Sister Mary's letter from Jerusalem - a precarious walkway

 What used to be the checkpoint into Bethlehem from the north - soldiers standing in the middle of the road with cement and plastic barricades forcing road traffic one way or another, checking ID cards of Palestinians and passports of internationals - has taken on a very, very permanent look this month. Now there are permanent tollbooths constructed in the middle of the road with tollgates to allow cars to pass. The soldiers are protected from the elements, except when they get out to search a car. On the other hand, just across from the Tantur property, all vans and cars not entering the checkpoint, must let people off, not to walk on the sidewalk along the road as they normally did to approach the pedestrian checkpoint, but to get through a narrow walkway along the edge of a valley and up an extremely steep incline that has no steps, up and around a large permanent cement and stone structure, and then around to the checkpoint on the same road they were on in the first place. No longer are pedestrians allowed to walk directly to the checkpoint. All together the distance is now about 100 extra yards out in the open in this windy, cold weather. Mothers carrying babies must pass this way, young children who could easily slip under the four foot flimsy guard rail and tumble down the steep embankment to the valley floor must pass here, as well as elderly people who can hardly manage the incline of this walkway. The walkway is very difficult for those carrying bundles on their head or in the hands and is pitched at such an angle that a wheelchair could not be wheeled to the top. As I walked this way on Wednesday, when remnants of the recent snowstorm made the way slippery and the wind unbalanced me as I held an umbrella, I couldn't help but wonder what Israeli would want his grandmother to have to walk this? What Israeli would expose his small children to this narrow passage containing two-way pedestrian traffic at this height above the valley? Why must the Palestinians and their families face this permanent and dangerous obstacle course put there by the Israelis on West Bank land? Why can't people walk on their own sidewalk along the road? This dangerous monstrosity was created during the "calm" of the past few weeks. Always, it seems, when there is a calm, something like this occurs: either more West Bank land is confiscated; Palestinian homes are demolished or obstacles built. This is 'withdrawal', according to the Israeli governmen. Please, dear readers, get a glimpse of what "occupation" is. Residents of the West Bank towns around Bethlehem must put up with this obstacle course daily now -- a dangerous walkway built on their own land by their occupiers. I'm glad foreigners who do not come by private car must also get out and use this walkway. It will surely give them a good sense of what is happening here. Many internationals were over here as observers this past month. This is just one of the many photographed stories they were able to take back with them. The eyes of the world are observing.... Sr Mary is an Ursuline nun working in Jerusalem

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