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Group of former statesmen visit Israeli checkpoint

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Wednesday, 26 August, 2009

A group of prominent former statesmen and business leaders visited an Israeli checkpoint in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday as part of a regional listening tour.

QALANDIA, West Bank — A group of prominent former statesmen and business leaders visited an Israeli checkpoint in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday as part of a regional listening tour.

The delegation from the group known as "The Elders" includes former US president Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Richard Branson, the British founder and chief executive of the multi-national Virgin Group.

After driving through the Qalandia checkpoint outside Jerusalem the group emerged from their convoy to survey the concrete walls, caged walkways and snarled traffic clogging the main passage between Jerusalem and the West Bank.

There they met Zaina Abu Hamdan, an 18-year-old woman from Ramallah who described her daily two-hour commute to her high school in east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied during the 1967 Six Day war and later annexed.

"As I wake up every morning and come here I am nervous, and I am thinking about the humiliations I am going to face," she said.

Passing through the checkpoint often involves waiting for long periods in packed metal corridors, extended searches and loud orders issued in Hebrew by Israeli conscripts.

"If you are lucky, how long does it take," Carter asked her.

"Thirty minutes," she replied.

"And if you are unlucky?"

"Two or three hours."

The group then visited a handicrafts centre for Palestinian women refugees, and later in the day were to meet with Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah, the political capital of the West Bank.

On Tuesday the group met with Israeli youth in west Jerusalem at the start of what they said was a listening tour aimed at promoting peace efforts.

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