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Buses and freedom of movement

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 26.04.2012:

These days I travel much in buses while guiding Dutch groups in the Galilee and Jerusalem. A driver tells me that he is always concerned about the traffic. He is on the alert that cars around him can make unexpected movements. A bus cannot manoeuvre well.

Also very important for him is the availability of work and the tips of tourists. While a bit more tourists are coming to Palestine these years (by far not enough) the buses from the West Bank face the problem that they cannot be much used for tourist purposes. West Bank-plated buses cannot enter Jerusalem, while Israeli yellow-plated buses are allowed to enter the West Bank, and can also drive on more roads in the West Bank itself, as several roads are in practice for “settlers only”.

Today I spoke with the owner of a bus company in Beit Sahour. He faces bankruptcy because he cannot anymore pay the Dutch and Belgian companies from whom he had bought the buses against “soft” long-term paying conditions. He and his (Christian) family now plan to leave the country. The churches couldn’t help him. He got the buses at the end of the 1990s when the expectation was that peace would arrive and free traveling possible. But with the elaborate checkpoint imprisonment system during and after the second Intifada he lost the competition from the Israeli buses. He told that during the 1970s he was held by the Israeli army for three years in “administrative detention,” without court proceedings and without charge. A danger to the state.

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My colleague Elias is busy preparing a journey for kids from different Bethlehem and Ramallah schools to Moslem and Christian places. It’s a hugh task. After the fatal bus accident with school children north of Jerusalem a few months ago, the Palestinian authorities demand schools to hand over a great many papers before they obtain permission for school journeys: written permission by parents, license of the driver, license of the bus, ID of the driver, aassurance that there is one teacher for every 10 children. While there were good reasons to be concerned, the unfortunate effect is that schools are now less inclined to organize any bus trip. That is a pity. It is so extremely important that Palestinian school kids “breathe” in the imprisoned environment in which they grow up and also learn more about their country in an authentic and direct – “living” manner. I estimate that tourists traveling in buses in the Holy Land observe as much of the Palestinian land in a few days as Palestinian youth perhaps in ten or twenty years of their lives.

April 2012

Toine van Teeffelen

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