Nely Trip to Israel Day 4, 5/2010- Continued-
Day 4- continued
After the Museum of the Shoah, we had a sobering lunch. The feelings related to everything we had heard still haunted us and we could not shake them and still have not been able to days later.
Our wonderful guide Mike took us to a bluff overlooking Jerusalem, and showed us all the maps of Israel from the time it became a country up until today. That geography class really was the key in explaining why all we hear about in the States, is about fighting in Israel. The territory that was given and assigned to Israel in 1948, has been continually compromised, re- assigned and cut, to the point where what we now see on a map is a country with a bunch of pockets of unofficial territories that have been settled and taken over by others, often by force. Most of the territories have been settled by the Palestinians ( who want their own official country) but unfortunately, different factions within their group want different things. It is clear to see why negotiating a settlement with the Palestinians has been difficult. Which group can you negotiate with, when the others like HAMAS, might then reject the agreement?
This all became very palpable when we visited the city of Bethlehem. The Christians among us were excited to see where Jesus was born. Bethlehem has been such an integral part of the Christmas story that you can’t believe you are actually going to be there and experience the place so many songs and prayers have been written about.
Well, entering Bethlehem, which is 15 minutes from Jerusalem is a bit complicated. It is, as we discovered, a Palestinian territory.
We had to take our passports and cross into ” another country”. Israelis have been asked by their military not to enter Palestinian territories for fear of violence. So, we entered Bethlehem without our tour guide, or driver , who are Israeli. I have to say this is odd and scary for an American. Imagine you stepped from one side of the street in Santa Monica to the other side of the street ( with a Passport in hand and a military check point in between) in Venice. The Santa Monica side of the street is a first world country and the Venice side is the third world in every way. Very jarring.
Everyone treated us respectfully in Bethlehem, but the holy feeling of the Old City in Jerusalem is not here. There is a commercial feeling to the Church of the Nativity ( which has been split in half between the Catholics and the Greek Orthodox). Jesus’ birthplace is owned by the Greek Orthodox, and the church had very mean, old school priests keeping everyone in check, in the assembly line that is the viewing of Jesus’ birth place.
We all commented on how different it felt from the sacredness we had experienced before.
That evening, the Palestinian scholar Rami Narallah joined us at dinner ( although he could not stay to eat with us). He was direct and honest. He told us that Palestinians believe this land is their birth right, that they were here first, and that they have rights to the land.
He said that the Palestinians will not stop until they have their own country and until they have the ability to have the kind of economic advantages he feels are accessible to the Israelis.
He admitted that there are different factions among the Palestinians and that they don’t see eye to eye. However, he feels that all of this has happened due to the economic hardships they have had to endure in their settlement regions.
He said they also believe the Old City of Jerusalem should not belong to Israel but rather be a neutral zone, belonging to the world.
He also made it perfectly clear that if these things were not achieved soon, violence and terrorism would continue in the region.
Since I noticed how direct and honest he was I asked him what Palestinians and He thought of America. There is obviously no love lost. The only President he thought remotely got the Palestinian point of view was George Bush. He personally likes Obama, but thinks he’s incapable of getting anything done in th region. They see us as people who don’t understand the rest of the world ( probably true), and a country that is a puppet of Israel. It was hard to hear but I told him even harder to hear is the threat of violence, something we just don’t have the stomach or the tolerance for in our country. Israelis live with that threat daily.
Don’t the Palestinians realize with the stance of terrorism as solution, it is difficult to sympathize ? They would do so much better in how they are seen and heard around the world, with non violent protests or even a hunger strike. When they figure that out they may actually get somewhere.
For now, I understand it is difficult to give in to terrorism and violence as a means of negotiation.