The independent London newspaper

How far is it to Bethlehem?

25 July, 2019 — By John Gulliver

Professor Tom Selwyn with students Wisam Abbasi, Adel Adem and Ghadeer Najjar

HOW would you feel if it took you five hours to get to work? Imagine what that would take out of you before you got to your desk or sign on for stacking shelves or some other similar manual job.

While some people commute to London by train from, say, Manchester, a two-hour journey, that would be about the limit. But commuting for five hours?

This was one of the astonishing bits of information a Palestinian woman told an audience in Belsize Library, in leafy Belsize Park, describing what life is like in Palestine.

The problem of the Palestinians came alive when Wisam Abbasi talked about how she gets to Ramallah where she works for an American company. She has to set out from Beit Jala, where she lives, only a few kilometres away, at 5am and if “security checks” are stepped up at the many checkpoints – and this is frequent – a journey can take up to five hours.

Often queues form up at checkpoints while tedious checks are made. It must be maddening to the unlucky Palestinians.

The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis often crowds out such numbing tales. But it is the way the conflict affects ordinary life that threads its way through the community.

The talk by Ms Abbasi and other Palestinians was arranged – and chaired – by Professor Tom Selwyn from SOAS, University of London – who is an expert on Palestinian affairs. He founded an MA course at Bethlehem University dealing with the anthropology of travel, tourism and pilgrimage.


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