I took a full day tour with Green Olive Tours into the west bank, to Bethlehem and Ramallah. It was an very informative experience- I would highly recommend it. I’ve done my best to caption these photos in order to help share my experience with others. I checked dates and stories using wikipedia (so please read keeping the “non academic” nature of the source in mind). Also, please understand this is just my experience based mostly on the information and perspective given to me by one amazing palestinian tour guide. Of course the situation is complex and layered so please take this as only one perspective. I hope though that it might inspire respectful discussions and spark people’s curiosity to do their own research and find other perspectives and come to their own informed conclusions.

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Just across the Bethlehem  checkpoint on the Palestinian side. All these taxis are waiting to show tourists around and take workers back home when they arrive back from a days work in Israel.

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Many Palestinians go into Israel to work and so at this checkpoint the lines start forming at 2 or 3am as they know it could take as long as 3 hours to get across the checkpoint.

Palestinians with clean records are allowed one 3 day visiting visa a year into Israel. On this 3 day visa they can look for work and if they succeed in finding work then then can apply for a 6 month work visa. If they do not find work they will have to wait another year to go back into Israel.

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The parking lot where palestinians have left their car for the day to walk across the checkpoint and work in Israel. This checkpoint is only for pedestrians.

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“The Nakba” is The Catastrophe, which is what many palestinians call May 15th, 1948, the day of Israeli Independence and the palestinian exodus.

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The barrier wall (aka the security wall, the apartheid wall, the fence…)

the first sections of the wall were constructed as early as 1994 but the move to make a continuous wall really began in about 2001.

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the palestinian side of the wall is covered in graffiti.

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These stories are part of what is called the “wall museum.” each one tells a short true story as told by palestinian women.

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They are worth reading…

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and they go on for what must have been miles.

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Here is a house on the palestinian side that is not allowed to open its windows on the second floor because of its proximity to the wall.

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Leila Khaled is a palestinian woman who is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Who took part in two hijackings. In her first hijacking in 1969 no civilians were hurt and her stated aim was to fly over Haifa, so she could see her birthplace which she could not visit. Her second attempted hijacking was part of a coordinated effort by the PLFP to hijack multiple planes. This hijacking was stopped. Although she was carrying two hand grenades she says she was under strict instruction to not hurt any civilians. After this second hijacking she was briefly imprisoned but then released as part of a prisoner exchange. It is believed that she is still alive.

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More graffiti…

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More stories…

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The Banksy shop.

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More stories…

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Some in our group taking an opportunity to leave their mark on the wall.

 

 

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A UN car driving through Palestine. Many of the Palestinians feel the UN has been largely ineffective and has given minimal aid to them

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Entrance to one of the refugee camps that has been in existence since 1948. The residents in these camps are people and their descendants who left their homes in places within what is now Israel during the war following Israeli Independence and have since been refused the right the right to return.

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Since the camp has been in existence for over 60 years it does not fit the idea many of us have of a refugee camp; there are no tents. People have built permanent structures. But they have been forced to build up and up for lack of room as their numbers grow with their children and the next generation.

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graffiti within the refugee camp: the dove is holding the “key” which symbolizes the key of return- many palestinians have held on to the key of their homes which they abandoned as a symbol that one day they will still return.

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A school within the refugee camp

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and in the courtyard right outside the school we see this graffiti.

 

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and this graffiti. 

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Now to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity…

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Here is the entrance to the church of the Nativity.

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A telling map that shows Palestine (in green) as it has shrunk over the years. In the last map the green is zone A; the area actually under palestinian military and civil control. All the rest (zones B and C) is actually under Israeli military and civil control. Jewish settlers are building particularly in zone C and through their building are slowly isolating palestinian communities making travel even within the West bank increasingly difficult.

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Inside the church of Nativity.

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people coming up from the cave where it is said Jesus was born.

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Although it is hard to see in the photo there are bullet marks on the stones in this courtyard which is within the Church of Nativity.

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Lunch just outside the Church of the Nativity

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Walking around the old city of Bethlehem. Our guide said these streets used to be full of shops and tourists but now tourists come in on buses and are dropped off right at the church of the nativity and then they generally leave. As a result most of the shops have gone out of business and some would say that the old city of Bethlehem has become a ghost town.

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More streets in the old city of Bethlehem with shops closed on both sides.

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The Palestinian currency that was used until 1948. Our guide pointed out that things were written in Hebrew, Arabic, ad English, symbolic of the fact that Palestine was an integrated state.  In contrast, the current currency, the Shekel. shows a pictures of Israel where there is no Palestine.

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Driving from Bethlehem to Ramallah, the de facto capitol of the west bank. This drive used to be a short 15 minute drive but due to the detours made by the wall and the settlements it now takes almost an hour and a half to drive from one to the other through the west bank.

 

 

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On top of all the Palestinian homes are often as many as 15 metal and black plastic water tanks. This is because Israel control the water in the west bank and in summer months they often only turn on the water one a month. So the palestinians fill these tanks when they have water and then use it carefully hoping that the water will be turned on again before they run out.

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Another Banksy.

 

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A Jewish Settlement in the distance.

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The wall that snakes through east Jerusalem. Over the wall on the left is Jerusalem, close enough to see but in accessible to most Palestinians.

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A jewish Settlement surrounded by a fence.

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A field of olive trees that was cut down in Zone C supposedly in preparation for the building of a jewish settlement.

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Bedouin encampments. Note that although these look somewhat like shanty towns to us westerners most bedouins living like this are doing so by choice. They are a people who prefer to live mostly outdoors.

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Our guide told us a story of once when some palestinians partnered with bedouins to build them more permanent structures. The bedouins were very excited but when the palestinians returned a year or two later they found that they were using their structures to house the animals. The Bedouins said they could not live inside in such structures.

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The sign as you enter into Ramallah, which is in zone A, so fully under Palestinian control.

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Arafat’s tomb. Arafat was well liked and is considered a hero by most palestinians.

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The bustling city of Ramallah.

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A Starbucks knock off.

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I had the best shwarma in Ramallah and it was only 12 shekels! In Israel it would have been at least 20 shekels.

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wonderful markets and people who are eager for you to try there goods.

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notice the two minarets which belong to mosques. They had speakers on them to broadcast the call to prayer.

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And now we head towards the Ramallah checkpoint to exit the West Bank and go back to Jerusalem. Immediately the traffic begins…

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Some kids are throwing rocks at the IDF (israeli defense force) and the IDF is throwing tear canisters back. The gas/smoke you see is the tear gas. People coming across the checkpoint were holding their shirts over their nose and mouth and rubbing their eyes.

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The palestinians coming back across covering their faces to protect themselves from the tear gas.

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IDF standing guard

 

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And here we walk through the checkpoint, where we go through turn stiles and metal detectors and put our bags through an xray machine. Once inside this area is it forbidden to take photos… Good bye west bank!

At risk of saying things that might get me into hot water I am going to share a little more of my own perspective as I have been digesting all this: My experience in Israel is that most Israeli’s do not know much about what the conditions are like in Palestine. I can’t help but feel the government of Israel is doing a pretty good job covering up the reality and using fear and propaganda (like the sign warning people not to go into Ramallah) to keep Israelis and the rest of the world from seeing what is going on. Every Israeli I talked to had only gone into the occupied territories during their army service, if at all, and of course they were in uniform then and likely experienced the brunt of the anger and resentment of Palestinians in the form of rocks being thrown, etc. But what would you do after years of soldiers throwing tear gas and arresting and sometimes killing your sons and brothers? As I told one of my Israeli friends about my experience in the west bank she said she felt humbled as she realized injustices were going on “in her backyard” and she was barely aware of it and not doing anything to stop it. She said it made her feel compassion for how Germany and the world allowed the holocaust happen… Is history repeating itself with the victims now becoming the perpetrators? Of course there are differences but there are also many similarities. It is certainly something to think about.

At the same time I can understand the mentality of much of Israel: Their day to day reality is much different then ours in the States. To give you a sense here are some things that happened in just the short month I was there: 50 missiles were launched from Gaza strip into Israel. They were all successfully neutralized but it still happened. A ship with over 500 missiles and weapons coming mostly from Iran was intercepted while trying to make its way to the Gaza strip. There was an attempted kidnapping of a soldier, which is apparently almost a monthly occurrence. And some soldiers went to investigate a child playing with a suspicious looking package along the security fence and it blew up. The mother of the family I was staying with witnessed a bus blow up during the second intifada (second wave of suicide bombings, which occurred in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s) right after she had dropped her son off at his military base. Every week she drove him to and from his base for fear of his bus being blown up. The soldiers currently in the army remember being in middle school and high school and their parents not allowing them on buses and telling them they had to be home by sundown and couldn’t hang out in public areas for fear of suicide bombings. So all this trauma is still very recent history and I believe helps keep the fear in place that has allowed for the current situation to continue.

But there are stories of hope and people doing good work. And I want to also share that because of me telling my Israeli friend about my experience she said she might take a tour of the west bank, like I did, and invite her kids to go with her. (yes Israeli’s can go. My tour guide has had a few Israeli’s on his tours and says he is always happy to have them, and they have never had a problem. It seems the law forbidding Israeli’s to enter into Zone A is not enforced, but the signs are used to try and deter it. The only thing is that they must enter and exit through checkpoints in zones B or C rather then zone A). And she said if her kids were still school age she would enroll them in one of the few integrated arab-israeli schools in places like Neve Shalom. Small steps towards peace. She also told me about a group she knew of where arab and israeli’s who have lost loved ones to the conflict come together to support each other in their grief, share their stories of loss and work together to find ways to build peace. Another thing she told me about was a group of older adults who have made a conscious commitment to serve as role models of how to be an ethical soldier when they go each year to do their 1 month reserve army service. Many of these people specifically ask to be stationed at checkpoints, where palestinians are often mistreated and much of the abuse of power occurs.

It is a complex but important situation and perhaps the best the world can do is stay informed and do our best to serve as watchdogs to try and prevent human rights violations. If you want to learn more a few documentaries I was told about are Five Broken Cameras, which is on instant play on netflix right now and Arna’s children. Five broken cameras was a great movie I thought, and I haven’t seen Arna’s children yet but it sounds like another fascinating movie.

Hope this post was informative!

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