Monday, February 18, 2008

West Bank, Palestine

What a fascinating and educational two days in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I entered the West Bank via the East Jerusalem checkpoint. To do this I had to travel through the check point in the infamous Separation Wall. Israel says the barrier is necessary for security, while Palestinians call it a land grab.

Many Palestinians, including those that I work with, are restricted from traveling to Jerusalem, they need to have special permits. Actually they need to have special permits to travel most anywhere in the West Bank. My colleague has a permit that allows him to travel from Ramallah to Nablus, about 30 miles, but it is only good for 2 months from 5am to 7pm. His entire family lives in Nablus, his hometown, and he isn’t allowed to spend the night.

Each city in the West Bank has all entry and exit controlled through Israeli check points. These checkpoints are manned by Israeli military. Only special vehicles, with special permits, are allowed to pass through. The general population is let out on one side of the checkpoint and have to walk up to a quarter of a mile to the other side showing their ID and getting hassled by Israeli military along the way. It could take hours for a person to cross a checkpoint.

As we drove from Ramallah to Nablus I got a very good view of the surrounding countryside and a very good understanding of the extent of the illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Territory. Each settlement, outpost, or expansion area has its own wall built a good distance away from the settlement – usually the settlement is at the top of the hill and the wall is around the base of the hill. Then there are also the walls surrounding the main Palestinian localities that allow the Israelis to control the majority of the movement of the Palestinian population within the West Bank. Many of the main roads have also been blocked by walls and barriers to prevent travel on these roads for non Israelis.

During my time here I met with the Director of International Cooperation at the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the Directors of the Palestinian Medical Relief Services, and the Palestinian Foundation for Health and Social Development. One of the big problems that is encountered here in Palestine in regards to health is the access to health care being blocked due in large part to this restriction of travel by the Israeli Occupying Forces. Just 5 days ago a Palestinian woman died at a check point when the IOF prevented her ambulance from reaching the hospital on the other side of one of the walls. That full story can be found here.

More pictures of Ramallah, Nablus and the wall are posted on my photo site.

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