The day after my arrival in Bethlehem, I was off to Hebron for my introduction to the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee. Getting lost, of course was the order of the day, but fortunately, there was an HRC person at the van drop off point to greet me.
A word about public transportation in Palestine: none. What they do have are taxis, which are expensive and vans called Service (serveez). Even though Palestinians pay taxes, most are funneled through Israel and Israel frequently withholds the funds that are due Palestine at its whim; most recently when the Palestinian Authority had the hutzpah to seek membership in the International Criminal Court. Palestine also must pay Israel for all of its electricity and water, even though all of its water comes from the West Bank. This is a fact of life in an occupied territory – there’s no money for such luxuries as public transportation.
The Service are Caravan type vehicles all in school bus yellow. They typically have room for 7 passengers. When the van is full or near full, the driver takes off to the destination. Hebron is about 22 K (app 14 miles) from Bethlehem, and the ride takes about one-half hour and the charge is supposed to be a flat 9 shekels (about $2.50). Considering that the gross per capita income here is not much more than $3,000, that takes a big bite out of one’s pay check.
So, of course (in keeping with the trend I’ve set) I had troubles getting the Service. The first day, the Hebron drivers were apparently on strike, so I ended up paying for a cab which was much more expensive. Finding one for the return trip involved getting lost in the city of Hebron and finally figuring out where the Bethlehem bound Services were lined up. The second day, I waited at the corner where I was told Hebron bound Services pass. In theory, you can wave one down, and if there is space, they will happily stop to pick you up. After at least three passed, I finally took the hike to the bus station where I picked one up. Leaving Hebron this tie, a nice guy from HRC offered to walk me to the Hebron station, but it wasn’t 9 shekels, it was 15 because there was “a bad accident” and they had to take a different route. I was convinced that this was one of those “I have a special price for you” deals, and when I asked the driver if this price was just for me, everyone in the van snickered and assured me that the accident story was for real. Again, though, I was struck by how very expensive it is for people living on 3K a year to be paying this much to commute from work and school.