In September, I traveled to Israel and Palestine. I observed life, mostly in Ramallah, Palestine. Many Israelis have never been to Palestine, much less Ramallah. So let me take you on a journey to see Ramallah from my eyes, my observations.
My initial observation was that life was normal as people and cars hurried along the roads along the Manara Square in the heart of Ramallah. As I stood in front of the many small shops around the Square, I did not sense that the people were under occupation. After all, the Israeli military were not present. Yet, in a sense they were as the Israeli occupational forces can enter into Ramallah or any Area A territory and arrest any suspect, even in the dead of the night. What is mind-boggling is Palestinian security forces and police officers cannot be present on the streets when Israeli occupational forces enter Area A.
I witnessed the aftermaths of one such nightly raid.
While visiting the Jalazoon Refugee Camp, I visited with the only store owner in the camp. His home, along with three other homes, were forcibly entered into by the Israeli occupational forces the night before my visit. They were in search of the store owner because he was selling non-noise making flares that were to be used by children during the Muslim holiday. Apparently, these non-lethal flares were a security risk to Israel. Incidentally, Israeli occupational forces are too afraid to enter the Camp during the day so they use the dead of the night to raid.
So while I did not physically sense the occupation, mentally the sense of the occupation was ever present.
While Palestinians in a sense have become resigned to the occupation, the human spirit to resist the occupation is not so resigned. As a Palestinian taxi cab driver nonchalantly told me, while escorting me to Bethlehem, that his youngest son was killed by Israeli occupational forces in the Jalazoon Refugee camp two years ago and that his oldest son was in his fourth year of a 14 year sentence for throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers, he was not so resigned about seeing an independent democratic Palestinian State. The resilience of the Palestinians is amazing for the human spirit to be free, inherent in all peoples, cannot be crushed.
Another 18 year old Palestinian working in his father’s restaurant in the Old City section of Ramallah who had lived in the United States until he was 12 years old, told me, after a bit of cross examination, that the difference between living in the US and Ramallah, Palestine was freedom. I, suppose, that this is also the same difference between living in Tel Aviv and Ramallah.
Freedom is lacking in Palestine.
While I as an American citizen can travel to and from Israel, the freedom to travel for a great majority of Palestinians with the Green Identity Card is severely restricted. Thus, for them the freedom of worshiping in the Holy City of Jerusalem is restricted. As Israelis seeking to worship in the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, in holy places in Hebron and elsewhere clearly understand, the right to worship is very important.
Restrictions on the right to worship in holy places can cause much tension.
Travel restrictions can also cause tensions. As I traveled from Ramallah to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity, I had to travel around Jerusalem rather than through the Holy City, because my taxi cab driver, a Green Identity Card holder, was restricted from entering Jerusalem. Although the beauty of Palestine was so evident traveling through the hills and valleys surrounding Jerusalem, an extra hour and a half of travel time each way can cause friction if I needed to travel from Ramallah to Bethlehem on a daily basis. Thus, travel restrictions can cause a heavy toll on people’s social and political attitudes and perceptions toward each other, not to mention on the overall economy.
I felt the toll of those tensions in the eyes of the 25 students in Bel’in, Palestine that I met with after my visit to Akka and Yaffa. As I explained to them how beautiful those cities were, I quickly realized that they are not allowed to visit any part of Israel as they looked at me with hear broken eyes.
Looking over Ramallah landscape from my sixth floor residence during my stay, I was left with a perplexed perception. As I observed the many new buildings in Ramallah, I noticed that expansion is upward rather than across the horizon. Amazingly, Area A is only 2.7% of the entire West Bank. Thus, land is limited. Consequently, room to expand is non-existent, which illustrates why Ramallah has to expand upwardly and why the cost of land is at a premium.
Looking at the illegal Israeli settlements, one sees single family homes, not buildings.
On top of the hundreds of buildings in Ramallah are black water tanks, two for each unit for hot and cold water. A building of six floors with three apartments to each floor will have 18 water tanks. Looking across the landscape at the illegal Israeli settlements, one cannot see any water tanks on settler’s homes. The difference is because Palestinians have to store water in big ugly and gaudy tanks because the flow of water is only opened for limited amounts of time per week whereas the illegal settlements have an unlimited amount of water, even water for private swimming pools.
If the water runs out in the tanks, Palestinians have to wait until the Israeli military turns the water on. As I entered a restaurant in Ramallah to eat a luscious shawirma sandwich, I could not wash my hands as I was told the water tanks were empty. In Chicago, where I live, any restaurant which does not have running hot and cold water will be instantaneously shut down. I bet that the water for restaurants in Israeli and the illegal settlements never get shut off.
My observation of road conditions are just as deplorable. Roads where Palestinians alone travel on in Palestine are inadequately maintained because of decades of neglect by the occupying military power whereas roads upon which illegal Israeli settlers travel upon are clean and marked with yellow and white traffic markings.
Industrial zones in Palestine are hardly seen and nowhere near as massive as those in Israel. After decades of an ugly occupation, which precluded the establishment of industrial zones through unattainable construction permits and because investors saw no economical benefit in investing in a land under occupation, the industrial zone is virtually non-existent.
The most disturbing observation I came away with, however, is how hard Israel tries to keep the Palestinian and Jewish populations apart. Of course, Palestinians are not allowed to live in or own any part of the illegal settlements in Palestine. In fact armed Israeli occupational forces guard the entrances to the illegal settlements thus preventing Palestinians from entering them. At the entrance to every Area A, there are clear signs in Hebrew, Arabic and English which states that Israeli citizens are forbidden to enter.
In Israel, the Admissions Committees Law, which was upheld by Israel’s Supreme Court, clearly is aimed at keeping Palestinians and Jews apart, much like segregation laws in the United States before the Civil Rights Movement.
In this short article, I have refrained from using the word that can best describe the conditions I have observed. In the U.S. we have a saying, if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and acts like a duck, it must be a duck.
If Israeli actions walk, talk and act like………….