When I arrived in the Manara - the central traffic node of Ramallah - to catch my regular taxi to Birzeit in the morning, I saw the unusual sight of hundreds of students milling around with nowhere to go. Asking a few people I knew, I learnt that there were no taxis to the university, as the Israelis had sealed off Ramallah for "security reasons".About halfway on the way to the university, next to a small village called Surda where a settler road intersects the Ramallah-Birzeit road, there was a checkpoint. I made off for it with my camera, to see what was happening.
When I arrived at the part of the valley road where the checkpoint was located, I found around 100 staff and faculty trapped on this side of it, and many other people on the opposite side. This was the first time, since the redeployment on 27 December 1995, that Israeli soldiers had totally closed the road between Ramallah (Area "A") and Birzeit University (in Area "B").
People were bemused. This hadn't happened before. Faculty and staff members were discussing it amongst themselves, wondering what the purpose of it was. This closure was imposed despite the fact that no Israeli settlements exist along this road neither do settlers use this road. There had been no incident on the road to merit this.
In fact, Israeli authorities had imposed a closure on the entire Ramallah/Al-Bireh district at 4.30am this morning, blocking all movement in and out of the district in all directions. The soldier pictured to the left was not keen on my taking his photo, even though it was in no way illegal.
This closure prevented access to the university for some 3,000 Birzeit students, faculty and staff from the Jerusalem and Ramallah areas, and those from the southern towns of the West Bank, such as Bethlehem and Hebron. The passage of emergency services vehicles was also clearly being hampered by the checkpoint. A fire engine and ambulance both faced serious delays.
University officials began negotiating with the Israeli army at 8.00am to allow the staff and students to attend their classes. Meanwhile, the students stranded in the center of Ramallah decided to march to the valley checkpoint to protest against the closure.
This picture on the right has a funny story attached to it. The crowd behind the two soldiers are those trapped on the Birzeit side of the checkpoint. They, who have a better view than the soldiers, have just seen several hundred students carrying placards arriving from Ramallah. The soldiers, hearing the cheering of the Birzeit side, run over to the jeep to see for themselves and, panicking, start radioing for reinforcements and generally gesticulating wildly.