Let’s just get this out in the open: people in Nablus don’t wear seat belts.
In fact, as far as I can tell, nobody in Palestine wears seat belts. Children roam free in the back or front seat of the car depending on where the parents are sitting. Moms hold their toddlers in the backs of crowded taxis, and it’s strange to see just about anyone in town actually using this seemingly constrictive method of car safety.
But travel between cities is a whole different matter. Taking a shared taxi to a place such as Ramallah requires going through at least one Israeli checkpoint. Typically, the taxi driver reminds us passengers to put on our seat belts a couple of miles before hitting the checkpoint, which I assume is to prevent any trouble at the crossing. As a person who speaks remedial Arabic and is still learning the geography, this warning is a welcome indicator for proximity to a potentially angsty situation.
On a recent trip to Taybeh, I sat next to a woman who lives in Nablus now, but is originally from Gaza. (She was really nice. I complimented her ring, an ornate gold and diamond blitz-fest on her wedding finger, and she tried to give it to me. I refused. I hope I wasn’t rude.) We all put on our seat belts at the appointed time. After passing through unscathed (unless you count an 18-year-old boy with a machine gun yelling at you through the open door “do you speak English? Huh?! Where are you from?”), I forgot that I was wearing the good old seat belt. The woman next to me (the one with the ring) promptly reached across and unbuckled it for me with a satisfying click. I thanked her.
For the moment, we were free.