This morning I got up at 5:30am to Skype with the boyfriend. Boy I miss him. By 7:30am, I was in a car with two co-workers heading to meet the others to go for a tour in the West Bank.
The co-worker who took us is considered a leading expert on the issue of the security fence and knew his way around very well. We went to three building sites of settlements within Israel (not yet on the West Bank side of the fence) that are completely legal (by international, as well as Israeli, law) but problematic because they are being built on land that is theoretically land that Israel would swap with the PA to keep other settlements existing in the West Bank. This means that Israel has to find other land that it can swap. Essentially, I was told, this results in Israel being able to “steal away” a few more kilometers of land…
It was at the first settlement site that my camera’s battery died. I got no photos of this amazing trip. None. Zilch. Nada.
We also visited a Palestinian village in Israel that had been abandoned in 1948. In fact, it’s situated right by one of the settlements being built. I wish I remembered the name. It was amazing. The whole village was still standing there, but not in an eerie, ghost-town way. Rather, it looked like ancient ruins, though only 63 years old. I wish there was more information on it – why some buildings are two stories, where the market was, how the village sustained itself – but apparently the very reason it’s so well preserved is because no one visits it. I wish I could remember the name! What I found most fascinating was that a good number of the houses were completely underground! There were hills, and doors in the hills. I don’t know if they would have been troglodytes, or if living in a hill instead of a cave doesn’t classify you as one, but wow!
Enter West Bank. It was amazing how anticlimactic crossing the border was, and it took a few minutes drive to see a difference. Mostly, Palestinian villages are a lot more dismal looking than their Israeli counterparts on the other side (or on that side, for that matter). We were very soon inside the settlement of Susya. It was surreal seeing the large gates and the soldier with the huge rifle at the entrance, but again, no problems (almost entirely because of the Israeli number plate on the car and the white people inside) and wow – it was like suburbia! Pretty houses, flowers, calm roads, lots of little Jewish boys hanging out. We drove around it and out, and back onto the highway in the West Bank. Wikipedia tells me that the settlement of Susya has a difficult relationship with the nearby Palestinians – including some murders. In light of that, it seemed very normal, peaceful even. I couldn’t help but wonder, though, what kind of person WANTS to live somewhere where they need armed guards to keep them safe, and where they know they are absolutely hated by their neighbours.
Speaking of highways, I asked my co-workers and was informed that the highway we were on was open to both Palestinians and Israelis. After being taught the difference between the two number plates (Israeli – yellow, Palestinian – white) I looked to see how many Palestinian cars were actually using the highway, able to access it. A fair amount. It was probably almost half-half for most of the drive.
As we continued to drive through the West Bank, I was told a little bit about the legality of the settlements in terms of Israeli, not international, law. It was fascinating to learn that there are settlements considered illegal under Israeli law that still enjoy Israeli protection; ironic, too. Furthermore, there are settlements that may have originally been legal (under Israeli law) but expansion is considered illegal under the same law (and yet they are protected, because they are Israeli).
We drove past Hebron to Herodian, and then out through another gate. We didn’t stop in any Palestinian villages, or in any Jewish settlements, but rather we looked at at everything. My co-workers spoke Hebrew most of the time, stopping to translate certain things, and I expanded my Hebrew vocabulary. It now consists of “yes”, “no”, “okay”, “thank you”, “listen”, and “hello”. That will get me very far!
We had lunch as a group at a restaurant in Israel where the food was mediocre and over-priced, but the view was the most stunning I have seen in recent times, and certainly in Israel. Lush greenery, the hills, and at the very back, united Jerusalem.