We leave the base at 6 a.m; 8 of us squeezed into 2 armoured jeeps, wrapped up warmly against the cold, our outfits finished off with heavy bullet proof vests. The company commander's jeep leads the way into the main Arab suburb in our area. The streets are still quiet this early in the morning, with only the odd early bird stall holder out and about setting up his display. The streets are pockmarked with holes and strewn with uncollected rubbish. Despite their paying a municipal tax to the city of Jerusalem, these streets bear no resemblence to those that I call home.
Many of the buildings appear to be grand at first glance but a closer inspection often reveals the inside to be less impressive with upper floors often unfinished and empty. The lower floors almost all have heavy steel doors - presumably for reasons of security. It's an ugly place; grey and foreboding, lacking green areas and playgrounds for the children - a miserable childhood guaranteed.
We reach the end of the main street at the barrier fence - here too it's a wall - on one side of the street a pavement, on the other a 6 metre high barrier. The crossing from one side to the other is at the end of the main street and whilst it's currently open, my assumption is that before long it will have some sort of guard on it - right now there's no point as the building has not been completed in this part of the country. We follow the fence until we hit the main roadblock in the area. It's empty at this time of day but later will be thronged with people trying to get into Israel.
We take a right back past our base on our way to our next destination: a village across the road from the suburb we've just visited. In better days the bridge over the road meant traffic could pass freely between the two - now it's closed to vehicles although it can still be crossed on foot by negotiating the rubbish and stinking sewage that block it off. The village is more pastoral - Olive trees, the ancient symbol of peace are much in evidence and every house seems to have some sort of livestock running around its front yard.
We are there to get to know the area better, to appreciate where the weak points are in our sector from which attacks could come. We are also there to make a point - the army controls how things work in this part of town - it seems to me that these people have a reminder of our presence whether we are there or not.
As I'm typing this in my front room, I'm very aware that my movement is not curtailed and that I enjoy a fairly privileged existence. I hope that a solution will be found soon to allow the villagers the same - in the meantime, in order to avoid unnecessary friction, patrols of the type that I've described above have been stopped. Let's hope that there is not need to return them.