Last update - 16:48 07/08/2008
Twilight Zone / Free passage
By Gideon Levy
She walks from the pool to the stylish portico of the Bethlehem Intercontinental, a bikini showing beneath shorts and a revealing shirt. There's an anklet on her leg, her hair is dyed a reddish brown, and she's holding a French Gauloise cigarette and a red cell phone. She has come for a weekend at the Intercontinental, for a wedding: When you drink you don't drive, so she stayed at the luxurious hotel, five stars at $130 a night, which was bustling with vacationers - Israeli Arabs from Haifa.
She is not allowed to be in Bethlehem, where we met her; she is not allowed to visit Ramallah, where she has been living for years; she is not allowed to travel to the beach in Tel Aviv, as she does several times a week during the summer; and she is not allowed to go to Jerusalem for entertainment or work purposes, yet is there almost every day. She is in the north, but her heart and her family are in the south. A native of Rafah, she arrived 16 years ago to study at Bir Zeit University and has been stuck in Ramallah ever since, far from her loving family. She carries a "Gaza ID card" and despises the whole idea of it. It is supposed to be impossible for her to live in the West Bank and travel in Israel. At any given moment, at any checkpoint, she is liable to find herself expelled back to Rafah. That's how it's been for all these years.
Courageous and determined, she has built a full life for herself, between the checkpoints. "Anyone who was born near the sea can't live without it," she told me when we sat over coffee in the lobby of the Intercontinental. Her "passport," she wrote me a few days ago, cost her $300 and was worth it: Elegant and confident, with her Giorgio Armani sunglasses, she passes through all the checkpoints.