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One Man's Tale of Hope Amid West Bank Despair
Last uploaded : Tuesday 20th Aug 2002 at 23:15
Contributed by : Azzam al-Araj



TULKARM, West Bank - There is a curfew in effect in my town in Palestine. When I take the risk of walking to my office, which is about a mile from my house, I often bring my 8-year-old son, Mahmod, to show that I am not a threat to the Israeli forces in the town. But he does not always accompany me. In June I made it from Tulkarm to Toledo, Spain, to spend a month with my colleagues from throughout the Middle East, including Israelis, to talk about the future of civil society and governance in our region.

I am not going to describe in detail the killing of Palestinians, the stifling curfew, the malnutrition among Palestinian children, the house demolitions going on around me, or my wife's daily trauma when each member of my family leaves to go to work or class and she remains home to pray that we all return home safely.

Instead, I am going to tell you a story about hope overcoming occupation. It is a mundane tale, really, compared with all that is happening here, and yet in a small way it is important.

In order to attend the international institute in Toledo, I left my home in Tulkarm on Monday, June 17, at 5:30 A.M with the intention of taking a flight on June 22, from Amman, Jordan, to Madrid. I left five days early to ensure I would be able to get out of town.

The curfew imposed by the Israeli Army had ended at 5 A.M. I planned first to go to a town where I could stay with relatives and travel more easily to the Israel-Jordan crossing at the Allenby Bridge.

As I was leaving, I heard that the army had decided to return. I was in a taxi and saw a line of firing tanks moving back into my town. The taxi driver told me it was crazy to go on. "We have to go back," he said. "No," I said, "going back is crazy. They are firing at the city." So we turned off into a field away from the main road and took the dirt roads to another Palestinian village. Again, we were caught by a curfew in that town, so we stayed overnight.

The next morning I continued with the taxi, deciding to go straight for the bridge. We drove over the mountain roads to avoid the closures, finally arriving at the border crossing with Jordan on Tuesday evening.

To cross the bridge, I needed to get through both the Israeli and the Jordanian checkpoints on opposite sides. Unfortunately, the Israeli Army had closed the bridge to almost everybody. I parted company with the driver and spent two nights sleeping on the side of the road, waiting for the bridge to open. On Thursday morning, it was announced that 250 people of the 2,000 waiting there would be allowed through. I was not selected, but when the buses arrived to take the others across, chaos ensued and everybody made a break for the buses. I jumped on and we crossed the bridge. Now it was time to wait on the Jordanian side.

Jordanian soldiers came to take the names of everybody seeking entry. Several more hours passed. It was blistering hot, and we were not allowed to leave the bus for any reason.

I was refused entry and told to turn back. But I was in the front of the bus, near the soldiers, and I begged them to let me in, explaining I had to go to Toledo for a very important conference.

I showed them my acceptance papers, my Spanish visa and my plane ticket. The soldier said no. I followed him off the bus and continued to argue, this time with his commanding officer. "I am not going back," I said. "If you want to, you can arrest me." "O.K.," he said, "you can go."

I made it to Amman and stayed with relatives, and then flew to Madrid, where I was met at the airport by representatives of the University of the Middle East. Afterward, my colleagues at the institute asked," Why didn't you turn back?" "I had to go forward to make our future," I said. And that is what I want to do. I am ready to walk a new path with my Israeli and Arab friends, who spent that incredible month with me in Spain. We should walk together into the future, toward peace, prosperity and mutual recognition of two peoples and two states.

# # #

Azzam Al-Araj is general secretary of the Tulkarm Blood Bank Society.

This article first apeared in The International Herald Tribune, August 14, 2002

Visit the IHT website at http://www.iht.com

Copyright permission has been obtained for publication by JewishComment via Common Ground News Service.

The Common Ground News Service (CGNews) provides news, op-eds, features, and analysis by local and international experts on a broad range of Middle East issues. CGNews syndicates articles that are accurate, balanced, and solution-oriented to news outlets throughout the Middle East and worldwide. With support of the European Community, the Dutch Foreign Ministry, and The Danish Foreign Ministry, and the Arca Foundation, the service is a non-profit initiative of Search for Common Ground and the European Centre for Common Ground, international NGOs working as partners in the fields of conflict resolution and media production.

The views expressed in these articles are those of the authors, not of JewishComment, CGNews or its affiliates.

Common Ground News Service
e-mail: cgnews@sfcg.org Website: http://www.sfcg.org/cgnews/middle-east.cfm


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