The last few days have been very sobering, and I almost feel guilty after having such a good time in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and in the north in Galilee. We took a two day tour of the West Bank with a Palestinian guide, Mahmoud, and witnessed first hand the types of restrictions the Palestinians face, daily. During our tour we visited Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, Yanoun and Nablus, which are all Palestinian controlled territories, and are subject to numerous checkpoints. Checkpoints and security checks aren’t a big deal to us; we’ve been through maybe 100 or more between Turkey, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. But in Israel it’s completely different. In order to go in/out of a Palestinian city, there are check points that are monitored by Israeli soldiers, even though it’s Palestinian territory. The Palestinians are scrutinized at every turn, their IDs are checked; they are humiliated, humbled and basically emotionally berated in their own land. In addition to the permanent checkpoints, there are “flying checkpoint” (checkpoints set up randomly). The young Israeli soldiers are trained to question and interrogate. They are intimidating, serious and seem to be easily angered and offended. While we were in line at the Nablus checkpoint, the soldiers began to yell, because someone was standing “over the line” of where the line should start. All of the people in the cattle coral were told to move back before anyone else would be processed. Because the the Hamas and Fattah movements were centered in Nablus, the city is closed except by two entry/exit points, which makes coming and going out of Nablus difficult. In addition to the security checks, Palestinians are only allowed to travel on specific roads built for the Palestinians. These routes are indirect and require driving around Israeli settlements and make travel difficult and time consuming. The first day our guide was almost an hour late meeting us, because of the checkpoints. Apparently, it took him close to 3 hours, for what should have taken only 30minutes.
Palestinians are forbidden from carrying weapons, but the Israelis carry machine guns–EVERYWHERE. Walking down the street, at a bar, restaurant, in the country, at the Western Wall– EVERYWHERE. If an Israeli settler on Palestinian land feels they need a machine gun for safety, they are given one along with at least one security guard per family.
Creating a situation frustrating enough to make the Palestinians leave or to resume suicide bombings, is not the solution. I certainly have no answers to the situation and frankly, it’s depressing. There are both Israelis and Palestinians who share my point of view, but it is the extremists/fundamentalists that make it impossible for everyone to live together. When the Israeli West Bank Wall is completed in the year 2010 and Israelis and Palestinians are physically separated by a 26 foot high wall, repairing the damage that has been done between the two groups of people will take more than the eight years it took to build the wall.