It's an Israeli road in a Palestinian area
April 8, 2007
BY ELLEN CREAGER
FREE PRESS TRAVEL WRITER
JERICHO, West Bank -- There is not much traffic on Highway 90 through the West Bank. That's because only Israelis can drive on it, with the exception of a few Palestinians with special permits.
But, I don't get it. What is an Israeli road doing in Palestinian territory?
Stupid me. Like many Americans, I always somehow pictured the West Bank as entirely Palestinian. Actually, about 60% of it, including the eastern border area near Jordan, is controlled by Israel's military. That's why there are lots of checkpoints. And certain roads only for Israelis. And certain military areas nobody can enter.
For an American traveler, it's one confusing, educational ride.
The route north and south
Highway 90 is the longest north-south highway in Israel, running from Eliat in the south to the Lebanese border in the north. It's the most direct route for tourists between the Dead Sea and the Galilee region.
But about 75 miles of the road cuts right through the West Bank along this eastern edge, called the Jordan River Valley.
Driving north from Ein Gedi, Israel, you pass an Israeli military checkpoint as you cross into the West Bank. You need to show a passport. Farther north, the road jogs and becomes the Jericho Bypass, entirely avoiding the Palestinian city to the west (even the exit off Highway 90 to Jericho is blocked by cement barriers and an Israeli army outpost). There is no place to go but east to the Allenby Bridge, which crosses into Jordan, or north, which is restricted to Israeli vehicles and Palestinians with passes.
We stay north. As Highway 90 meanders north through the Jordan Valley, it passes many Israeli settlements. The first is No'omi. Like most small settlements, it is fenced, the interior not visible from the road. A few miles beyond is a small Palestinian town called Uja-el-Tachta, where children with backpacks are coming home from school and dogs trot across the road.
We pass another fenced Israeli settlement called Niran, which grows lush groves of dates and bananas, then another and another and another.
Strange. I thought Israel settlements in the West Bank were tiny temporary outposts. But some of the 19 or 20 along Route 90 have been there since 1968. They look awfully permanent.
Borders all around
We drive on. To the right runs an electronic security fence that goes on for miles, marking the border with Jordan.
We pass blooming wild sage, fields of tomatoes and potatoes; green mountains, flocks of sheep, wild mustard, then another big fenced settlement called Shadmot Mehola. There are a handful of vehicles on the road. All have Israeli license plates.
Finally, we come to another, bigger checkpoint, and I show my passport again to the Israeli soldier, and my guide talks to the guards, and we cross back into Israel proper.
It is a strange feeling to realize there are two sets of roads inside the West Bank.
It is strange that even educated Americans picture the situation so simply -- hey, just declare the West Bank a Palestinian state and make a country out of it.
But it is not that simple.
Drive Highway 90 and see.
Contact ELLEN CREAGER at 313-222-6498 or firstname.lastname@example.org.