What Does a Palestinian Taxi Driver Talk About? The Next Blow From Israel

On the short trip to military court, there's also time to discuss permit problems and divided families, with the Islamic State and Syria thrown in.

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Palestinian taxi in Hebron.Credit: Dreamstime

The streets are nearly empty at 8 A.M. During Ramadan, people are up at night and sleep late into the morning. The public space wakes up slowly, but it’s a good thing the cab drivers are up early, as we make our way to the Israeli military court at Ofer, built on land belonging to the West Bank Palestinian town of Beitunia. My driver, being a taxi driver, starts chatting.

Driver: They rescinded the entry permits they had issued [following the stabbing of a border policeman in Jerusalem].

Me: Yes, I know.

Driver: I had a permit to enter Jerusalem.

Me: For Ramadan?

Driver: No, I’m Christian.

Me: And they canceled your permit?

Driver: No. My wife lives in Jerusalem, so I go there to visit her. If she lived with me in my village, they’d revoke her residency status in Jerusalem, and she’d have no other legal status. She’d be expelled to the West Bank. She’d be living in the West Bank without identity papers, she wouldn’t be able to travel to Jordan or Jerusalem, wouldn’t be able to open a bank account and wouldn’t be able to drive a car.

Me: I know, and Israel doesn’t allow you to live in Jerusalem with her?

Driver: No. I was in jail for two years — for activities during the first intifada.

Me: The Popular Front [for the Liberation of Palestine]?

Driver: Yes, so now my wife lives in Jerusalem with the younger children, and I live in the village with the older ones, and the family only gets together occasionally. They [the Israeli authorities] don’t give us a break.

He also talks about Syria —“It wasn’t indebted to any other country, so the West wanted to destroy it. Now it’s all wrecked and they have ISIS there” — and about the Palestinian Authority: “They think about their jobs.” And he talks about the huge power of imperialism and the power of Israel, which rules the roost and helps the rebels in Syria.

Driver: If only we could go back to before 1987 [when the first intifada broke out]. Back then everything was open. No permits, no prohibitions. We would go to the sea and Jerusalem.

Me: But in 1987 you started the intifada because you couldn’t stand the Israeli occupation.

Driver: Right. I know. We couldn’t imagine that it could be worse.

He drops me off near the Beitunia military checkpoint with its barbed wire — that standard of contemporary Israeliness — its revolving iron gates that open and close by remote control, its scanning machine and its bored Israeli soldier. He casts a lazy glance at the ID card pressed against the glass that he sits facing in a little room, from where he lets people in on the way to the court.

At one time this was the road linking Ramallah to the villages of Nabi Samwil, Beit Iksa and Jib, as natural and logical as Jabotinsky Street linking Tel Aviv to Ramat Gan. Now it’s the closed border of the State of Ramallah and a checkpoint through which Israeli products are sent to Palestinian merchants (using the back-to-back system invented in Gaza, in which an Israeli truck unloads onto a Palestinian truck).

Beyond the border is purely Israeli space from Modi’in to Ramot, on land occupied in 1967, along with the Jerusalem “suburban” settlement of Givat Ze’ev. There’s also Ofer — the prison for Palestinians and the military court surrounded by concrete walls, which ease the minds and eyes of Israeli drivers on Route 443, which cuts through the West Bank.

A fenced-in path about half a kilometer long separates the checkpoint from Ofer. A worn-out van is waiting for the pedestrians. “This is a military zone,” the driver says. “You’re not allowed to go around on foot.So be it. That’s how he makes a living, at three shekels (80 cents) a passenger.

The cage serving as the court’s waiting area slowly fills with people. Through the bars they look on in amazement at the people coming from the Israeli side: diplomats, a few journalists, some with television cameras, and a few Israeli activists.

The trial of Khalida Jarrar, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, begins its first working session that day. Most of the people in the waiting area are apparently there to be tried by military judges for traffic offenses on West Bank roads, or to pay fines — to the State of Israel.

A thin man of an uncertain age: I came to pay a fine for a traffic offense. The days when I would have come here because of the struggle are over. Now there’s no need for a struggle. Now we have the Palestinian Authority, which has houses and cars and the good life. There’s no need for a struggle and no need for us.

Me: Where are you from?

Thin man: [He states the name of his town]. Do you know it? Do you know where it is?

Me: Of course.

Thin man: But you don’t really know what’s happening to us. You’ll never feel what we feel, imprisoned in our homeland, even though there are no bars. We’re afraid a soldier will kill a child, a settler will beat somebody up, or the Civil Administration will take our land or demolish our house.

We live in fear of the next blow or the next regulation against us. You’ll never know what it’s like to be humiliated, persecuted and on probation in your homeland.