443’s opening to Palestinians falls flat

Only 15 cars with PA license plates use road on Friday.

Car on 443 311 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Car on 443 311
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Only 15 motorists with Palestinian Authority license plates chose to drive on Route 443 on Friday, even though it was the first time in eight years that the IDF allowed them onto the West Bank portion of the highway that links northern Jerusalem with Modi’in and the road to Tel Aviv.
More soldiers and reporters than Palestinians headed to the new checkpoint guarding access to Route 443 near Beit Sira at 8 a.m., when the road officially opened.
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Israeli motorists had feared that a sudden surge of Palestinian drivers would lead to traffic jams.
But on Friday morning, there was no immediate lineup of Palestinian cars. An hour later, only three vehicles had driven through.
The first Palestinian motorist was Faruk Ankawi, a member of the Beit Sira Council who runs a parking lot right by the checkpoint.
Ankawi, like other locals, have long wanted to use Route 443, because it is the fastest way to get to Ramallah, if you exit by Camp Ofer and use the road that leads from there to Beitunya.
But the High Court of Justice ruling that ordered the army to re-open the road to Palestinians accepted the IDF assertion that allowing Palestinians onto the Beitunya road would endanger Israelis.
As a result, Palestinians can now drive 13 kilometers on Route 443, from the Maccabim checkpoint near Beit Sira to a another new checkpoint set up 1 kilometer before Camp Ofer and the exit to Ramallah.
The checkpoint keeps them from heading to Ramallah by way of Beitunya and sends them back in the opposite direction on Route 443.
Without the Ramallah link, Palestinians complain the road now takes them nowhere.
“It doesn’t help us that much. We want to go to Beitunya,” Ankawi said.
The circuitous traffic pattern means that only 8 kilometers of the road can actually be used to any purpose, he explained.
The IDF estimates that it will take an average of four minutes to inspect a Palestinian car.
That is exactly the same amount of time that it would take a Palestinian driver to head 4 kilometers down Route 443 and exit at Tira village.
Palestinians, however, can get there in five minutes from Beit Sira, using a one-lane road with no traffic markings that links the two villages.
From the side road, they can see cars whizzing up and down the four lanes on Route 443.
Ankawi, a father of three, said that most of his adult life had been marked by changes to Route 443.
In the late 1990s, he ran a small restaurant on the side of the road leading from 443 to Beit Sira. Most of his customers were Israelis who pulled off the highway.
They stopped coming after the second intifada started in 2000, forcing Ankawi to close the restaurant.
By 2002, the IDF had closed the West Bank stretch of the road to Palestinians, after six Israelis were killed there by terrorists.
Ankawi then opened a parking lot for Palestinians who wanted to leave their car safely by Route 443 as they walked into Israel to work.
He said that his five-year-old daughter had died because the road’s closure meant there was no fast way to drive to Ramallah. His daughter was injured when a gate fell on her. The only hospital was in Ramallah.
Before 443 closed, it took 15 minutes to get to Ramallah
Before Route 443 was closed to Palestinians, it took them 15 to 20 minutes to get there. Instead, because they had to take a longer route, it took an hour and 15 minutes to get to the hospital, he said. The doctor said that if they had arrived earlier he might have been able to save her.
So on Friday morning, Ankawi wanted to savor the victory, however limited and delayed, of taking his car onto the road.
“We got something from the court. Not everything we wanted, butsomething. I wanted to be the first. I wanted to feel good just once,”he said.
He said that when he pulled up to the checkpoint, “Soldiers told meturn off the car and to stand to the side. I felt like a dog. I stood.They asked for my ID. I handed it to them and they checked it. Theywanted me to empty my pockets and to stand here and there. They checkedthe truck and under the hood. I asked, “Do you want me to take out theengine as well?”
Finally, they let him go.
But the inspection erased any positive feelings he had about the opening, he said.
As he headed onto the road for the first time in eight years, Ankawi said, “I felt nothing.”
He added, “But that is life.”