Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jerusalem and the West Bank

Two weekends ago, I went to the West Bank and to Jerusalem.
 We stayed in a very strange hostel in the Old City, and here are some of the things we saw in Jerusalem (the Old City, again)

 The Western Wall (wailing wall)

 Dome of the Rock (but we couldn't see the actual rock because we aren't Muslim)

We went to the Holocaust museum which was really amazing/horrifying.
Then, we went to a food market, which was clearly my favorite.

 View of the Old City from the hostel
 Damascus gate (from the New to the Old city)

We walked along the Via Dolorosa, which is the path on which Jesus carried the cross on his way to being crucified. The walk ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and I got to see the Atonement stone and all sorts of really important Christian artifacts.

Jerusalem was really cool because it mixed old with new, Christianity with Islam with Judaism, and had a really interesting atmosphere. There were swanky restaurants open during the Sabath, while every other store in the entire city was shut down, and there were definitely bars and all that. We met a semi-crazy old orthodox Jewish man who told us we had to choose who was better, the Muslims or the Jews, and when we told him that we didn't want to decide and that we were going to grow up to be the neutral mediators, he screamed at us in Hebrew in the middle of the street. Luckily, a younger possibly American/Canadian orthodox Jewish guy came to our rescue, after which he gave us his own lecture, showing us the signs posted all over Jerusalem that say "so-and-so was killed at this spot by a suicide bomb". It was a good experience overall because studying in Jordan, it's hard to hear the Israeli side of things, but I will say that the old man sounded absurd. 
Next we went to Bethlehem, in the West Bank.
 There was a Palestinian children's parade going on.
After seeing the Church of the Nativity (boring), meeting some very nice shopkeepers, and making falafel at a restaurant just because we wanted to, we found ourselves a taxi to take us back to the wall. Instead, he ended up speaking perfect English and telling us he was going to show us one of the Palestinian Refugee camps.
 Aida Refugee camp. 

Pope Benedict helped put that there. 

We saw the Wall, which was constructed to separate the West Bank and Israel. The graffiti was amazing and very eye-opening, especially since most of the things written appeared to be written TO us, to any Americans or Westerners who pass through, so that we can see what the Palestinians are living through.  Everyone treated us extremely well, and the people I met in the West Bank were arguably on average the nicest group of individuals that I have ever met in my life, more friendly than Jordanians, the Lebanese, the Turkish, the Egyptians (for sure), Central Americans, Europeans, etc.etc. It's a little odd, though, when you think about how Palestinians are portrayed in the US and elsewhere as terrorists, as Hamas-supporters, as crazy people, as people who know nothing but war and hate... because that is most definitely NOT the impression they gave us. Maybe they were just on their best behavior to show us, as Americans (and one swede) that they are not what the world portrays them as, but I HIGHLY doubt it. They seemed more real and more open to conversation than any other group of people I've ever met, despite everything they've gone through. 

Lastly, we got to go through the checkpoint to get from the West Bank back to Israel. I will start by saying that this 30-minute-or-so experience was one of the worst of my life, not because it was necessarily difficult to get through, but because of the way I saw everyone else be treated.
The entrance:

 The graffiti "You survived to do this?" is really accurate. First, we walk through this dismal, dirty, tunnel-like walkway that actually just makes me feel like a factory farm animal, or a monkey in a cage. Where bars have broken they're replaced with barbed wire or chains, as though these people will wildly jump to the other lane (which wouldn't even get them anywhere closer to Israel, so I'm not sure why they would do that).

 Creepy dehumanizing tunnel part 2.

Then, we get let out and walk across the small roadway to the inside of the checkpoint area, pictured below. I got yelled at by Israeli army men (boys) in their lookout tower because I think its illegal (or at least haram) to take pictures of security apparatuses, at least in the Middle East, but I got away with it.
From here, you enter through those swinging bars into a room that looks like it could fit hundreds (very tightly) in a line. Once we got to the actual swinging bar doors that would get us to the side where we go through the metal detector. things got a bit more complicated. Before I explain, however, I'd like to point out that we were passing through the checkpoint during one of the least trafficked times of the day, so while there were barely 10 people behind us in line, there are normally hundreds.

OK. So, we get to the metal bars, 4 American/Swedish passport-holding 20-year-old caucasian girls. There's chainlink bars/fence/grates above us and around us, so we're pretty much in a cage. There's a camera that an 18-year-old Israeli soldier is watching us with in a room off to the side, so we can't see him. First, we try to go through the bars, and they won't let us. We keep getting stuck in the swinging doors, and at first it's funny, because we don't really know what we're doing wrong, and we feel stupid. Then, the voice from the speaker next to the camera comes on and the boy starts barking incoherent instructions at us in Hebrew and failed English. After about 5-8 minutes of this, I'm at least starting to get pretty embarrassed and the Palestinians behind us clearly have places to be, and they're getting ansy. The soldier keeps messing with us, telling us to walk away and leave the line, then telling us to come back, then telling us to change orders, literally with no purpose whatsoever except that he's young, has a large gun, wields a bit too much power over us, and is probably extremely bored.
Then, a Palestinian family with a wife, a husband, a few very little children who are running around aimlessly like toddlers do, I think a baby, and a stroller gets told to go in front of us, so we let them through. They get to play the same humiliating game just to get through the doors, and only a few are let in at once, so managing the children becomes a nightmare. The mom is trying to get the stroller through the x-ray machine, and it's clearly heavy and doesn't fit, but the soldiers are watching and telling her to keep doing it, pretty much laughing as they do it. She's struggling, and meanwhile her husband is on the other side already, but can't come over and help her, and the kids are still madly running around in circles because they don't know what's happening, and the parents can't really control them.

The soldiers keep messing with them until finally, they're all let through, after an experience in which I would have absolutely burst into tears at least 3 times had I been that mother. Then it's our turn, and we still don't really get through, and it is extremely embarrassing. We go through the metal detector and apparently they don't even want to see our bags in the xray machine because they don't care, and when I show them my passport the 18-year-old laughs and brushes me aside in a way that says that he doesn't care in the slightest, and I could be anyone, but since I'm not Palestinian, I can come and go as I please. And, most importantly, that none of the long security procedures held any purpose at all, because for all they knew after that I could have had an explosive device in my purse and been carrying a fake passport (I WASN'T, disclaimer), but since I'm not Palestinian they didn't care. 

After that we met a PHD holding gynechologist who lives in Jerusalem but has to work in the West Bank, and goes through this checkpoint every day, twice. He speaks fluent Arabic, English, French, and Russian, and lived in Russia for 10 years. He is so far from a suicide bomber that it would be amusing if it weren't so sad. Recently, he apparently was selected out of a crowd and forced to go into a room and strip for the snotty 18-year-old with the gun and interrogated for a very long time, entirely pointlessly. He told us that he felt exactly as we did-- dehumanized, treated like an animal, and completely humiliated. It was like the movie "Children of Men" but without the random killings (at least when we were there).

Anyways, anyone who wants to have some sort of opinion on the Palestine-Israel conflict should go see it for yourselves. I am not saying that I do not understand, sympathize with, and somewhat agree with Israel's side. But, seeing the West Bank and the things that innocent human beings have to go through for the sake of security measures is truly eye-opening. That's all. Sorry I rambled so much this time.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Thank you for these pictures and this post altogether. I support Palestine 100% (Israel not at all) and this made things even clearer to me.
    The things these innocent people have to go through...it is not even fathomable.