Our checkpoint on the way back to Jerusalem from Ramallah

“You should seek to understand before you seek to be understood.”

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Palestine. What do you think of when you read this name? Violence? A nation that has been shunned and forgotten by the modern world? Checkpoints and walls? Terror?

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Nothing stirs strong, visceral emotions and reactions from both sides quite like a discussion about the Palestinian conflict. Before I got off Facebook a few months ago, I would consistently see Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine opinions pop up on my newsfeed. And I would grow frustrated. We as Americans tend to be misinformed and underinformed about this conflict. One reason I wanted to visit Israel with NYU Law iTrek was to look at this issue for myself, with my own two eyes, and further understand before I sought to be understood.


After spending a day visiting Ramallah in the West Bank and meeting with Palestinian Authority leaders and some locals, I understand a little more about this complex issue.

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But I now realize I’ll never fully understand.


Early Wednesday morning, we loaded our bus for the drive from Jerusalem to Ramallah. We arrived in the West Bank after passing through the checkpoint. My first impression–entering the West Bank definitely felt like leaving Israel. Palestinian flags and Arabic replaced Israeli flags and Hebrew. Our first stop was at eZone, a tech startup space supporting local entrepreneurs in Ramallah. Our local Palestinian speaker shared with us about how the tech industry is working to lower the 42% unemployment rate in the West Bank.

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I found out after the talk he had spent a year as an exchange student in Alabama! In his words, “I couldn’t stand it there at first, but then I grew to love it. I go back to visit every year now!”

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So why is the unemployment rate so high in the West Bank? And what is the West Bank exactly? The West Bank is the area of land just west of the Jordan River that was not included in Israel’s original 1948 boundaries, but has been occupied since Israel seized the land from Jordan in 1967.

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Israel occupies this land inhabited by Muslim Arabs known as Palestinians, and these Palestinians are literally trapped in their homeland. They must pass through checkpoints to leave the area, and have no voting rights. Not exactly good for attracting business and industry for economic development…

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In 1993, the Oslo agreement divided the West Bank into 3 parts- A territory (cities like Ramallah governed by the Palestinian Authority), B territory (areas outside cities that are governed by both PA and Israel), and C territory (all other areas outside the cities governed by Israel).

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This means a map of the West Bank looks like Swiss cheese, with the holes being Palestine and the cheese being Israel. Despite the agreement, the land continues to be disputed. To add to the tension, Israelis continue to move into the West Bank to establish “settlements,” pushing the Palestinians further into their “holes” and often confiscating property of Palestinians in the process. Since Oslo, the number of settlers has increased from 160,000 to 670,000.


Some settlements have been ruled illegal by the Israeli Supreme Court and have been condemned by the UN, yet some Israelis continue to move in for three key reasons–1) to claim the West Bank as part of the land promised to them by God, 2) to make a two-state solution less realistic by making the political map even more splotchy and pushing Palestinians away, and 3)to take advantage of the cheaper real estate prices and close proximity to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.



We met with 3 high-ranking members of the Palestinian Authority, who shared their frustration with the settlements and on not being able to reach a two-state solution with Netanyahu. They lamented that Israel does not recognize the rights of Palestinians, and regard them as sub-human. One official told a story about an Israeli fighter pilot who was asked, “What did it feel like when you dropped a one ton bomb on the Palestinians?” His reply was, “The wing shook a little.”

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The Fateh party we met with is not to be confused with Hamas, the terrorist group elected to power in the Gaza Strip, which is another disputed Palestinian territory located in a different part of Israel. Hamas uses the anger and frustration many Palestinians feel about their sub-citizen status to fuel hatred and violence.


The leaders today shared that they were happy we could visit for ourselves and see that they were not the violent, irrational figures the media so often portrays. The people I met today seem concerned about protecting their people’s human rights and building better opportunities for Palestinian upward mobility in their homeland.

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Yet several of the locals we spoke with did not hold back in sharing their frustrations with the Palestinian Authority and its failures to adequately represent their interests. Corruption also continues to be an issue within the Palestinian government, adding to the perfect storm of Palestinian troubles.


The activist we met with over lunch shared her frustrations with us as well. A Palestinian cannot leave the territory without going through a checkpoint and risking losing their citizenship if they travel for too long or if their travel is not pre-approved. (“Every day I leave my house, I have to waste 45 minutes at a checkpoint, putting my life in the hands of an 18 year old soldier,” she lamented.) Palestinians have no voting rights, and the Israeli army is a frequent presence throughout all areas of the territory. Yet this activist said maintaining optimism is her primary tool to stay strong.

There is no easy solution.

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After the U.S.’s recent vote in the UN regarding the settlements (which was seen by many as not “standing with Israel”), Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel–under a single state solution–could either be a Jewish state or a democratic state, but not both. I was horrified to see on Facebook that someone I know called him and all Obama voters “anti-Semitic” for this rational comment. Here are my takeaways and why I agree with Kerry’s statement.

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Israel was formed to be a Jewish state. Considering the tragic and horrible history of the Jewish people, I believe it is appropriate and justified for the Jewish people to have a homeland where they will always be welcome. This is the beautiful country of Israel.

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But Israel is not now truly democratic– it rules the Palestinian people, yet does not give them voting rights. If Israel gives the Palestinians voting rights, then Israel will not be a Jewish state anymore, as Arab Muslim voters would then dilute and possibly outnumber Jewish voters. This is a catch-22, and rhetoric that typecasts those who try look at the issue realistically and rationally is extremely harmful.


I’m not ready to seek to be understood yet, as I’m still seeking to understand. But today, I did realize you can be pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. Every people has a right to self-determination. Every human has a right to freedom of movement and control of their own property.

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I hope a peaceful solution can be reached. In the meantime, I’m holding on to hope that we all learn to treat each other better here on earth.

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