A Land of Polar Opposites

Two weeks ago I watched from out a window as four children, two brothers and two sisters, played on a dirty rooftop. Their toys were sand, which they gathered into piles, attempted to shape into structures, then sprinkled mischievously on the heads of tourists traversing the stairs below, and other miscellaneous objects. They threw rocks and empty soda bottles at one another when they got annoyed. This is life here.

At the top end of the roof is the older brother and younger sister, while at the bottom you can see the youngest brother. The oldest sister gave up trying to supervise at some point and left.

Later that same week, a children’s music festival occurred in Manger Square, in downtown Bethlehem. The Vienna Music School sponsored talented Austrian Youth to journey to the Holy Land, collaborating with talented young Palestinians onstage to provide entertainment and, ostensibly, hope to audiences of Palestinian and some Austrian families. This is also life here. It’s also a small glimpse into the “peace industry” that exists here, where organizations can get investment dollars for almost anything. Admittedly, a cultural event like this has some value in bringing people together and building bridges – but will it truly help create lasting change? Time will tell, but it will never tell us whether or not events like these made the difference…

Not traditional dancing

Traditional dancing

Polar opposites abound in East Jerusalem, which I toured with a J Street group called Ir Amim last week. The tour was very informative and straightforward, claiming nothing but to show the “political facts on the ground” which entails showing the contrast between Palestinian neighborhoods and Israeli settlements, as well as the pointlessness of the “security barrier,” which doesn’t actually provide much real protection to Israel. There are numerous places where, if a Palestinian wanted to, he or she could walk to downtown Jerusalem and cause terror. Palestinians don’t want to cause terror, they want peace, but that’s besides the point because Israel keeps building walls and settlements. This settlement called Pisgat Ze’ev is right next to the Palestinian neighborhood of Shu’afat, which is the only refugee camp inside of Israel. Shu’afat is technically within the Jerusalem municipality but its residents are excluded by this wall. They have to pay taxes or risk losing their Jerusalem IDs but receive almost no basic services from the Israeli government. Meanwhile, Pisgat Ze’ev residents enjoy swimming pools and gardens.

According to the tour guide, this is where the most illegal drugs come into Jerusalem from. The benefits of nontaxable income are probably tangible here, as is the influence of structural racism. The two are related here, just like in other cities around the world which are blamed for drug trafficking.

At a demonstration in Nabi Saleh yesterday, on which I will write a further blog post soon, the Palestinians made it to the spring to which they have been denied access by the Israeli settlers in Halamish. This was the first time in two years that a demonstration has made it there, because the leaders used a different tactic of going down the mountain rather than confronting soldiers, who were waiting on the road. At the spring, children and villagers lounged around in near disbelief. Some played with a soccer ball while others dangled their feet in the water. Meanwhile IOF soldiers stood by with guns and riot control gear at the ready, but didn’t use any of it until villagers left the spring. Once we got to the road and attempted to use it to walk back to the village, they used sound bombs and skunk spray to disperse us and chase us up the hill, forcing us to hike back to the village with tear gas canisters exploding around us rather than walking peacefully on the road. Who are the ones who truly want to cause terror?

This spring used to be an important water source for Nabi Saleh, until the settlers in Halamish made it Jewish only.

A peaceful walk turned into a mad scramble, thanks to tear gas and skunk water (you can see the truck that sprays it on the street in the distance).

I am trying to keep my head up through all of this. Today I visited Taybeh, a Christian village in the West Bank, to tour the only Middle Eastern microbrewery. The peaceful village seems far removed from the conflict. Later today my parents arrived along with Max and Jane Carter’s group, which was truly a joyous occasion. I’m glad they’re here and look forward to spending time with them in this incredible land.

Meanwhile, we will continue to experience extremes. From hope to despair, from joy to pain, sometimes in the same day, life here swings back and forth. It’s a small wonder that so many young people want to leave – the grass is always greener…


About thichnhattim

Radically Moderate - neither right nor left brained, I try to use both. Student, activist, UU. Live life by the peaceful teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. Redesign the flow, redefine the know, we're hanging on the ledge.
This entry was posted in Palestine/Israel Trip, Politics, Spirituality, Summer 2012 Bethlehem, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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