Today was pretty short. We did a bus tour through many of the settlements and Palestinian neighborhoods in the West Bank. Our guide was very interesting today. He is Israeli and was raised Jewish (though now he considers himself secular), but was pro-Palestinian human rights and would be considered “radical left” to the Israeli government. His background and viewpoints was a very unusual combination. Because of this, I think he did the best job presenting the information factually and as objectively as possible, and this was a very important voice to hear. Also, it was Shabat, so many of the settlements were quite quiet as everyone was at home praying. At the first stop, we talked about how the segregation happened and how it has affected the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. We also talked about how the attempts at solutions only led to further conflicts. Our guide even mentioned his service in the army, and how this worked into his larger narrative. At this stop, you could see both the wall and fence that make up the Separation Barrier. You could also see a segregated road. There was a straight paved Israeli highway that ran over a winding dirt Palestinian road. Seeing this finally made me realize why the Palestinian commute was so much longer than the Israeli commute. We drove through some settlements to stop at a hill overlooking the city of Jerusalem. Many of these (illegal) settlements looked like fortresses the way they were organized looking outwards over the top of the hill. Trash filled the Palestinian neighborhoods, and the roofs were dotted with water tanks. The roads in the Israeli settlements were well organized, paved, and full of streetlights and wide sidewalks. The Palestinians had bumpy, unorganized roads that lacked streetlights and sidewalks. Each area felt like a different country. At the second stop, we talked about how the Israelis use housing permits to restrict Palestinian growth in Jerusalem. They are prevented from building anything if it lies on designated green spaces and from adding more than four stories to their homes even if they do own the land or building. I found this very unfair, although not surprising. The third stop was along part of the Separation Barrier next to a road in a Palestinian town. There was some more moving graffiti, but the ground was also littered with used cans of tear gas, which really put the tension of “security” into perspective. The next stop overlooked the desert and an Israeli settlement. This is H1, the site of a potential Israeli settlement that would fragment the West Bank even further. Our guide explained that these lands were declared National Parks to prevent Palestinians from expanding on to them. Our very last stop was within a very nice settlement that looked out over a Palestinian neighborhood surrounded by the Separation Barrier. This neighborhood is part of Jerusalem, but has been separated by the wall. It is also given minimal services; they don’t have sewage, water, public schools, or trash collection and are given minimal electricity. Hearing these stories made me very sad. It is hard seeing a modern neighborhood so close to something so disadvantaged.
After dinner, we had some free time, so we went back to the Old City. We got lunch at a place in the Arab quarter of the market, then we went over to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre so that we could actually take some time to pray. We went into Jesus’s tomb, though we were only given a few seconds (literally) inside. Though I am not very religious, I found it very moving and it helped me confirm my faith. We spent some more time praying around the church. We found a rock with lots of names written on it, so we assumed that was acceptable so we all began writing on it. Then a Greek Orthodox priest came up to us and told us to stop or we could get arrested, so we did. But thankfully, before we finished I managed to write my grandfather’s name, “Tony Antonio,” and “Papa,” with a heart on the rock. This made me really glad, and I can’t wait to tell my grandparents. We left when it closed and went back into the market. I got a headscarf for my mom and a pair of harem pants for myself. Jessie and I also got these kits that contain Holy Water, Oil, Ground, etc. with a cross for 10 shekels each. I got four; two for my aunts, one for my mom, and one for my grandma. I think they’ll like these, plus I got a great deal.
We came back and gave ourselves some time to work on journals before we got dinner. We got dinner at a place on Ben Yehuda Street around the corner. It was absolutely filled with young Americans visiting on birthright. For the first time in weeks, we were surrounded by conversations being held in English. In fact, there were almost no locals around. There was even a pizza place called “Big Apple Pizza.” It felt as if we were in a “Little New York” instead of Little Italy. I was shocked by the amount of birthright visitors there, and it made me wonder how many show up on a usual day.
Helga’s Question- Based on visits in and lectures about Jerusalem, take a stand as to whether Jerusalem is a “divided” or “undivided” city. Demonstrate this through an analysis of specific kinds of borders or non-borders that you examined in order to sustain your position.
I believe that on the surface, Jerusalem appears to be a undivided city, but upon further exploration, one finds that it is extremely divided. In the old city, the borders are certainly blurred. Vendors sell crosses next to menorahs and keffiyehs, and sometimes it is hard to tell if the vendor is Muslim or Jewish. One cannot tell when they are crossing the border from one quarter to another, and there is no wall separating the quarters. It is these examples that make the city appear undivided. But if you pay closer attention, the racism and segregation is still there. You don’t see many Arabs in the Jewish quarter, nor do you see a lot of Jews in the Arab quarter. Walking around, you mainly see the ethnic group of that quarter along with plenty of tourists. The racial tension is still engrained into the people’s thoughts as well, and if anything, moreso than any other part of Israel since the two groups are always in such close contact. Also, the Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount is significantly divided from the rest of the Old City. Our guide called it a “shoebox” and it is just that- walled off from the rest of the city so that only certain people can enter. In terms of the greater city, it is very divided. Standing on top of the Mount of Olives, this separation was very clear. On the left (West Jerusalem), the buildings were tall and modern and there were many construction cranes dotting the skyline. This is the Jewish half of the city. On the right (East Jerusalem), the buildings were much shorter and older, and the roofs of buildings were dotted with black water tanks. This is the Arab half of the city. It was as if you could draw a line down the middle dividing the city into two completely different worlds. I think this is what makes the city so divided. The segregation is there, it’s just not in your face. I think this is intentional because 1. it is holy land and outright conflict would contradict religion and 2. it is major tourist hub, and the Israelis don’t want to make the segregation and poor Palestinian conditions apparent to the tourists because they are aware how controversial it truly is. Therefore, they hide the division in an attempt to make the city seem open to all groups, when in reality, it is quite the opposite.