Thoughts on Palestine (فلسطين)
This trip was originally to visit Jerusalem but an opportunity availed, and we took the opportunity to visit Palestine (West Bank), but only the touristic/religious sites which would raise less eyebrows if asked. I wasn’t sure about the exit process from Jerusalem and if it would be just as bad as getting in. As it was Rosh Hashanah and a Saturday, the Settlements in West Bank were likely to be deserted, but religious sites might be crowded on the other hand. We took a tour with a registered tour company (in an Israeli registered vehicle) with a person holding East Jerusalem ID. This would allow him to enter restricted Palestinian areas which Israeli citizens are not allowed to enter by law and vice versa. Travelling through settlements was proving to be difficult especially due to public holidays, and taking an Israeli car into Hebron city center was out of the question as it would likely be pelleted due to the Israeli number plate.
So, the van was parked near a settlement checkpoint and we took a route through a Palestinian area to visit Ibrahimi Mosque on a taxi. The mosque was divided between the Muslims and Jews after a massacre by a lone fanatic leaving more than 60 worshippers that were attending the pre-dawn prayers dead. Now the Jews have a separate entrance, and non Jews (Muslims, Christians, Druze, and others) enter from the other. Non-Jews have to go through two metallic revolving doors and further security which does not exist at the Jewish entrance. We went through security screening, showed our passports and were in.
There was news later that thirty Palestinians that wanted access to the mosque were arrested because the non-Jewish entrance was closed due to Rosh Hashanah. We were extremely lucky to have managed to visit just before the closure. There are huge rectangular blocks that make up the building, it is hard to imagine how they would’ve been laid out using ancient mechanical technology. There are also sealed entrances to very old graves below the mosque where no one is allowed to visit. This is probably the only place where you might be able to catch a glimpse through the glass windows around Prophet Ibrahim’s Maqaam (possibly grave, but a site related to the person) of Jews praying as well as hear them behind the walls. Some other Maqaam’s we saw here were of Sara a.s (Propher Ibrahim’s wife), Prophet Ishaaq (Prophet Ibrahim’s son) and his wife’s.
Exiting the mosque, a Palestinian guy (probably early twenties) was very desperate for me to buy something from him, or at least give him some money. He kept saying that the Israelis had closed the shops to install security systems. However, I had also been warned that if I take my wallet out to give money to one, the wallet could be emptied by a barrage of kids that would also join in. I wouldn’t give money if I were in London, I guess this is no different. I just kept pushing him away and forcing my way until some shop keeper told him to stop bothering visitors. We stopped to buy some sweets and had carrot juice and were off to visit Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Bethlehem was crowded with a lot of tourists.
Original mosaic floor of the church;
On the way we saw an interesting cafe, the name and logo made me laugh;
Other stops in the trip included visit to the Glass Factory, and Mosque of Prophet Jonah (Yunus).
The dividing wall in West Bank is smaller on the Israeli side as it is build on higher ground, whereas, it is much bigger when seen from the Palestinian side.
We saw Aida refugee camp from the outside which was depressing. The walls contained the names of villages with their current state (settlement buildings) that have been taken over.
It’s hard to think who should monitor the religious sites. If the Israelis control the area, the function will be correctly limited to religious worship, otherwise, like in some countries, these sites could be commercialized with restaurants, festivals, and expensive hotels opening up nearby. I had a Palestinian security guard (probably Palestinian Authority) that kept on pestering me for a “donation” in Ibrahimi mosque. This doesn’t happen in areas controlled by Islamic Waqf or Israelis.
Some Israeli settlements in the West bank are extremely large, and others scattered throughout. As an outsider, it seems almost impossible to see how a peaceful solutions in a two-state solution scenario could be achieved. The land swaps don’t seem as attractive – it’ll likely yield to two people living in parallel society in same areas under two different governments with one more powerful economically than the other. I suspect the inevitable will be a one-state solution (with equal rights).
I asked my guide if being an East Jerusalem Resident, can he move and live in a settlement. Technically, it is possible, but Muslims and Jews are two very different communities and would not get along well. Due to this Muslims don’t buy or live in settlements.