Updated: Aug 30, 2022
As the U.S. struggled with its own internal political turmoil, I was wandering across the Middle East searching for answers and my Great Great Grand Mothers grave (That's another story entirely).
During this ‘wandering’ I made my way through the countries of Jordan, Egypt, Isreal and Palestine.
A good portion of my time was spent in Jordan doing studies on the Water Scarcity issues facing them, in which I was able to talk with some amazing political and environmental scientists as well as quiet a few non-governmental organizations (NGO).
Yet out of all the people I spoke with, I found the most deep and meaningful talks would came about in coffee shops, hookah lounges, open mic nights, and even hostels.
No matter where you are, the politicians and companies will always have their opinion, but if you really want to get to the root of what people are thinking and doing you have to talk to the people.
By that I mean the individuals who are spending every day in this world we see on the news. The ones who have been getting a beer at the local bar of a war torn town for the better part of the last decade. The ones that have hiked to the top of their favorite mountain over 30 times and overlooked the changes of the land. The ones that have spent a few nights in jail over some protest or action. And of course the individuals you don't agree with, the ones that believe the polar opposite of you.
This is a tricky task, especially considering most of them don't want to talk to you at first (my self an American Marine veteran with Jewish heritage wandering around the Middle East). On the other hand you don't wish to allow a perspective you fundamentally disagree with garner greater following by publicizing it; however it is just as important to understand every individual's perspective.
It is those very people that I listened to, learned from and I will be writing about here.
"Only the dead have seen the end of war." - Plato
Every single name, baring those who are public activists, mentioned in this story will be changed due to the extreme sensitivity of this topic from both a legal, social and even militaristic stand point.
So, what were they talking about? What was the focus of “the people”? What did the PhD student at the hostel, or the veteran Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldier think about what's going on around them?
The elephant in the room was always the conflict between the Arabs and Israelis.
The reality is significantly more complex, not from the aspect of “who is right” but more accurately what “right” is , who is involved and more importantly “why” they are involved.
This is not just a war between Jews and Muslims, this is not just a war between Israelis and Palestinians, nor just a war between Hamas and Zionists. No this is a war between people. All people, and not just the ones living there.
I'm going to make a pretty big claim here, one that seems to simplify the issue I just said was so complex, but trust me you'll understand what I mean by the end of this.
A major source of the issue stems from that of Perspective.
For every Israeli I met that denied Palestine existed, I met another that was speaking out for Palestinian rights. For every Palestinian I talked with that denied the holocaust and held anger for the Jews, I met another that wanted a home for all people as brothers of the Abrahamic religion.
No matter where you go, there is someone at every extreme, regardless of heritage or citizenship.
You can meet an ex-settler in a coffee shop that goes to protests of their own settlement, you can find Palestinians that are working in the center of Jerusalem happy they were given financial opportunity. (both of these would be looked down on by their respective community they came from for a plethora of reasons).
It was this diverse set of not only ideologies but the very diversity of the people who held these ideologies that truly sparked my curiosity.
As I broke down in my article "Duality of Political Writing", giving facts on a subject isn't always enough to sway someone to one ideology or another. How you portray these facts, and the fundamentals in which you justify actions will be the focus of someone's mind, no matter the statistics, no matter the 'facts', it is the way in which you perceive them that creates your opinion.
So in an attempt to give a perspective that this conflict here is one of the most important conflicts in the modern day not only for the Middle East but for humanity as a whole. I will share with you my experiences, what people have said, why they said it and hopefully inspire everyone to dive deeper into this reality to better understand their own.
I do have my own opinions, I do have my own beliefs of what is right.
But what I believe is not important, what is important is that you listen and hear what EVERY person involved in this has to say and why they find themselves supporting an ideology.
I know some of you may already be reading this and be thinking “it is absolutely clear who is right and wrong” and I couldn't argue with you. However, what is clear to you may be blind to someone else, and without understanding we create this blindness, thus we can find no way forward.
For those of who are completely in the dark let me give some background.
The Levant region is the region centered around modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. This area has been host to holy war after holy war. There are archaeological sites from every major empire of history. It's the birthplace of three major world religions(Christianity, Judaism and Islam) and continues to be held as the most sacred land from each.
The source of the greatest conflict ironically has created the most peace.
While the force of religious zealots has been seen through centuries here, the religious sights of old also are the greatest source of cooperation and peace.
The Jesus of Nazareth’s baptismal site is one of the few locations where you can see mostly peaceful interaction between Israel and any of the other Arab countries.
I say mostly because there was an armed guard standing over the stream that is the Jordanian river stopping anyone from crossing. The reason for this is that the very border of Jordan and Israel is right in the center of the river. We were even told not to wave or speak to anyone across the river.
As I stood on the opposite bank in Jordan, I stared across to Israel or as some put it occupied Palestine.
I could see a group of Christians coming in to have either their first or maybe second baptism right near the very site of Jesus's baptism.
Here was a border of two countries that have been at war with each other more than once.
And ironically, the religions that helped build up those wars are the very ones that keep the peace here.
All that separated us was an imaginary line drawn up decades ago by politicians and generals who don't even live here. Yet by even swimming across that river I could be arrested, thrown in jail or even shot.
In my opinion, I think this is one of the greatest barriers to a way forward. Many individuals in the area see the borders as a great way to protect themselves from the onslaught of terrorists.
Some see the borders as a way to corral and move people they no longer wish to see.
Yet throughout all these borders there is only one sheer fact that I noticed, it stopped people from talking.
I was lucky my US passport was relatively accepted in the area and allowed me to wander through the various borders without much issue as you'll see later on in this article.
Because of this I was able to speak to everyone on both sides of any conflict. And every time I talked with them, I learned one thing. Almost all of the people I spoke with simply wanted a home for their family. A place to stay safe. A place to be left alone. Their reason and their way for getting it were completely different but that was the end goal.
However, to say everyone wanted to live happily and peacefully together would be a lie.
It is absolutely true that there are individuals and people in positions of power who do mean harm, who truly believe the very extremes of both religion and politics.
You'll find these extremes within the Zionist Jews as well as the Terroristic Muslims.
Again, after a statement like that I want to reiterate It is not the religion or most of the followers of said religion.
It is this very specific group of individuals on both sides of the conflict who are so devoutly and extremely professed in their own interpretation of these ancient books that is pushing these ideologies
It is the minority of both sides that are perpetrating the atrocities.
And what do these minorities think?
The level of academic review and papers done on these topics greatly out passes my own expertise and understanding. So I will not attempt to make any absolute statements. However I believe it is important to understand some key facts.
The Zionist movement began quite some time ago. Long enough that my great-great-grandfather was actually one of the original Zionist Jews who came over to Israel far before the end of World War II.
They believe that the Holy Land of Israel is the homeland of the Hebrews, the Jews, and even a step further that in order to control and take hold of the Holy Land (as well as fulfilling some very specific prophecies) they will bring the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead.
Through this motivation to create a state where the Jewish people could be safe from the prosecutions they had experienced throughout history and to ensure a Holocaust never happens again, the state of Israel was founded.
After a series of wars, conflicts and expansions, we now see the modern-day state of Israel as the powerhouse and pseudo-Jewish state in the Middle East.
In conflict with this, you have the extreme ideologies found within certain sects of Islam.
In the same way you cannot paint all Jews as Zionists You cannot paint all Muslims under the same flag.
Over the years there has been many different militias and groups founded.
One thing in common with any of these extreme groups is their desire to bring forth the Messiah as well. However, the way in which the Messiah is brought about and the texts that they refer to are unfortunately in conflict with what the Old Testament and New Testament says.
There are also certain portions of teachings being passed down and interpretations that the Jews are an evil people, taking control of wealth and monopolizing of the land and resources for their own gain. I even spoke with a few individuals who truly believed parts of the Quran directly referred to the Jews in this way.
Again, I will not make any comments on the validity or academic conflicts of the statements I am making here. These are all statements I have witnessed people saying and regardless of their truth, the fact is people believe it and that is their own truth and it is what has led to quite a lot of conflict
I have been fortunate enough to attend college courses where we compare the ideologies of Bin Laden and Gandhi, I have stood in the middle of protests and listened both for and against the church. I've witnessed academics argue online for hours at end.
The goal for this entire article is not to convince you that one direction is right, or to prove a point. The entire purpose of me writing this is simply to share what I saw.
To share what people truly believe regardless of its validity, to understand how people came to these conclusions and what these conclusions have created as a result.
Again, the amount of academic articles and scholars that have found and focused on these similarities and dissimilarities far exceeds anything I could explain here. So to keep it sweet and simple, here's some quick points.
The Jews do not believe that the Messiah has come yet, Christians believe Jesus was the Messiah and his second coming is prophesied. Many Muslims Believe Jesus was a real person but that he was not the Messiah and was simply a prophet.
They all believe in the same Abrahamic history, They all follow the same God ( That's a broad statement I know but mostly true).
But it is in the finer details in which they disagree. And it is within these finer details that literal war has been fought over.
So to glass over these details is to glass over entire wars.
So what do the people have to say?
I want you to picture this
A blonde long haired, brown bearded American walks into and Israeli bar and ask the bartender "What do you think about Palestine and Israel?"
Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? Well that was me on quite a few nights.
I knew no one there which means I didn't really care what they thought of me. I just wanted to make sure they knew I was completely uninformed and almost an absolute idiot. The best way to do that is to jump straight to the questions I think.
Believe it or not I never had a single person turn me away.
Every single individual I talked to was eventually willing to give me their real opinion.
Some were very happy to give their opinion. Almost like they were waiting for someone to ask.
I sat down at a beach bar in the town of Eilat, a coastal city right on the Red Sea. An absolutely beautiful bar, the sound of crashing waves, gorgeous bamboo chairs and awnings filled with the sounds of laughter and hookah.
(A large Mural I found while wandering the streets of Eilat)
Only a few minutes in I popped my usual question. The bartender responded quickly that politics wasn't his thing. (as most of them do)
Now usually I press a little further and explain I'm just a journalist trying to learn a little bit more, except this time I didn't have to.
One random patron who is sitting right next to me overheard the question and without skipping a beat looked me in my eyes and said
"Do you speak Hebrew?"
Pointing directly at my Hebrew book I brought with me to study.
I responded by telling him that I was learning Arabic and Hebrew so I could better read the signs and talk with the people here. (at this point, I had taken only taken two semesters of Biblical Hebrew and a few crash courses in Jordan on Levantine Arabic)
An odd look of disgust shown on his face and the words he said to me I will never forget.
" Arabic is a dirty language. Do not learn it. You only need Hebrew"
I was almost stunned when I first heard it, I'd spent the last couple weeks bouncing around Jordan and Egypt, practicing Arabic sayings and conversing with people, hearing the different dialects of Arabic. I had been learning about poets such as Kahlil Gibran ( his poem called "The grave digger" is quite amazing) and the ancient cultures and development of different types of Arabic. To me it was a beautiful language filled with culture and history.
And then it struck me. This is why I was here. This is the kind of person I wanted to talk to.
This is the other perspective. The point of view that seems so foreign and insane to me that I thought it would be fake. Something you would see on a propaganda poster.
Without getting angry or upset, I simply nodded my head and asked "why do you think that?"
To which he responded "the same reason I think Eilat is better than Taba"
Taba is the border crossing town, just south of the border in Egypt.
The day prior I had traveled 9 hour by bus and car across the Sinai peninsula from Cairo all the way to Taba.
I made it to a small town a bit south of Taba and had to pay someone a couple hundred Egyptian pounds to rush me as fast as I can to the border so I could get there before it closed as it was Friday and that means Shabbat, at 8:00 p.m they no longer allow people into Israel until Sunday. I even had to throw little cash towards some of the Egyptian border officials to help rush me through so I could get to the Israeli side. Definitely a different border situation than anything you see in the United States.
Either way, the town of Taba was far from as developed as Eilat. The amount of revenue taken in there usually goes to the casinos or resorts and a lot of the surrounding areas in towns are essentially third world.
Trash strewn all across the ground, stray dogs running about looking for any snacks they can find and lots of people looking to either give you a taxi ride or sell you something so that they can at least make enough money to get some food home to their family. And barricade after barricade scattered with bullet holes guarded by armed men.
Some of Egypt is like this unfortunately, Covid and the terrorist attacks across the nation have led to a very awful economic situation. Regardless, just like anywhere in the world, I found the people to be endearing and full of information. However, I understood what he meant by that statement.
In his eyes because the Egyptian towns are full of trash and people who are struggling to survive while Eilat was a grand town, can be seen from miles away lights shining against the night sky on the Red Sea. This was his reasoning for Israel and thusly Hebrew being good and Arabic being trash.
It would be like comparing Miami to Tijuana and saying that's why English is better than Spanish.
When speaking to someone I completely disagree with. I usually just explain why I like something and that I just simply don't understand their point of view at all. But he told me that was all nonsense.
He went on to explain why it was so important to have Jewish heritage and how strong the Jewish people were, he learned of my Jewish heritage and was excited that I had come all the way to Israel. He wanted me to find my great-great-grandmother's grave. He wanted the best of luck for me.
Which I just thought was so strange, One moment he's sitting there shitting on an entire culture and language, and the next, he's hoping this random American who is completely different than him in almost every way and speaks a completely different language, will have the greatest time and find fortune.
He paid for his drink. Finally told me his name and wandered off with his wife who was interestingly silent this whole time.
This was only the first day in Israel and I realized very quickly how much of a contrast it will be compared to my time in Egypt and Jordan just a few weeks prior.
A walk through the Holy Land
After a few days wandering around Eilat I decided to take a bus all the way to Jerusalem.
On my way there I spent a little bit too long waiting for a burger at one of the bus stops and got left behind, the bus had quite literally all of my things including my passport on it. So to say I was a little worried was an understatement.
By the grace of God ( whichever one you believe in) another bus came through and the bus driver actually knew the number of the other driver. He was able to call him and he got all of my things and kept them safe and sound at the bus station in Jerusalem, I just had to take a little bit longer bus ride around. All in all could have turned out WAY worse.
Arriving in Jerusalem I was blown away by its beauty, a city with a history older then the Bible.
Streets of Stone mixed with advanced railways, the smells of food influenced by thousands of years of culture.
I truly understood why nations upon nations found such attachment to this place. It truly was special.
From the old city and the walls that surrounded it, to the Mount of Olives overlooking the many churches, mosques and synagogues, there was more than one occasion that I found a tear at the beauty of human civilization.
Regardless, if you are religious person or you are not, the fact of the matter is the churches, the streets, the synagogues, the mosques, the walls and the history are some of the most insane and intense things you will see in your life.
And yet again among all this beauty I find the contrast of pain.
One day I can be wandering around the open air markets of the shuk(slang for the Mahane Yehuda Market), dancing wildly in clubs. Listening to EDM music, and then the next morning I cross into the other side of Bethlehem, a short drive away from where I was staying in Jerusalem.
I went from bustling streets filled with expensive outfits and food, to streets overshadowed by a massive border wall covered with trash and forlorn faces.
The taxi drivers wanting so badly to give you a tour to show you around so they can bring some money home.
The shop owners just staring blankly out at an empty store. Hoping for you to wander in and buy something.
Palestinian controlled Bethlehem was suffering. Some Israelis would say it was their own fault. Others explain that it is the result of economic policy and the border walls stopping people from being able to get good jobs in the more heavily populated areas.
Regardless of your opinion, fact of the matter was there is a giant concrete wall encompassing, a city that used to be free to walk in.
This wall is massive, going on for miles and certainly larger than anything else in the area. A careful inspection of the guard towers and tops of the walls shows old bullet holes and burn marks.
Yet this theme of contrast seems never to fade, because across this wall of war are some beautiful art pieces.
Graffiti has found its way across much of the wall and it has attracted the attention of many important artists.
One of these artists goes by the name of Banksy (The faceless artist that shredded his own painting at auction). He's done quite a couple pieces, one of his most famous there being the bulletproof vest wearing pigeon. I'll let you decide the symbology behind that.
Along part of the wall are stories, stories of the occupation, stories of what the Palestinians have experienced firsthand.
Some Israelis explain that it is pure propaganda. It never happened, or is without context. However, as you walk down the empty streets of Bethlehem and you read each story, you begin to wish they were made up.
For over an hour I sat and stepped one foot at a time, reading each story, each piece of history. Looking up the names of the people behind each story.
I have placed together many of these stories, into a collection that you can find here
Again, I am here to share only what I saw. The argument of whether this is propaganda, fake or misinformation is not something I will be entertaining as I'm not one to prove something. I am simply here to share what someone took the time to make and place on a massive border wall that is completely dividing a city.
Food and Thought
Not long after this I wandered over to a family friends home.
When I was younger my mother had a great friend and amazing mathematician. Her name is Amal, and to say that she is a building block in part of my life would be an understatement. In school I was lazy, I still am lazy to this day in many aspects. But she showed me that I had a mind I needed to explore, that mathematics are just as important as any other field of study.
She showed me the culture she came from. Her family came from different parts of the Middle East but find most of their heritage in Palestine.
She now lives in Florida, however her mother still lives in Bethlehem. And most of her family has lived there for years prior until they were either kicked out or left.
It's no understatement that her family is openly against the Jewish state and Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
It is to the point where Sylvia (Amal's mother) worried that she will never be allowed back in if she leaves. Amal is extremely vocal on social media and believe it or not, that is a huge issue in Israel.
Before even coming into Israel I had heard stories about the border crossing, about how hard it was to get in, especially if you had any blog posts or social media posts that painted the Jewish culture or Israel in a bad light.
I met one friend at a hostel who tried getting in and was held at the border for over three hours being questioned.
And countless others who were simply turned around at the border.
For me it was quite simple. I actually got through the border in less than 10 minutes. However, it should be exclaimed that I told the border agents I specifically came to Israel looking for my great-great-grandmother's Jewish grave, I'm assuming that was kind of a fast track to let me In.
(fun fact, I found it)
Regardless, her family has felt many different persecutions. And I wanted to know all about it.
I went and visited Amal's mother Sylvia, a very strong-willed individual who lived in this part of the world for much of her life.
She had talked to me about her past, her time with different organizations, fundraisers for schools and even moments where she worked with Yasser Arafat. Yasser was the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. If you give him a quick Google search, you'll find he was a very controversial figure in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Upon learning this I was obviously very interested. She talked of the atrocities that she witnessed herself, the way soldiers would come in and raid friends homes. How they didn't care whether it was child or woman. How people's homes would be taken while they were on vacation and they wouldn't be allowed back in to the city.
How people would be held at the border for hours and then just turned away so they couldn't even go to work on the other side of the wall.
How much of Jerusalem was unrecognizable to her compared to her time there as a child. She explained it seems that everything has been demolished and rebuilt. Completely changed to the point where she couldn't even remember how to get to her friend's childhood home in Jerusalem because of how different the streets were and how different the buildings were.
Listening to her talk you could see a deep sadness in her voice. Also filled with a dry anger. One of those situations where things seem almost hopeless but you refuse to give up. A very strong woman indeed and very amazing to listen to her. However, she made a comment about the holocaust being used as a political tool. This was a course of conversation that led to a slight debate between us, interesting as it may be, this article is already long enough and that debate is better suited for an article on its own.
Shortly after speaking with her, She invited me to dinner with the family where I met the cousins of my childhood friends, they explained how hard it is being Palestinian in an area controlled by Israel.
They have no rights. They are second class citizens. The community doesn't have enough money to support the school and during the time I was there they explained they weren't going to classes because the teachers were on strike. The only university in the area was Bethlehem University. It's the only option for many of the kids there to be able to gain an education and hopefully leave to a better place or get better opportunity. And now even that was shut down, an avenue of escape ripped away for the sheer fact of needing more money.
The food was delicious. Their talks were amazing and listening to them speak about the great issues in their life opened my mind even more, as much as I want to have my own voice, I think it is far greater to give them a platform to share their own.
Regardless of what you think of the issue, I witnessed great suffering in that town, great anger, a group of people who are simply trying to have a family, to live and love, suffering because of the policies enacted to control that area.
They gave me stickers and pins and pendants to take with me, they explained I had to be careful though because if any Israeli officials found them they would absolutely take them at the border. And they were not wrong, on many occasions I had my bag searched and every time they would stop and take my book "from Beirut to Jerusalem" by Thomas Friedman out and look at it for a moment. They would call up a supervisor and ask about it. They were always worried that the Lebanese flag on it meant that there was some sort of propaganda inside the book and that they should confiscate it so that it wasn't spreading. Any sticker or piece of equipment that says 'Free Palestine' or shows support to Palestinians as propaganda is confiscatable material.
Militarized and Modernized
After leaving the Palestinian side of Bethlehem I wandered back to Jerusalem and spent a few more days there. The military presence was impressive, I couldn't go ten minutes without seeing an IDF soldier with an M4 wandering down the street or riding on a train.
They had military graduations in front of the Wailing Wall ( a very important Jewish pilgrimage site) and hundreds of soldiers were being congratulated by their Families
You would often hear rumors about a small attack that was made on an IDF soldier or a group of civilians in a bus or that possibly a bomb threat was prevalent.
Even as I'm writing this article an attack by a Palestinian left 8 injured just by the western wall. Attacks like these push the justification of needing more security for many of the people there.
However in my time walking through the streets. It was very peaceful, only once in a while would I see two individuals arguing or fighting and most of the time it was over the price of something.
The Old City of Jerusalem requires an article in itself, The exploration of the city was amazing yet after quite a few days it was time to keep moving.
In my infinite wisdom, I chose to pick Shabbat as the day of all days to travel which was definitely a mistake on my end as most of the public transportation in Israel is shut down for the religious weekend.
However, there are a few services that you can find to get you where you need to go, but it's much longer, more expensive and honestly I should have just waited another day. But I was impatient and wanted to get to Tel Aviv.
After arriving in Tel Aviv. I noticed a stark contrast in the population there.
Much of Jerusalem was occupied by Orthodox Jews, or at the very least extremely religious people.
In Tel Aviv it seemed to be a little bit of a different situation. I would compare it to the city of LA or maybe even San Diego. And it certainly was just as expensive if not worse.
Everyone was riding around on electric scooters, going to craft beer bars and enjoying foods from every spectrum of culture.
You had people from Europe, Asia, Africa and even the Americas. It was quite a diverse crowd and I had some of my favorite times in Tel Aviv.
Every single person I talked to seem to have an opinion on the matter.
I met prior settlers who refused to buy any food or drinks that were made in settlements.
For those of you curious, settlers are individuals who lived or still live in towns that are outside of Israeli controlled borders. Much of the West Bank is filled with these settlements, and according to the UN, The supreme Court of Israel and many other major organizations around the world, they are completely and utterly illegal.
Even legislation within the Israeli government has made it illegal to fund or promote the creation of these settlements. However, due to many loopholes and the control of the military by Zionist leaders, the continued creation and protection of settlements continues.
I had heard so much about these settlements yet I wanted to know more. So the best way was to go into the West Bank and learn about them.
I was fortunate enough to get in contact with an organization called 'Breaking the Silence' www.breakingthesilence.org.il to help me do this.
It is a group of ex IDF soldiers who have decided they want to talk about what they did while they served what the reality of their world looks like
So one morning I wandered over to the train station and met up with two IDF veterans. One was a previous sniper with the IDF and the other was a tour guide.
Now I know what you're thinking "a tour guide?"
This job is actually extremely important to the Israeli military as well as the settlements in getting people interested and focused on the perception that settlements are a good thing. We'll go into that in more detail shortly.
They took me and a few others through Hebron hills, an area of Israeli occupation Northwest of the Gaza strip.
They took us past settlements, explained the political power of these settlements as well as the control the Israeli military holds in these areas.
While it may be illegal to have the settlement, it is not illegal to be in Israeli citizen. So the soldiers are sent there with the specific job to protect the Israeli citizens, regardless if the site itself is illegal.
The settlements continue to pop up and the Israeli soldiers are continually sent to protect the Israelis there. That is their mission statement. At least that's how Tal, the Ex IDF solider explained to me.
She went on to talk about the many events that happened in her life and her friend's life.
She grew up in a settlement and for the longest time that was the way of life.
For the longest time she thought this was normal. Eventually her mandatory service time came and she had to serve two years in the IDF. During this time she was a tour guide. She was meant to go and take other IDF soldiers on guided tours of historical places.
As we drove through many areas in the West Bank she explained the history of some of the towns.
One that stuck out the most for me was the story of Ancient Susya. Believe it or not this is yet another heated argument, this article does a good job at explaining the finer details. https://www.tikkun.org/the-truth-about-palestinian-susya/
After many altercations between the settlement and this town, the Israeli military decided to come in and completely demolish the town. Bulldozers and trucks came through, destroyed every house and building they could and completely pushed everything to the ground. They took all the citizens, picked them up and brought them into territory farther away from the settlement.
The Palestinians that lived there were obviously extremely distraught at this and actually brought it up to the Supreme Court of Israel.
Surprisingly the supreme Court ruled in their favor and said that they did in fact have a right to be there. However, due to the very unbalanced power structure in this area, even though they moved back, only shortly after, another altercation ensued between the settlement and the Palestinians and yet again bulldozers and trucks came through and picked up everyone, regardless of what the Supreme Court said.
The Palestinians came back and even to this day have built little shanty towns scattered about in this area. In certain parts of the city, full buildings and schools have been built again. Using the Supreme Court decisions and building permits, they have been able to
fight against some demolish orders that may be pushed down on them. However the prospect of demolition is always there.
For those of you curious, across most of occupied Palestine, building permits are required to be able to build or repair houses.
In order to get these building permits, you need to go through the Civil Administration that controls that area. If you do not receive a building permit then your building is illegal and a order to demolish sign will be placed on that building and shortly after. The Civil Administration uses this as a means of control according to Tal.
We went to another smaller town where this was an issue they had faced for quite some time.
The families of this town had wanted to build a school. However, every time they tried to start building the school, the IDF would come through and either stop construction or completely destroy the progress that had been made.
They did not have building permits to build a school, however they could not get building permits because they did not have a sponsor within the Israeli power structure. They were purely just Palestinian people living in the towns that their family had been in for decades. With no connections and an approval process that favors Israelis over Palestinians, they decided to take matters into their own hands.
The mother of one of the families explained how the men would stay up untill 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning building by the cover of night in order to not draw attention.
Day in and day out they did this until finally they were able to have some basic structure of a school built.
Standing inside the structure and you realize how privileged you are living in America.
Many of the schools I went to had everything you could imagine. AC comfy chairs and running water.
This had none of that, simply protection from the elements
The two daughters pictured here explained their times at the border and how they simply wished to pray with their family at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, yet now had to go through hours of a border crossing and sometimes would even get turned around at the border.
The borders have created an economic, social and political division between the Palestinian people and the Israelis. Talking to the people in the West Bank gave proof of that fact.
The division was so strong that some of the signs near settlements that had Arabic on them would
be completely painted over so that only the Hebrew and English was showing
Some of the settlers would block off sections of road to stop Palestinians from getting to various farmland that used to be there before the settlement.
Another big issue with this area is what law to follow.
Currently, both the Israeli and Palestinian government are using laws from modern day as well as from prior Jordanian and British rule.
Old Ottoman laws that were in the area 100 years ago are being used as a way to justify and legalize the taking and controlling of land.
Some of these laws dictate that if you are on "dead land" or land that has not been lived on for a few years. Then you can move into that land work it, farm on it and after a short amount of time that land becomes yours.
Settlers are trying to take advantage of this concept and it has led to a lot of infighting between settlers and Palestinian villagers.
Regardless what the law states, there is quite a lot of conflict, fighting, and hatred.
So where is all this peace you were talking about?
The theme of contrast in this article does not stop here, throughout all this war and strife, hatred and anger. I found hope. I found peace
I found people willing to learn and expand the edges of their mind. To see that maybe they truly do not know what is going on.
I found people willing to help and learn, to provide support for those in need regardless of their nationality.
I found people wanting to build schools for children.
People who wanted to find money for food not guns.
People who wanted to go sit out on the beach and talk about art and music.
People just like you and me
I think if there is anything to be taken from this article, it's the fact that it isn't us and them. Its not Jew or Arab, Middle eastern or American.
Its just us. People. And the first step to peace is realizing that.
To quote Iranian activist Marjane Satrapi
“If I have one message to give to the secular American people, it’s that the world is not divided into countries. The world is not divided between East and West. You are American, I am Iranian, we don’t know each other, but we talk together and we understand each other perfectly. The difference between you and your government is much bigger than the difference between you and me. And the difference between me and my government is much bigger than the difference between me and you. And our governments are very much the same.”
There is peace in the Middle East, we just need more of it.