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    Sunday, November 9, 2008


    By minibus from Jericho to Hamra checkpoint, West Bank - Thursday, Nov. 6

    Travelling within the Israeli-occupied West Bank is always a journey through the absurd.

    After the Jericho "rest stop," I board a yellow minibus heading north to the city of Nablus. Or at least, it eventually heads north. To avoid having to pass through the checkpoints that surround Jericho and protect the nearby Jewish settlements, we first head south, and then east before finally turning north up through the Jordan Valley. In all, our driver says, we're adding 35 kilometres to what should be a straight 40-km run.

    There are nine of us, including a young family of four from Nablus, on the journey. As we pass through the scenic Jordan Valley, my fellow passengers emit a series of sighs.

    After passing through another Israeli military checkpoint, we drive along the Dead Sea, with its unique and healing mineral-rich waters. Israelis and foreigners can lounge at the four-star resorts that line its eastern bank, but not Palestinians. "I went for the first time from the Jordanian side," laughs Aladdin Nasser, a tailor and father of two from Nablus. There's no mirth in his chuckle.

    "The situation is bad, but we are used to it," his wife Filisteen told me, cradling her 1 1/2 year-old son in her lap. Round-faced and wearing a flowered tightly wrapped head scarf, she told me that Israeli soldiers often gave her trouble at checkpoints because of her name, which is Arabic for "Palestine."

    "It makes some of them laugh and makes some of them angry. They say, 'Why are you named Filisteen?'"

    We drive north past a string of Jewish settlements and Israeli-owned greenhouses and fruit plantations. Under the peace proposal favoured by the Israeli government, they would retain the strategic and fertile Jordan Valley

    "I can't even stop for gas here," our driver," 30-year-old Muayyad Awad explains. That's an improvement, however. A year ago, no Palestinians were allowed to drive this road, Highway 90.

    After just over an hour of driving, we reach Hamra, an Israeli checkpoint on the road to Nablus. The soldiers take our passports and express surprise at seeing a Canadian journalist aboard Palestinian public transportation.

    "I don't think I can let you pass," a young soldier with a British accent and an American M-16 tells me.

    Not wanting to hold up the other passngers, I get off the bus. For 45 minutes now, I've been standing by the side of the road in the middle of the West Bank. My passport confiscated, I can go neither forwards nor backwards until the Israeli soldiers give me permission to do so.

    "Now you're a real Palestinian," a young man with a stubbly face - stuck in the same situation as I me - laughs. This time, there's real mirth

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