Tag Archives: palestine

Powerful words from Bassem Eid

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I came across this blog post from last year from my friend the Palestinian Human Rights Activist and political commentator, Bassem Eid, .   Powerful words that capture a lot about the role the Palestinians can and should play in building a better future.  This does not exonerate the Israelis, but makes it clear that the problems are not one sided.

 

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/we-palestinians-hold-the-key-to-a-better-future

 

I am a proud Palestinian who grew up in a refugee camp and raised a large family. I want peace and prosperity for my people. I want an end to the misery and the destruction.

After 66 years of mistakes and missed opportunities, it is time for us Palestinians to create the conditions for peace and to work for a better future. It is time that we stopped pretending that we can destroy Israel or drive the Jews into the sea. It is time that we stopped listening to Muslim radicals or Arab regimes that use us to continue a pointless, destructive, and immoral war with Israel.

Let’s be realistic. We Palestinians are not doing well.

In Gaza, our schools are controlled by Muslim fanatics who indoctrinate our children, and Hamas uses our civilians as human shields in a losing battle against Israel. Hamas maintains power through violence, and it ensures that money is spent on its arsenal rather than on making the Palestinians’ lives better. While President Abbas is quick to denounce Israel whenever it attacks Hamas, he has absolutely no ability to stop Hamas from provoking Israel.

In the West Bank, while Abbas has been incapable of stopping the construction of Israeli settlements, the only good jobs are with Israeli companies, and the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment) movement is doing its best to take those jobs away from us. Abbas runs a corrupt dictatorship that uses international funds to consolidate its own administration rather than to develop the Palestinian economy.

In East Jerusalem, the PA is so mistrusted that most Palestinians would prefer to live under Israeli rule than under PA rule, and yet some of us seem unable to live in peace with the Jews.

 

Rawabi – the Palestinian City of the Future

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One of the key obstacles to implementing a two state solution is ensuring that once a sovereign state, Palestine has a robust enough economy to develop democratic institutions and traditions.  Economic development and cooperation between Israel and Palestine is essential to the eventual resolution of the conflict.   Proponents of the BDS or Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement seek to focus their energies on an economic boycott of Israel, and an economic boycott of products produced in any Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  All divestment does is result in hurting Palestinians, and weakening the economy. Divestment does not really impact Israel’s robust economy, but when pressure is put on companies like Sodastream, who operated a plant in the West Bank, and they simply re-locate to another plant in Israel’s south, Palestinian workers lose jobs.

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Rawabi’s entertainment area – an 8,000 seat amphitheater looking up at the city

Positive investment in the Palestinian economy is a far better approach to long-term conflict-resolution.  Positive investment will result in more jobs, and better chances of prosperity – and less likelihood of militancy by young Palestinians. Investment in the economy is not “normalizing” the occupation, it is creating the conditions necessary for a future democratic Palestine.  I recently had the opportunity to visit one of the most unique and impressive efforts at building a future Palestine, in the hills north of Ramallah, at a place called Rawabi (arabic for “the Hills”).

Rawabi is a new city being built on 1500 acres (6 million square meters) of land.  It is the first new city to be built in Palestine since the  1967 war.  Rawabi isn’t a subdivision.  It is an intentional, planned city, with all of the things that are needed to make it a self-sufficient economy.  Think of the old computer game SimCity, where you design an entire city from scratch, and you have Rawabi.  It is in effect, SimCity Palestine.  Currently 20 percent of the 1500 acres are being developed, with 18 neighborhoods intended to provide 5,000 residences.  Rawabi is the brain-child of Palestinian American entrepreneur Bashar Al-Masri, who is the principal investor and owner in the project.   His corporation provided 1/3 of the funding, with additional financial support from the Qatar Investment Authority, and other private investors.

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The city includes a municipal office, schools, commercial center, industrial center, mosque, church, transportation system, clinic, and entertainment areas.  The core area, once complete will house about 25,000 people, and can expand to as many as 40,000 people.  The project began in 2007, ground was broke in 2012, and in August 2015, the first residents moved in.   Right now it is small, only 600 people live in the city, but the goal is to occupy another 250 apartments every six months, until it reaches 6,000 people in five years.   The project has injected $1.2B USD into the Palestinian economy, and the employment of 5,000 with another 2,000 contractors, has resulted in a 4 percent reduction in unemployment in the entire West Bank. The stones for the buildings come from the quarry on-site, and workers at the city’s industrial park cuts the stone, and produces the cement for the project.

Rawabi’s commercial center, under construction

a model of Rawabi

a model of Rawabi

What makes Rawabi unique is that not only does it have modern facilities, but apartments sell for as little as $65,000 USD for a 2 bedroom, 1000 sq. foot furtnished apartment.  Larger, 3, 4, and 5 bedroom apartments are in the $100-200K price range.  The prices are about 30 percent cheaper than in Ramallah, and in an effort to attract young people, a rent-to-own program permits residents to have two years of rent go entirely towards a down-payment on a home. Even the development of mortgage programs was a challenge, as the Palestinian Authority did not have a traditional mortgage system.

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Rawabi is not intended as just a bedroom community for Ramallah or Nablus.  Instead, the plan is to develop a robust commercial area, in which people will work and shop and live.  The commercial area, which is still under construction, will include two restaurants, a “fun factory” for kids, a night club, a 7 screen cineplex, grocery store, bank, and two high rises with 50,000 sq. meters of office space.  In addition, there is an 8,000 seat outdoor amphitheater for concerts and entertainment.  More importantly, Rawabi is intentionally trying to create long-term sustainable jobs, by focusing on Information Technology, and creating a business incubator for young entrepreneurs.  The goal is not to displace jobs from Ramallah, or elsewhere in the West Bank, but to create new jobs, and add to the economy.

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show-room

Rawabi has been slowed down in its development due to the politics of the West Bank, with obstructions from both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.  The Palestinian Authority made a commitment to provide Rawabi with much of the public service infrastructure, schools, fire, police, roads, water treatment..   The commitment never materialized, and the developers had to take it on themselves, adding another $120M to the project budget.   The Israelis refused to allow Rawabi access to the Israeli water grid, this prevented many of the apartments from being occupied for as many as two years.  An agreement was finally reached, although water issues remain an issue for the future.   In addition, because Rawabi’s land crossed both Area C (under Israeli control) and Area A (Palestinian control), there have been tie-ups about the development of the main access road to the city.  These issues also remain a challenge.

 

the amphitheater

In spite of the challenges, Rawabi’s developers have worked with Israeli businesses – partnering with more than 600 firms in the building of the city, but also working hard to grow Palestinian business. For example, the company invested in a small carpentry workshop (a family owned business in Ramallah that used to produce one kitchen every three months) and gave it a $600,000 order.  The project’s general manager Amir Dajani said “you have the talent, you need support.  We stepped in, gave them money, hired a warehouse brought in a quality manager, a financial manager, a general manager, gave the continuous orders, brought the raw materials up front. And they became a $3 million dollar business. Now, we are exiting from them after 5 years, selling our interest back to them.”  A similar investment was made in a struggling natural gas firm in Nablus.

General Manager Amir Dajani

General Manager Amir Dajani

BDS advocates have criticized Rawabi, claiming it is merely “normalizing” relations with Israeli, by its developers partnering with Israeli companies. Rawabi’s general manager had this to say:

“I’m in the business of economics.  I am trying to create jobs.  My bread and butter is job creation.  But I always like to focus on the fact that we are building for the future.  We have to overcome different political argument about what is good.   Some people see this as normalization.  You are normalizing with the Israelis, and therefore you are a traitor….

We argue as a real estate developer, as a developer with a vision, that cross-border cooperation is a force for peace. Therefore  we continue to advance our agenda, we continue to foster our relationships across the border, we continue to build bridges of hope and cooperation for peace…

We are very realistic, and believe we are building a prospective economy for the future, with a  huge focus for the young generation, with sustainable jobs.”

Rawabi is far from complete, and its ultimate end-state remains to be seen, but it is a model for Palestinian economic prosperity that should not be over-looked, and those who argue that divestment is the path to peace are completely missing the boat.  The slogan of Rawabi is “the best is yet to come,” and from what I saw when visiting it, I am convinced it offers a model for a new Palestine.   Its construction alone has injected a huge amount of money into the economy, and provided 7,000 jobs.  It has resulted in a 4 percent drop in unemployment in the entire West Bank.  Absorb that for a minute.

When the commercial zone and business incubator are functional, it will continue to provide income and jobs.  And that is essential to any two state solution.

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A Discussion with Palestinian Human Rights Activist Bassem Eid

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One of my first meetings in Israel was with the Palestinian Human Rights Activist and political commentator Bassem Eid. He began his career working with the watchdog group B’Tselem, and  worked as a researcher documenting violations by the Israeli army in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  In 1996, he created a Palestinian human rights organization, the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group.  Eid was once arrested for his activism by Yasser Arafat, and was released after 25 hours, when U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, intervened.  Today he is a vocal critic of the corruption of the Palestinian Authority, a political commentator, and a harsh critic of the BDS or “Boycott Divest and Sanction” movement.

Bassem EidOur conversation began with a discussion of the current wave of violence that started with stabbings by young Palestinians in October. He was disturbed not only by the violence, but by the self-destruction it was causing to Palestinians themselves. “I just heard some statistics about how the Palestinian economy  has been affected since the first of October.  Billions of dollars. Imagine that the Palestinians have lost billions of dollars in the past  four months.   Take for example, Christmas. On Christmas, Bethlehem was totally empty. Not one room was booked. Imagine how much money you are losing, as a nation, as an authority, as a country on its way to being established.”  Tensions in Bethlehem had resulted in tourists avoiding the city recognized as where Jesus was born, and all this did was hurt the Palestinian economy.

This turned to the broader concern over what these attacks accomplish.  “Sometimes I get very nervous, what we are going to achieve if we stab another 1000 Jews, what are we going to achieve if another 2,000 Palestinians are going to be killed?  We know exactly what happened during the summer war in 2014 in Gaza.  What did we achieve in that?”  Since the first of October, 173 Palestinians are dead, and another 31 Jews.

I asked is this a third intifada? Bassem insisted that it wasn’t. It wasn’t organized, but was almost spontaneous, or emergent behavior of your people who appear to be motivated by their own economic despair rather than by organized political resistance.   He spoke about a lawyer’s interviews with some of the accused girls who are imprisoned in the Nizhan prison in Ramla for some of the attacks.  “When she talked to them about the motivation of their actions.  Not one of them mentioned Israeli aggression or oppression.”  Instead, the girl’s actions appeared to be motivated by family disputes.  “In one case, their family wanted them to get married to someone they didn’t like, the other fell in love with a guy, whothe family rejected..”

In another case, where two girls stabbed a 70 year old man on the street, Bassem asked,

What was the motivation?  The teenagers used to have a joint school breakfast, and in that morning when she asked her mom for 20 shekels to participate in the joint breakfast, the mother said she only had 2 shekels.  When the girl left her home, she found her friend, and it looks like the the friend had the same problem.  They felt so ashamed to go to the class without having money to participate in the joint breakfast, then they decided to come to Jerusalem,  I don’t know how they came to Jerusalem.  But they took the light rail and got out at Davidka station and stabbed a man with a pair of scissors. The guy they stabbed was a Palestinian.  They thought he was a Jew.

The telling thing here is the explicit lack of a political motivation, but instead economic despair that drove the girls to violence.  Yet, Bassem also pointed out that when his lawyer friend reported the interview on Palestinian tv, she told a very different story, claiming that they acted not because of personal reasons, but instead “the motivation was Israeli aggression.This is how things are working now.   She knew that the girls were motivated by personal reasons, but when she went public she said it was motivated by Israeli aggression.”

 

Criticizing the Palestinian Authority

I asked why would she change her story?  We spoke about how difficult it is to criticize the Palestinian Authority, and the risks that democratic advocates face.  Bassem spoke about a Palestinian professor who was arrested in Nablus the prior week for criticizing the government.

 I don’t like the professor’s ideology and his politics.  He became so extremist, that he tried to criticize without trying to present any kind of solution, but in the meantime, I said this is very healthy.  We need people like that to criticize us, to criticize the Israelis, to criticize the international community. Of course we need it.  I remember this professor from 1997 when someone from the security force shot him in his knees in the street.  He suffered a lot.  But arresting him doesn’t solve the problem.  Just as by stabbing Jews,  we are not going to solve the problem, just as shooting anther rocket from Gaza will not solve the problem,  What’s really going on?  In my opinion, the major tragedy of the Palestinian people is their own leadership, rather than the occupation.  The real problem is a lack of leadership.


On Mahmoud Abbas

Bassem had harsh words for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.   “He is the kind of president who is just waiting for his people to die and be declared as martyrs. I haven’t seen,  in the last four months, even one statement where Abbas has tried to calm the situation, or tried to advise his people that you are leading us to nowhere.  By stabbing Jews, that will never liberate the Palestinians; by stabbing Jews that will never create the Palestinian state. By stabbing Jews, that will never give us any liberty or independence.”   Abbas’ failure to call for non-violence has the opposite result.

“By not discouraging the stabbings,  he is encouraging it.  He is paying money to these people.  He is meeting with them.   He is paying money for what he calls ‘the martyrs,’to their families. He is paying money to the families. Why are the families are running to Ramallah, to meet with him? To get the checks.  This is how he succeeds in buying his popularity.  He is buying it by money rather than by any other political strategy.  And that is exactly what he learned from Arafat. Arafat did the same, but Arafat gave more money than Abbas, because there was more money coming to the PLO.”  \

Abbas’ failure to speak out against violence has created distrust among Israelis that the Palestinians want to find a peaceful solution.He pointed me to an essay he wrote on the subject just a few months ago.

 

Living under a coma… and “lovers of death instead of life”

Eid then used the metaphor of “living under a coma” to describe the state of mind in Palestine today.  It is as if “no one is trying to wake up and even see what is really going on around them.  What has really happened here?  Why are people so blind to their own situation?  This gives  me a very very bad feeling about our political future.  If you are looking today to what is surrounding us, I think that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the safest place in the Middle East today.   ISIS is in Syria, even in Jordan, even in Gaza.  This is what makes Abbas so popular right now.  He appears to be a moderate, even though he refuses to speak out against acts of terror.”

But the failure to speak out against the violence ponts to an even bigger problem. Somehow in the past several months, the Palestinians have become “lovers of death rather than life. I don’t ever remember, since 1967, how we the Palestinians, have come to love death rather than life. It  reminds me of an Israeli advertisement when they put out a boy, shouting “I am dying to life!  I am dying for life!” We the Palestinians today, are shouting, we are dying for death!    That makes me sad.  How have we shifted from life-lovers to death lovers?”

Bassem’s explanation turned philosophical.

What is really happening here?  I don’t think that for any kind of aggression or oppression, I have to kill myself.  To come and stab.  This is a suicide.  It is very clear in Islam, not to commit suicide.  It is very clear.  God said it.  So, with the such kind of the extremists who are saying that the suicide is a part of jihadism, that  this is what  God is commanding us to do.  Which God are you talking about?  Which God said it?  The God of Hamas? or The God of Hezbollah? The God of the Shia?  or the Sunni? It looks like we have several Gods here.  The God in Saudi is different than the God in Jordan, different from the God in Syria, different from the God in Libya.  So, that’s in my opinion, one of the major problems, you know, sometimes they said, that if the Israeli occupation will end, all of the problems of the world would be solved.  Who told you that?  That is rubbish.  I don’t believe that…   I used to say all the time, that in my opinion, and talking with the people in Refugee camps, in the cities in the West Bank, in my opinion, the majority of Palestinians these days are people looking for dignity rather than identity.  I have no problem wherever I am going saying “I am a Palestinian.  People recognize me. They know where I am from.

Dignity comes from economic prosperity, which he sees as the primary goal of the majority of the Palestinian people.  They are “a people seeking a better economic future.  And this is why I am always trying to encourage the Israeli government, that you should increase the number of working permits inside Israel.”  If there is more cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, economic prosperity can only improve. “But the opposite, today’s politics, is keeping us far away from each other.  In my opinion, the biggest mistake of the international community is that they invest more in politics rather than in the economy.  We are at a time when we need to start building a strong economic prosperity for both sides.”

 

BDS and Economic Prosperity
Our conversation ended with a discussion of the BDS or Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement. Will a boycott of Israel help the cause of economic prosperity in Palestine?  Bassem strongly believes that an actual boycott of Israel would devastate the Palestinian economy.   He spoke first about the issue of the expansion of settlements.

When the international community talks about the settlements as the obstacle of peace, I think they forget how important the existing settlements are to the Palestinian economy.  Right now, we have 25,000 Palestinian workers who are entering into the settlements to go to work every day, plus another 92,000 workers who are entering to work inside Israel.”  What would happen if those workers were unable to work in the settlements, or to work within Israel?  If that were to happen, “what will happen to us?  We will starve tomorrow morning.  And no one will pay attention to us.

Recounting some of the recent terror attacks, Bassem described Israeli discussions about preventing Palestinian workers from entering the settlements.  The IDF (Israeli Defense Force) actually went to the government and said  “you couldn’t stop letting Palestinians work in the settlements. That will only escalate the situation.”

Compare this to the recent events in Ramallah, when three men stabbed a border police woman. “When the workers of Kabatia went to go to the check point to go to work, , all of their work permits were taken away.   Imagine the scandal that will create inside Kabatia, For 3 terrorists, we will punish 10,000 workers? Imagine that. And of course, the Palestinian Authority can’t produce one job right now.”  This plays right into his argument against the BDS movement.

“The BDS is calling for a boycott of Israel.  But they never provide any alternatives to improve the lives of Palestinians.  To continue obtaining medical insurance for our children.   I am so happy that haven’t seen any effect, for the BDS, except with what happened with Sodastream.  I think that the Palestinians are aware that a boycott will be counter-productive.  I haven’t seen the Palestinian leadership say ‘Boycott Israel,’ because that will really dismantle the Palestinian authority. BDS is symbolism.  What we need is investment and economic prosperity.  That can’t come from BDS.”

My time with Bassem Eid was extremely enlightening, and covered much more than I have written here.  The issues are complex.  His focus wasn’t on abuses by Israel, but on the problems within Palestine itself, and  how those problems serve as a stumbling block towards advancing a two state solution.  This is not to excuse Israel for its responsibilities.  Indeed, the relationship between Israel and Palestine is one in which the Israelis hold all the political power, it is not a level playing field. But for things to move forward, it is essential to find both new leadership in Palestine, and take steps to improve the economic situation of the average Palestinian.  The conditions have to be present for a Palestinian democracy if a two solution can ever succeed.  For Bassem Eid, economic prosperity and growth is the essential first step.

 

Images of the West Bank – A SmugMug Journal

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A photo journal of images of the West Bank

I have selected a variety of photos from the West Bank and put them into a album to illustrate the diversity and similarities of the West Bank.  I did not visit the entire West Bank, and thus have no photos from the north, in places like Nablus, but these photos capture Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah,  Jericho, and the roads in between.  Many of the photos were taken from inside the buses I was riding in.  Some are of higher quality than others, but all in all, this provides a nice perspective on the differing landscapes.   Click on  any of the photos to enter the gallery.


 

Bethlehem: A Story in Photos

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This is the first of several posts in which I will expand on what I wrote while I was in Israel, and make better use of the thousands of photos I took, to tell the stories I learned.  In many ways this is curriculum development, but it is also a way to more fully explore Israel.

Bethlehem and “the Wall”

I visited Bethlehem on February 21, 2015. It was the first stop on a day-long drive through the West Bank.   The first stop in Bethlehem was what is known as either the Separation barrier, Security fence,  the Occupation Wall, or the Apartheid Wall.  It depends on the perspective that one has.  The “wall” went up between 2003 and 2006, and is attributed with dramatically decreasing the number of terrorist attacks in Israel.  That said, the Wall is very controversial.  It isolated Palestinians, and only 20% of it is actually on the “Green Line” or 1949 cease-fire borders established by the United Nations.   Palestinians claim it increased Israeli control over areas of the West Bank, while Israel claims the wall’s location is to maximize security. Both claims have merit.

While described as a “wall,” only about 5 percent of it is an actual concrete wall -the majority of it is a multi-layered fencing system, with barbed wire. It is the “wall” which is most recognizable to outsiders.

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The security barrier was designed by an architect named Danny Tirza.   The photo-journalist Branden Harvey recently interviewed Tirza, and this is what he had to say:

From the beginning, Danny says his final goal was peace. He built a barrier across 451 miles and didn’t destroy or evacuate even one Palestinian home. He routed the wall to be sensitive to its effect on communities, even building special gates for farmers or people visiting certain religious sites and special roads for Palestinians and Jews who need to reach certain communities.

He met with local Palestinian officials, Israeli officials and foreign officials, seeking as much wisdom as possible. Danny was so intent on drawing the lines in the right spots (or least worst spots) that once when he struggled to figure out exactly where to draw the line around a number of Palestinian Christian communities, he flew out to the Vatican to work toward a solution with top officials and bishops.  

Again and again, Danny would reiterate that he didn’t build these walls to stay up forever. He built them to create and encourage peace. And when peace is here, he want to be the first one to start breaking down the walls. In fact, in every segment of the wall, there is a hole in the top. This is so that “it will be easy to remove the wall when the time comes for peace.” Peace is Danny’s final goal.


Whether Tirza’s personal beliefs represent that of the government, of course, are two different things, but it is one perspective.   Another one occurs on a board outside Manger Square in Bethlehem, called “The Tourist Guide to the Occupation.” A part of this sign describes the wall quite differently.

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I present both sides of the argument — “peace wall” vs. “apartheid wall” to illustrate the power of narrative, but also to point out that while the barrier may have saved lives, it is the single most visible sign of “occupation.”   I would hope that Danny Tirza’s dreams will come true, but I have to say, I don’t see it happening easily.

This photo shows an Israeli guard tower at the wall, next to a closed gate, where on the other side is “Rachel’s Tomb”  – a religious site completely isolated from Palestinian Bethlehem.  Indeed, I was hoping we would get to visit it, but it was on the other side of the wall, and completely inaccessible.

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The wall also has a significant amount of graffiti on it.  Graffiti in the form of political propaganda.  Here is one piece, which quotes the Hebrew Prophet Amos, “Until Justice Rolls Like Water, And Righteousness Like a Mighty Stream.”  The same words were used by Martin Luther King, Jr. in Montgomery in 1955 at the start of the civil rights movement in America.  That spoke volumes to me.

Danny Tirza spoke about the graffiti in his interview with Branden Harvey, where he said:

“We had all this bad graffiti on the wall. Mostly just bad art. It’s funny. I don’t know why all the graffiti is in English. We don’t have much graffiti in Arabic or Hebrew.

At first, we tried everything to get rid of the graffiti. But when we painted over it, people would just put up something worse the next day.  We began trying everything to keep these walls clean. I even had some friends in New York who told me they have this special paint for the subways that graffiti doesn’t work with.

So I went to New York, brought back this paint and painted the wall with it. I bought Palestinian spray paint and tested it out on the wall. It turns out Palestinian spray paint is especially good and still works on the walls.

The more things we tried, the more I realized what living in a democratic country means. In a democratic country we let people share their opinions. Even with spray paint and graffiti. In Israel there is no law against it. And I’m glad there isn’t. I think it is better that people let out their anger against Israel through graffiti.”

 

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A Political City

Bethlehem is the most visited city in the West Bank, given its proximity to Jerusalem, and more importantly, its role in early Christianity, as the site of Jesus’ birth as described in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Yet, it is definitely a very political city, and there are numerous signs of the conflict – if in little more than political messaging.  Some of this is in the form of art-work, like the mural on a wall, near the Separation Barrier, depicting a little girl frisking a soldier. Think about the message of that.   Change the girl to an African American youth, the solider to a police officer, and it would tell a story many in America would relate to.

Here is another example — an explicit call for the boycott of Israel  (this is the ONLY time I saw anything encouraging the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement while on the West Bank).

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Here is a different sign of occupation.  When walking in downtown Bethlehem, this banner was hanging from a post.  The faces on the banner depicted Palestinians being held prisoner by Israel.  Are they terrorists? I have no idea, but our guide said they are political prisoners.

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Other political elements of the city are less obvious.  Look at this photo.  It appears to be just another part of the city – and quite honestly looks like pretty much every West Bank town or village, complete with the tower of a mosque.

 

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What you are looking at is actually the “Aida Refugee Camp,” built in 1950, to house Palestinian refugees who were displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948, and who abandoned their villages during the Israeli War of Independence / Palestinian Nakba.  I was kind of surprised when I saw it, because when I think refugee camps, I think tents in the desert.  Perhaps that is how it was in the 1950s, but today it looks like an Arab village.  There are 3,000 refugees living there, although I would guess that for the vast majority, Aida has been their home their entire lives.   The Aida “camp” is adjacent to the old Jacir Hotel, which is now the 4 star Intercontinental Hotel.

There are other signs of the conflict in Bethlehem, right in the city’s most popular tourist attraction, “Manger Square”  While walking outside of the Church of the Nativity, there was a big sign which I shared part of above, the “Tourist Guide to the Occupation.” This presents the Palestinian narrative, and utilizes some of the imagery (witness the maps), that are routinely used by the BDS Movement.

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This is right next to the Bethlehem Peace Center, and the Church of the Nativity.

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Some other scenes of the city



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