Published: August 10th 2011August 2nd 2011
On the next day, the group of us from the hostel headed out to the West Bank. There were two Brits and two Americans. We took a sherut to the Bethlehem checkpoint, and as usual, it was unclear what to do in crossing into the West Bank at the checkpoint. After we crossed through, we were accosted by Palestinian drivers wanting to show us around the West Bank. We began to walk away, and finally a decent driver talked with us, and offered us a good price to go to Hebron and Bethlehem. The driver ultimately was what made the trip to the West Bank so successful.
Our first stop in the West Bank was the “security wall” that Israel erected in order to supposedly protect itself from the people living in the West Bank. On the West Bank side of the wall, there is a large amount of graffiti, much of it done by western artists as Palestinians are not allowed to paint on the wall. The artists Banksy has a number of pieces throughout the West Bank, and our driver took us to a few of them that were really quite good.
After driving along the wall
we headed out to Hebron, and our driver was providing commentary all the way. I wish I could remember all the stories he told us as they were innumerable. We drove by Jewish settlements and Palestinian villages, and the differences were quite stark. In the Palestinian sectors, Israelis are not allowed in, and vice versa. There is effectively no intermixing of peoples in the West Bank, and no opportunities for cultural exchange. As a result, the level of animosity between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank is very high.
As an American, it is hard to travel in the West Bank. Not hard in the sense of bad roads or physical danger, but mental anguish. American aid forms a significant component of Israeli GDP, and in a very real way, I am directly responsible for the situation in the West Bank by paying my taxes. [edit: US aid to Israel is only $3 billion out of GDP $300 billion, so I misspoke initially. Can't remember where I heard a 10% of Israeli GDP number]
The conditions in the West Bank are entirely unequal. While the settlers have beautiful apartments with swimming pools and the might of the
Israeli army to protect them, the Palestinians have none of the same opportunities.
For me, the single event that encapsulates the inequality and the intractability of the settlements in the West Bank is the massacre in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in 1994. More educated students of history might have a more nuanced view, but for me this says a lot about the situation. Before 1994, the Ibrahimi mosque and the Cave of Machpelah were joined and Jews and Muslims prayed together in relative peace. In 1994, a Jewish settler in Hebron opened fire on Muslims in the mosque while they were praying, killing around 30 and injuring 200. What was the response? The Israeli government divided the Jewish and Muslim sections in the building, settlers build a monument of the settler who opened fire on the Muslims, and the number of security checkpoints that Muslims must go through to enter the mosque was increased. In what way is this an equitable response?
The sense among the Palestinians that I met was that they feel like they are shrewdly being pushed out of their own land by the Israeli government. Not by military might, but by making life
so unpleasant that they move out of the West Bank of their own volition. At one place in Hebron, “Free Israel” had been painted on a wall. This sort of mentality is really not helping things. To me, if Israel should have the West Bank, the Native Americans should get New York.
But that said, our Palestinian driver didn’t want the West Bank to be fully separate from Israel. The result of freedom would be that it would be almost impossible for Palestinians to work in Jerusalem, which is one of the major components of the West Bank economy. Sadly it seems there is no easy answer.
If I were king of the world, I would halt all settlements in the West Bank and enforce equal treatment for all in the West Bank. Perhaps this is an unachievable goal, but certainly the stoppage of settlement construction is eminently possible with the requisite political will. Sadly the demographics of Israel are pushing towards radicalism, and as a result, I can only see the problems in the West Bank becoming worse.
Back to our trip – we went to Hebron for some food, which was difficult to find since
it was Ramadan, but we found some labneh and hummus and bread and had a lunch on the Heroditium. Quite nice. Our driver was fasting which was a bit painful for us to be eating while he is praying.
After Hebron we drove back to Bethlehem where we said goodbye to our driver and went to the Church of the Nativity. This is the site where Jesus is said to have been born. The Church is quite simple but the old churches around Jerusalem have a crazy energy about them.
We wandered back to the bus and took the bus back to Jerusalem and made our way back to the hostel. In the evening we went out for some shisha and beers, but the night didn’t go on too long. Too expensive to get drunk in Israel.
There are more photos below