reporters were the most nervous about.  If we weren’t going to get past Qalandia, we weren’t getting out of Ramallah and if we didn’t get past the settlements then the two reporters (and possibly me and my friend) may have not gotten passed alive or passed with injuries.  It was a nerve racking journey, but luckily things had quieted near Qalandia by the time we got there and we were able to pass pretty easily.  There were remnants of clashes, men covered in kafiah, rocks everywhere, and things on fire near Qalandia but for the most part it had settled down. The rest of the ride passing settlement after settlement was scary but went fairly smooth.  There were not many settlers out by the time we passed.  In the end, we made it home safely.


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