- "Security Fence"
- Area A
- Banana Beach
- Bat Yam
- Beni Brak
- Hall of Independence
- local government
- one sided narrative
- Orthodox Judaism
- Oslo Accords
- Palestinian Peace Talk
- Prime Minister Rabin
- Supreme Court
- Tel Aviv
- Ultra Orthodox
Withan early (and hungry) start to our day, we set out for the Palestinian city of Ramallah. While entering the West Bank, the frequent Israeli checkpoints contributed to a sense of security, however with news of an attempted terrorist attack the previous day, I was hesitant to be entering area A, which is the area controlled by the Palestinian authority. . Prior to entering Ramallah, I envisioned all Palestinian territory within the West Bank to share qualities of a slum, with Palestinian people lacking basic necessities, and cities unable to change their unfortunate predicament. Experiencing Ramallah was however, nothing like I expected it to be. Separated from Israeli settlements by a continuous wall, the only real indication we had entered Palestine was that road and building signs had changed from Hebrew to Arabic. Though the outskirts of Ramallah appeared to be less taken care of, buildings and roads shared similar conditions to nearby Israeli settlements. As we neared the city’s center, we were able to see the contrast of Israel and Palestine from a distance; the red Israeli roofs separated by a wall from the Palestinian sandstone infrastructure.
To this day, the Palestinian Liberation Organization claims that Jerusalem is Palestine’s capital. However Ramallah currently serves the function of the capital, housing certain embassiesand international organizations. Within area A, the Israeli government does not hold sovereignty, and Palestine is therefore able to control and regulate permitting and foreign aid. As a result, Ramallah has attracted many Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar for the construction of new infrastructure. With the Mediterranean nearby, Ramallah tends to be cooler than other Palestinian communities, consequently fostering a summer residential community. Since 1994, Ramallah has tripled in population and with limited land, real estate prices have skyrocketed. Within the center of Ramallah, recently an acre of land sold for more than 21 million U.S. dollars.
Though the Palestinian community is overwhelmingly Muslim, and the community continues to become increasingly religious, Ramallah is a relatively liberal city. While walking throughout the city, there are many women who have their arms, chests, and hair exposed. It is also evident that other faiths are welcome, despite being a minority, in fact, the PLO requires that the mayor of Ramallah be a Christian since it was historically a Christian city. Though area A is technically free from Israeli control, Ramallah, like other Palestinian communities within the West Bank, is entirely reliant upon Israel for resources entering Israeli ports, water access, and sometimes forms of identification. The current situation of Palestine is limiting because of surrounding Israeli control; without access to any ports or airspace, Palestinians are forced to interact with Israel.
Among Palestinians, there appears to be hope of a two-state solution, however while being inside area A, it becomes evident that Palestinians will never be self-sufficient without a one-state solution. No solution will be perfect for everyone, however there is hope of other solutions.
After visiting the heart of Ramallah, we traveled to a new development called Rawabi. This Palestinian city has been being developed since 2007 with the aid of American-Palestinian and Qatari funds, and though it is still incomplete, the current development is breathtakingly beautiful. As if from a magazine, Rawabi is both an affordable and luxurious lifestyle for all Arabs. Though the process has been slowed down by Israeli land regulations, Israel does support Palestinians building such communities. Advertised as a new lifestyle, Rawabi is in “huge demand” (according to the Palestinian salesman) and offers a potential lifestyle to Palestinians living among Israeli settlers. Though the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not yet in sight, Rawabi did offer an insight of hope to a future of a potential one-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians live amongst one another.
Friendsand Family, today was a day of multiple experiences and conclusions: I had the opportunity to pass through my first checkpoint, a reality that millions of Palestinians are subjected to on a daily basis to restrict their free movement; I got the chance to visit thriving Palestinian cities, both old and new, that are rebuttals against the common image of struggling slums and villages across the West Bank; I met my first Israeli settler, sitting as he refused to speak to us and was rewarded with a glare from Ronnie reminiscent of the ones I would get when caught texting in GOVT 108 spring semester. I also got the chance to realize my eternal love for gelato and falafel, each of which made the unbearable heat and humidity of Middle Eastern life a little more livable.
The city of Ramallah reminded me a bit of the big city grit and grind that made up my childhood. The city was bustling, and I could feel the slight surprise coming from each of us walking through such an environment in a location where many of us believed to be comprised entirely of the smaller villages we’ve visited in prior days. This, however, was unequivocally a big city, and in a way it provided me a sense of comfort and familiarity.
Any surprise we could have had in Ramallah was ten-folded in our first steps off the tour bus in the city of Rawabi. Privately funded by Qatari and Palestinian corporations, the beautiful sandstone structures almost oozed luxury down into its high-class fashion stores and breezy corridors. Still under construction and mostly uninhabited, it made even the best Israeli city seem inadequate, and it was easy to forget the surrounding violence, occupation, and oppression that plagued the Palestinian population in the surrounding areas.
It is for this reason that I could best describe it as a terrible illusion. It was a normalization of sorts for the Palestinian life under occupation, an advertisement for accepting the oppressive tactics of the Israeli government and instead hide away in a beautiful city doubling as an open prison. Surrounded by Israeli settlements and checkpoints, its inhabitants would never be able to freely move around. It’s luxury and extravagance is a distraction away from the Palestinians wish to one day return to the lands stolen from them, instead falling victim to the glass window fronts of Gucci and Versace stores. And when putting it into a larger context of the political reality around you, something difficult to do when immersed in architectural and economic strength, you begin to realize the troubling aspect of life within such a place. It was yet another reminder that every aspect of this conflict is beyond what even the word “complex” is prepared to describe, and that oppression can sometimes camouflage into something the oppressed are willing to subconsciously accept.
Webegan the day learning about the political spectrum in Israel and how underrepresented the Palestinian society is. The parliamentary system consists of 9Zionist parties, and only one non-Zionist party that is a combination of several parties that unified together into one. We then travelled to Haifa to visit the Bahai Gardens. Haifa is not a religious city and does not have an ancient history. Most Jews live in upper Haifa and the Arabs live in lower Haifa. Haifa is the only place where both Arabs and Jews attend school together. Until coming on this trip I had never heard of the Bahai religion. It is extremely wealthy which was obvious after visiting the garden. The entire garden was perfectly symmetrical. At the top of the garden was a view of the Haifa bay which was a semi-circle. While looking down at the bay, our guide, Yahav, told us the story of how the garden and religion formed. In short, it was created after an Iranian man named Bábwas in the Ottoman Empire’s prison. Báb was the leader of a new religion called Bahai. It consisted of values from a variety of other religions but with a more modern type of gender equality. From prison, he had a view of the land where we stood, which at the time was a German colony. He asked his father to buy land and over time the Bahai’s acquired more and more to build the garden that now is the world center of the Bahai religion. Ironically no Bahai people live in Israel. This mainly is because of Israel’s religious conflicts. This garden has a shrine with Báb’s body.
We had a big lunch with hummus, pita, falafels, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh and much more!With our stomach’s full we walked a short way to speak to an activist advocating for equality and both the human and civil rights for Palestinians throughout Israel. The lawyers at this NGO take cases to the Supreme Court weekly and some consider this NGO to be a terrorist organization. Listening to her was very fascinating, especially since she had so much hope even though the NGO has had more failures than successes. Her main point was that people need to understand that the conflict began with the Nakba in 1948, not 1968 which is what the international world believes. She gave us astonishing facts such as 74% of Palestinian children are living below the poverty line and that 43% of Israel towns cannot be accessed by Palestinians which is legal segregation. She explained many laws and policies where the Israeli state is creating an environment revolving around identity and the supremacy of Israeli-Jews. For example, a Palestinian community has not been built since 1948 while most the Arab towns have been depopulated which forces Arabs to be living in tight and excluded communities. After the NGO, we met with Yousef who is part of the Druze religion. There are Druze people across the world. Druzes have two options, either to be religious or secular. This is decided at age 15 and parents are claimed to be indifferent on the matter which I found to be interesting. Yousef allowed us to ask any questions we had on the religion. The point that I found to be most interesting, was that they do not have a proclaimed God. They believe in reincarnation and are constantly trying to be the best person they can be, and reincarnation gives them another chance. It was very captivating to learn about two religions I had not heard of. I never realized Israel had more religions and communities other than the Jewish and Arab community. We finished our day by going to dinner at Jaffa port with appetizers of over ten dips for pita bread and vegetables, and fish for our main course. Overall, today was an eventful day filled with learning about three minority groups in Israel while hearing new and different perspectives.
This morning was yet another beautiful day to wake up in Israel. We enjoyed an early breakfast at our hostel and then headed out for a day spent exploring Tel Aviv. This city is one of the most vibrant parts of Israel with a lot European influence in its architecture. Our first stop was Independence Hall. This building is where the Zionists signed a Declaration of Independence that established a State of Israel in Palestine. This would become a national homeland for the Jews of the world. Next, we continued our walk down Rothschild Boulevard, the main street in Tel Aviv.
We stopped in the location of the largest protest in Israeli history, taking place in July of 2011 in Rothschild Boulevard. The goal of this protest was to achieve a more social democracy. Protestors demanded solutions to their hardships such as the rising costs of living in Tel Aviv as well as the ever-growing gap between the social classes. Although the demonstrations have subsided, the goals of this protest were never fully achieved. According to our guide, the gap between the social classes has continued to grow and the cost of living has increased. Despite having one of the best economies, the average price of food and housing is equal to or higher than in America with a lower average income. Israel remains an expensive place to live because their government has to spend more of its money on security than most other countries.
We took a short break from our tour to enjoy a delicious lunch at a local restaurant. These group meals are a good opportunity to escape the heat and to reflect on everything we’ve learned so far. After lunch, we continued to walk toward Yitzhak Rabin’s Memorial. Rabin was influential politician, Prime Minister and Defense Minister of Israel who was assassinated in 1995. Rabin was in the process of working on a peace agreement called the Oslo Accords when he was shot by a 25-year-old fellow Jew. The signing of the Oslo Accords had been controversial, as it meant that Israel would withdraw from some of its acquired lands in an effort towards peace with the Palestinians. Rabin’s assassination was devastating to the Jewish population as it compromised Israels national unity and caused a halt in the peace process. Our group had the opportunity to visit the site of Rabin’s assassination which took place at a rally in The Kings of Israel Square, it is now referred to as Rabin Square.
The opportunity to learn more about this conflict and about the beautiful city of Tel Aviv is one that I feel very privileged and thankful to have. By learning about these historic sites in person we are all growing closer to understanding the conflict that has divided Israel and Palestine for decades.
Walking Through History
I was filled with excitement when I saw the CIIS email months ago about an Israel summer course. I believe the best way to learn more about the culture and history of an area is to get out of the introverted protection of textbooks and instead travel there. Admittedly this is not the first time I have taken a trip to Israel, but that one other trip did not ensure me all the knowledge about the intensely complicated Israel/Palestine conflict.
And how could it?
As anyone familiar with the topic knows a lot goes into understanding the conflict. It is not a simple black and white situation. If it was we would not still be struggling with it seventy years after the state of Israel was declared. When studying the conflict, you have to learn about the history and culture of both Israel and Palestine.
Lucking out with a cool eighty-something degree day, we went on a walking tour of the heart of Tel Aviv to learn more about Jewish history and how it led to the country of Israel we know of today. Starting at Independence hall, we listened to the story of how Israel declared independence; hearing valuable little tidbits such as the fact that on May 14th, 1948 when Israel declared independence the people there signed a blank piece of paper because the official document was still being drafted and would be printed onto the signed paper later.
Next, we walked to the Shalom Towers lobby where an exhibit of early life in Israel was. Here our guide talked about the Sabras. These are Jews that are “tough on the outside but sweet on the inside.” Sabras did not want to be associated with the helpless image Jews picked up in Europe during the Holocaust. The photos in this lobby were of the first generation of Sabra Jews showing their health and success in their new land. I felt captivated by the photo of a young man with the strength to hold the woman above his head while she has the athletic ability to do a backbend. This generation was determined to change the narrative. Jews were not going to be the victim anymore.
As we walked, we were fed with continuous facts about Israel’s history since independence was declared. Arriving in Rabin Square, I listened intently as the guide told us the history of Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister of Israel in the 1990’s that was assassinated for his attempt to make a peaceful two state solution. During his time in office was the closest the conflict has ever got to a two-state solution. It is hard to picture what would have happened in terms of the conflict if Rabin had survived. Would there have finally been peace? Would another war over the land erupted?
Ending our tour with the topic of the IDF, we observed the squared off area of IDF buildings in Tel Aviv. It was here we discussed the many benefits those who serve receive. We also discussed how not every Israeli has to serve if they can prove a legitimate reason to not be drafted; though it might be in their best interest to serve. My mind was filled with questions as we made the journey back to our hostile. There is still so much I do not know. I look forward to going to bed tonight in order to wake up early in hopes to understand a little bit more.
When I heard we would be spending a day walking around Tel Aviv I was more than excited, but considerably less so when I found out the subject of our tour would be the inception of the Israeli state. This apathy came from days of relatively unbiased readings about the inception of the Jewish state and confidence in what I had already known. But during the first stop on our tour, Israel’s Independence Hall, I gained much deeper insight into the Israeli perspective of the creation of the Israeli state.
The tour started with a short video giving a brief overview of why a relatively plain building in the center of Tel Aviv was chosen to be Israel’s Independence Hall. The narrator gave us the story of how the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, built and lived in this house with his family until his wife died and the house was transformed into an museum celebrating Israeli art. This house would go on to be the location where the Jewish state of Israel was announced to the world.
The video paled in comparison to the truly heart wrenching tale a narrator at the museum told us. It was interesting to see how Israeli people taught the creation of Israel. The story starts by painting a very vivid picture of Jews after World War 2. The narrator said “The American soldiers went back to America; the German soldiers went back to Germany but where did the Jews return to?” Jews everywhere were weak from war and deserving of their own place to call home; claiming Israel was the perfect plot of empty land to do it. Israel was to be a “land without people, for a people without land”.
The problem with the narrative is this “land with no people” idea. Not only were there people on this land, but they were relatively well established, with lush green citrus orchards, and fully-functioning cities. This “land with no people” narrative was crafted to tell the story of Jews building something out of nothing but it isn’t an accurate portrayal of the story.
The truly interesting part of this was how this narrative fits in with the story Israel tells. It helps with the public perception of the Israeli people. They want to be the ideal Jews. In their version of history Jews are strong. They picked themselves up after the war and created a land from nothing. It is admirable story that garners respect from all that hears it but not accurate historically. It erases years’ worth of Arab achievements on this land.
While I was not impressed by the historical accuracy of the story, I can appreciate good story-telling when I hear it. It had suspense, drama and an emotional happy ending; all the great components of Disney movie. The narrator at Israel’s Independence Hall told a riveting tale that would galvanize any Jew, secular or otherwise.
Today we toured Bnei Brak, an ultraorthodox Jewish part of Israel. Before this we had spent all of our time in parts of Old Jaffa and Tel Aviv both of which gave off the same modern feel as the United States; which just led to further shock when touring Bnei Brak.
Our tour was lead by Shaul Meizlish, a Jewish author whose books were being sold at the local bookstore. Meizlish lead us through the neighborhoods of Bnei Brak. During this walking tour he discussed with us the ideology and the beliefs of the surrounding area. One part that really stuck with me, was the belief that without their religion, they would all be unhappy and how this belief was the cause of many cultural aspects of the society. For example, ultra-orthodox Jews are expected to pray, or go to religious services three times a day. This was also revealed to be one of the reasons why they do not have any entertainment other than books, because they believe that it will distract them and take away from their faith.
During the tour we got to sit down with a family, which was made up of a husband and wife with four children, two boys and two girls. While we spoke with the parents the two sons were in the other room, which should have been surprising since the tour was from 10am until 2pm but, in ultraorthodox community’s males do not get an education and instead spend their time learning the Torah. But, what I found most interesting was the wife’s discussion of her roles in the household. Not only did she take care of the children, she was also the bread winner for the family, with a job at a local insurance company. I was shocked to learn this because Bnei Brak is a traditional neighborhood, which can even be seen in the clothing choice of the residence, long sleeve shirts and skirts for women and traditional 17-18thcentury European Jewish clothes for the men, but some of the practices were so liberal.
But, this is also complicated because they still lived in a culture where things like matchmaking exist. In fact, the wife told us that she had met her husband a total of 1 time, for an hour and a half a year before she married him. The parents of the bride are also still required to pay a dowry and provide a place for the new couple to live. If the parents are not able to pay the dowry they can get it for free from the local store, because that’s just how it works there. There are other things that are given out for free, as they are seen as being essential to the lifestyle, one of these items being a Kippah, or more commonly known as a yamaka. Meizlish told our group that this was simply because the people believed in “trade and charity”, something that I believe would be more interesting to see in other places.