JERUSALEM - The road to Ramallah is a wave away for Fouad Badra.
These days, as the taxi cab driver heads toward the Palestinian city, he comes to an Israeli Army roadblock at the edge of town. Then, he gets the wave, from an Israeli soldier with a machine gun on his shoulder.
It is a simple gesture meaning: Turn back. Road closed. To some Palestinians, the Israeli roadblocks have become a focal point of their anger. For Badra, they are a nuisance that has cost him money.
Badra, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem, carries an Israeli identity card. He drives a car with an Israeli yellow license plate. And under the Army's external closure policy, no Israeli is permitted into Palestinian-controlled areas.
But Badra earns his living ferrying passengers in his white Ford van between Jerusalem and Ramallah. So, yesterday, as he has done most days since the Israeli-Palestinian fighting began more than three weeks ago, he made a U-turn. He drove two blocks on that same road, turned right down a muddy slope and guided his van along the rutted back roads of a Palestinian neighborhood en route to Ramallah.
He joins the daily caravan of yellow-plated cars bypassing the roadblock - all within sight of the Israeli soldiers manning it.
"Usually I bring workers into Israel. I used to make $75 a day," the 23-year-old driver says. "Now I hardly make enough to put gasoline in the car."
But the roadblock roulette doesn't end there. On his way into Ramallah, Badra has been stopped at a Palestinian checkpoint, manned by the police forces of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's state-in-waiting.
"They search the car. They think we are Israelis trying to sneak into Ramallah," he says.
Then, there are the Palestinian stone-throwers, who target cars with yellow license plates that nowadays bear the flag of the Jewish state. Most days, however, Badra drives freely inside Ramallah.
There are many yellow-plated vehicles sharing the roads with the cars bearing the green and white plates of the Palestinian Authority. More than likely, they are owned by Palestinians who live in Jerusalem or other Israeli cities.
On the way out of Ramallah, if luck is with him, Badra will pass through the Israeli roadblock with ease and head for home.
"Two days ago, I was leaving Ramallah and they stopped me and said I could not leave. I said, `I'm from Jerusalem,'" Badra recalls.
There was no convincing the soldiers. Badra turned around and took a back road home, bypassing the temporary roadblock with its concrete blocks and tire-piercing road strip. Most days, Badra says, he doesn't confront the soldiers. "I just assume they won't let me through. I look for the back roads and take them."
But there's more to this roadblock story.
Leading to this roadblock is the old road from Jerusalem to Nablus. It is the outer perimeter of the Jerusalem municipality, land inhabited by Palestinians and occupied by Israel after the 1967 war with the Arabs. Palestinians who drive vehicles with the green plates of the Palestinian Authority wait their turn to cross into the Palestinian-controlled area.
They, too, take back roads to get to the Israeli-controlled Arab suburbs of Jerusalem, where they are not allowed to be. However, they are allowed to leave the area to return to Ramallah. When they return, they are questioned or asked to show their ID. Their cars often are searched, but usually no one asks how they got to Ramallah in the first place.
Backups are common. So are traffic jams as cars maneuver to get to the head of the line. It's usually just a matter of time before a green-plated car is waved in.
Drivers also have arrived at a back road to find it blocked with huge, square boulders - as was the case last week at an entrance to the Palestinian village of Beit Jala on the road to Bethlehem. Fuel trucks were forced to offload their cargo to Palestinian trucks waiting on the other side of the barrier. That afternoon, however, the blocks and mounds of sand had somehow disappeared.
Israeli intelligence dictates those changes.
All traffic of a "humanitarian nature" is permitted access, according to Israeli Army spokesman Michael Vromen, even though "we are definitely aware of the fact that ambulances are used for more than just transporting ill people."
The roadblocks are a security measure. They differ from the checkpoints that are a permanent fixture at certain junctions of Israel's borders with the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the past, Palestinians in need of medical care have been delayed at a checkpoint or refused entry because they are driving their own cars.
In troubled times such as these, when Palestinian demonstrators have battled with Israeli soldiers, roadblocks can become flash points. The soldiers are a visible sign of the Israeli occupation, uniformed targets for stones and fire bombs and bullets.