I get the school shuttle to Aqraba to head South. In Lower Yanoun it picks up the children that are too old to go to the school in Upper Yanoun and takes them to Aqraba with the older children from Upper Yanoun. The girl that invited us to her house and then guided us to her father, in the mountain, is among them. Only today she looks a lot older, with her uniform, her shoes and her head covered, unlike that afternoon, when she was wearing sandals and trousers and there was nothing hiding her long plaits.

In Aqraba I get on a regular taxi to get to Nablus, where I will get another one.

Nablus is an important city. But it is in a state that it is difficult to describe it with any other word than stage of siege. Five roads meet here, and there is a permanent checkpoint on each of them, and none of those checkpoints is between Palestinian and Israeli territories, they are all in the middle of Palestine. The one I need to get through is about five or ten kilometres away from Nablus. At least it is not one we have to cross on foot. But the vehicles queue is painfully slow and many people prefer to leave their taxis behind and then walk, and get another taxi; it looks like it is a lot faster.
Others prefer to get a taxi right before the checkpoint instead. There is a big woman with a huge bag on her head walking towards the soldiers checking the pedestrians. I wonder how she will manage to get through the gates of the checkpoint, if they will make her undo her luggage and put all the contents of her bag on some table for the soldiers to check it. Like in most checkpoints, I can see the queue from the outside, but seeing what the soldiers do with the people is a bit more difficult, specially from a bus on the queue, like I am now.

An ambulance approaches the checkpoint from the opposite side with its emergency lights on. The cars on the queue allow it some space so that it can jump the queue and I expect the soldiers will allow it to go past the checkpoint fast, but I am mistaken. One of the soldiers gets the driver’s documents, another one gets through the back door. None of them show any urgency, they just take their time, probably even more so than with any other vehicle. I sit there thinking that a man could be dying inside, desperately needing to get to some hospital, but the soldiers slowly look into every possible part of the ambulance until they finally let it go. They would say that a terrorist could be hiding inside, if they cared to answer, if any one dared to question an Israeli soldier. The ambulance then puts its siren on- it had it off before. I guess it is strictly forbidden to approach the checkpoint with sirens on.

So they thoroughly check cars going on both directions. They also check the small carts pulled by donkeys, some times by men, full of fruits and vegetables, the lorries with construction materials, the taxis full of people, and the very few private cars. They check the drivers’ identities, the car boot, the load. They spend at least five minutes with each car, at least during the time I am here looking from my seat at the front of this bus.

One of the advantages of travelling on a big bus, they say, is that they do not tend to stop it and check every one and question every one about the reasons for travelling, what one plans to go in the city of destination and what one has been doing in the city of precedence, or what one is generally doing in this country where “there are men with guns, you know” (and exactly what exactly are you, soldier, apart from a man with a machine gun?).

After about half an hour advancing a few metres every ten minutes, we get to the front of the queue and a soldier indicates the driver to stop at the side of the road. Some other soldier then comes to the side of the bus and with a severe face and a move of his hand orders the driver to open the door. The driver will be about forty years old. The soldiers are not older than twenty and have a huge machine gun each. The soldiers’ eyes are fixed on the driver, saying something like “dare not to obey and you’ll see”.

One soldier orders the driver to get off the bus, again without talking, just with a slight move of his hand, and of course the driver obeys immediately, without meeting the soldiers’ eyes. The atmosphere is tense inside the bus. The driver and the soldiers exchange a few words in a language that sounds like Hebrew. The driver gets up back on the bus, picks up the microphone and speaks in Arabic. As he puts the microphone down when he finishes he looks at me with a glance that says “don’t move”.

Men of all ages start to walk down the aisle and then down the stairs. The soldier gets every one’s identity card as they get off the bus with their hand luggage. Another soldier comes to help and sees that they are all at a reasonable distance from them, the soldiers, who are the potential victims of these potential terrorists, and they need to protect themselves and the rest of the Israeli population from these potential terrorists, even when they are unarmed.

Once all the men and boys have handed their identity cards and they all stand in front of the two soldiers, the one with the cards starts to call out their names, one by one.

One by one, as they are called out, the Palestinians open their bags on the ground, showing all their contents and answering the soldiers’ questions before getting their papers and their things back and being allowed back on to the bus. The operation has taken about twenty minutes, but we are not done yet.

One soldier gives an order and the driver opens the boot where the bigger luggage is. From where I am I can see a soldier getting into the boot and then out again. I guess that in the three seconds that the expedition has lasted the soldier has not had the time to open my bag, see all its contents, check that none of them is a bomb and then put all the contents back in.

So I wonder what use it is for security to check just the hand luggage of half the passengers if they do not check anything else – if I could still buy the tale that this is about security. If it really were about security, they would buy scanners and they would not need so many soldiers around. But by now the Israeli army has plentifully showed me that all this paraphernalia has nothing to do with security and everything to do with making the lives of Palestinians simply unbearable, with constantly humiliating them with their looks, their manners, their arrogance, their roadblocks, their checkpoints, their M16s and the hours they make them waste even when they are inside an ambulance.

After failing to check all the big luggage and half of the hand luggage of the bus, and after delaying us for about an hour, the bus is allowed to continue its journey. The passenger in front of me looks at me and tells me in English: “this is the occupation”. I try to be sympathetic and answer, “I know”. He answers back, “you know?” as in, “what do you know about our situation, what can ‘you’ ‘know'”. And, thinking about it, he is most probably right. I have experienced it for a few weeks but from my privileged position I can barely imagine the hell these people for almost as long as they can remember. In any case, I keep my silence and the journey resumes.

Once at the other side of the checkpoint we see a long queue coming to it from the other direction, vehicles waiting to be checked like we have been. I count four ambulances alongside the queue, all with their emergency lights on, all stuck in the queue with no space to jump it. The road is not broad enough here for the rest of the vehicles to go to tone side and allow them to jump the queue. So there they will stay, waiting for about half an hour each waiting in the queue to be checked like the rest of the vehicles, trying to run an emergency service to get ill people to hospital urgently.

When my bus gets to the end of its route we all get off. I ask around for a bus to Ramallah and I get directed to a pretty big bus station. Once there I try to ask the different drivers for the correct one but most of the buses are completely empty. Finally I find a family inside one of the buses and I ask them, “Do you speak English?”. The man says “No”. I insist: “Ramallah?”, expecting at least a yes or a no with his head. He gets off and walks with me to the exit of the station. He signals somewhere outside and says in English: “Straight, left, then right”. I feel looked after by these people, who, not speaking English, do make the effort so that I can find my way. I say “shukran” a couple of times and there I walk, away from this bus station through streets that have no buses or signals of them, so when I finish going “straight, left, then right”, and see no buses, I feel completely lost. Suddenly I hear in the distance: “Ramallah Ramallah!” The man shouting is actually looking at me, and is standing besides a huge coach. So the man who “didn’t speak English” was absolutely right; the coaches that go to Ramallah set off from here.