Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Ramalla Bypass

Ahead of us lies a traffic circle. Looking around, I can't help but smile at the Jewish desire to beautify our tiny patch of land. Here we are, past the wall, driving into an area where most Israelis fear to tread, and whoever it was that built this road has taken the time to add a manicured garden to the center of the roundabout, complete with Jerusalem stone paving, olive tree, and grass.

The Traffic Circle

Arriving at the traffic circle, we have now entered the Ramallah Bypass, Unlike the planned and orderly planing one finds in Israel, the layout of Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank) follows a more chaotic layout. The original road which ran the north-south axis of Judea and Samaria, from Ganim (Jenin) in the north through Beit El (Ramallah), Jerusalem, Beit Lechem (Bethlehem), down to Chevron (Hebron) in the south, was simply built over the Ottoman road, which was built over the Byzantine road, which was built over the Roman road, which was built over the Greek road, which was built over the Jewish road, which was built over the Canaanite road, which was built over the "Road of the Patriarchs," the road travelled by the Jewish forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Torah.

Route 60, the "Road of the Patriarchs"

Rather than run near towns like a modern highway, the road simply passed straight through them, becoming the main street of each one. A century ago, when the Holy Land was a dead land, virtually empty of settled people, the Road of the Patriarchs was sufficient. But as cities like Schem (then Nablus) grew from tiny villages of a few hundred under the Ottoman Empire to sprawling cities of thousands under the British, and later tens of thousands under the Jordanian occupation, roads that were once sufficient for a wagon became clogged with vehicles, squeezing through the chaotic, uncontrolled cities between high-rise buildings. When the first Jewish settlers began returning to Judea and Samaria after 1967, they used the same roads, driving straight through what had become major Arab cities.

A map of the Ramallah bypass.

During the eruption of the first Intifada from 1987 to 1991, the congested streets running through suddenly hostile neighborhoods became the ideal locales for ambush. The army lost control of the security situation, unable to unleash the necessary force to supress the insurrection without incurring international wrath. As casualties mounted, a solution had to be found, and the Israelis called upon their skill of avoiding unsolvable problems by sidestepping them, in this case literally. Along the Road of the Patriarchs, numbered, labeled, and categorized by the Israeli civil administration as Route 60, the government constructed a series of bypass roads, looping around the major Arab cities through the empty hills nearby. It was as if the words of Deborah the Prophetess, referring to the years opression of Israel by the Canaanite King Samgar, were being lived again, "Higway travel ceased, and those who traveled on paths went by circuitous roads. They stopped living in unwalled towns in Israel." Shotim (Judges) 5:6. The construction of bypass roads, which began during the first Intifadah (1987-1991) intensified during the peace process, including the building of the Ramallah bypass.

The Ramallah Bypass road. Top left is the outer fence protecting the massive wall. TO the right is another fence to prevent pedestrians? Sheep? Stone throwers? Who knows.
Driving past the now fenced and fortified Rami Levi in the Sha'ar Binyamin Industrial Area.

On the Ramallah bypass, moving towards Kochav Ya'akov, perched is up on the hill above, with the Sha'ar Binyamin Industrial Area to the right.

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