After being in Jerusalem for a few days, we crossed into East Jerusalem and the West Bank to hear a more Palestinian perspective on what life is like. Crossed is the appropriate verb, because to get there, you have to pass through a checkpoint. The approach reminds you this isn’t fun and games. Watch towers loom over the area where you actually pass to the other side.
Then, the scene changes dramatically, from relatively clean streets and order to disarray and confusion.
Once beyond the wall and checkpoint, you enter a no-man’s land. There is no organized government here. The area is claimed by Israel, but the government doesn’t govern it. It’s populated by Palestinians, but the Palestinian Authority doesn’t oversee it. The result is general chaos. There are no building permits. Our guides said the many apartments and businesses that line the main street could all collapse in minor earthquake. Cars and garbage line the streets, but, nevertheless, thousands of Palestinians pass through every day on their way to work in Jerusalem. The traffic backs up for hours because of the bottleneck at the checkpoint - a real sore spot for Palestinian leaders, who say this lowers the quality of life, by adding what they see as unnecessary hours to the commute.
It doesn’t take long before you notice the roads pockmarked with potholes turn suddenly smooth. We’re now in Ramallah, the financial center of the West Bank, and an area governed by the Palestinian Authority. Back to civilization, not governmentless territory.
We visited the offices of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which now forms part of the Palestinian Authority.
Former Minister of Water Shadad Attili told us the history of the area from the Palestinian point of view. That view: the Israeli government is responsible for much of the suffering on the West Bank. Students quizzed him about the upcoming Trump administration Middle East peace proposal and how next month’s Israeli elections might affect the peace process.
Not all Palestinians are waiting around for the Israelis to change. One who’s taking the lead is Bashar Masri, an Virginia Tech-educated Palestinian businessman who is building his own city in the West Bank called Rawabi. The goal is to create a place for 40,000 people to live and work, complete with hospital, school and local government. It’s an expensive proposition - overhead is about $8 million a day - but worth the example of being able to show the world what Palestinians are capable of, Masri said.
The last stop of the day was at Psagot, where we spoke with New York transplant Yisrael Medad, a research fellow at the Menachem Begin Center and a settler who believes much of what’s now the West Bank is land promised to the Jews. This, of course, is a controversial statement, because Palestinian leaders see the settlements as a major obstacle in the peace process. But these Jewish outposts, where they live among Palestinians in the West Bank, are more than just places to call home. They are called here to perpetuate Jewish presence in what they feel is their rightful place on the planet.
Some other photos of the day: