I personally feel that a visit to Palestine is absolutely integral when visiting Israel. Newspapers and TV only get you so far when attempting to get your head around such a catastrophic mess. If you haven’t heard the words ‘Palestine’ and ‘Israel’ in the last few weeks or ever in your life – you’ve surely been living under a very big rock. I’ve been fascinated with the idea of visiting Palestine for as long as I can remember and last May I was lucky enough to tour Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem in the Palestinian West Bank.
Due to the complexity of the relationship between the two – the tour guides tend to consist of one Israeli guide and one Palestinian guide. We left the holy city of Jerusalem early in the morning and made our way to the West Bank. You will already know when you’re in Palestine. No one will need to give you a nudge to let you know you have arrived. You’ll know. It doesn’t have the significant wealth that Israel has and it possesses a distinct, instant Arabic feel as soon as you cross over.
Most of it is comparatively edgy, but welcoming in parts. And it aches to tell you its story.
Definitely the most modern out of the three I visited. It’s only 15 metres north of Jerusalem and would make a perfect hub for some extensive Palestine travel. I visited Yasser Arafat’s grave (and also concrete coffin), the ‘wall of condolences,’ checked out the political graffiti, and wandered around the fascinating Ramallah Old City. Don’t forget to grab a cup of powerful Arabic coffee.
The markets in Ramallah are deliciously Middle Eastern – chaotic, loud and colourful. Absolutely crazy. Completely paramount.
Even if you aren’t religious, (like myself) there’s something that just feels pretty cool to be in Bethlehem. As a kid I would never have envisaged going here beyond my wildest of dreams. It goes without saying that the main places to visit are of religious significance – more so, the place of the “birth” of baby Jesus.
Be sure not to piss off the cranky Greek Orthodox Catholic priests by breathing too loud, those guys are fu**ing lunatics!!
Hebron was my most favourite place to see in Palestine, and also the most distressing. Hebron, like Jerusalem, is extremely holy to both Jews and Muslims and the palpable intensity of the place highlights this.
The residents of Hebron have to endure embarrassing checkpoint searches on a daily basis. If they want to pass through streets to see their friends and family, or go for food – they have to enter football stadium style turnstiles in order to do so. The whole procedure seems terribly invasive for them and I say this with no propaganda, or hysteria – it just seemed genuinely wrong and unethical.
I had lunch with locals who told us horrific stories of Israeli settlers rocking up and taking their homes overnight. There is no such thing as violent crime if it is Palestinians on ‘settlers.’ Crime only exists if it’s the other way around.
Over the years in Hebron, it’s been quite common for settlers to take a Palestinian’s home by brute force. Out of the thousands of cases brought to a justice system – only three have went in favour of a Palestinian (my Jewish guide confirmed this fact).
One of the bittersweet things I noticed was that in Palestine, no one is truly homeless. There is an intense community spirit and many locals who were kicked out of their home, received an immediate open door from another Palestinian family.
When I asked my host why the hell he was staying here, as it’s apparently easier for a West Bank Palestinian to leave, than it is a Gaza Strip Palestinian – he replied with; “because I’m a Christian and I believe Jesus is going to return here some day.”
As someone who just doesn’t ‘get’ the whole religion thing, I didn’t really know what to say about that.
The Apartheid/Security Wall
Israel claim it’s a security tactic, built for the greater good of safety against terrorism. Palestine calls it the ‘Apartheid Wall,’ built to dehumanise and separate the people of Palestine, while limiting their agricultural land, which is necessary for their survival and any chance of economical evolution.
Berlin Wall – 96 miles long, 3.6 metres high.
Israel’s Wall – 403 miles long, 8 metres high.
Palestinians fear the barrier, consisting of walls and electronic fences, will dash their dream of becoming a viable, recognised state in the West Bank. The wall has some interesting and emotive graffiti from locals and people from countries all around the world.
I try my hardest not to hang all of my opinions and most importantly, emotions, on the news on my TV screen. I came to Israel and Palestine to attempt to get a better understanding myself, from my own eyes. From what I witnessed in Hebron, I personally believe what the Israeli forces do is an encroachment of human rights, and my heart goes out to the people born into this awful, delicate situation.
I’ve noticed a ludicrous pattern in the last few weeks, with the international spotlight being on the Israel/Palestine conflict. It seems that if you’re against any violence, or dehumanisation carried out by the Israel military – that you’re automatically deemed ‘anti-semitic,’ or a fierce proponent of every action and word that Hamas has ever said and done.
And a complete cop-out from the bigger picture. At the same time, I won’t pretend to know more than I do just because I visited for a few weeks.
Minus the badgering from dickish Israeli authorities – I absolutely loved my time in Israel. It’s as gorgeous as they come (particularly Galilee) and there are so many things I like about the place.
I’ll never forget my visit to Palestine. It’s pretty impossible to. I hope that one day I’ll make it to the Gaza Strip, but I think that one is going to have to wait for now. Foreigners shouldn’t eschew visiting Palestine when visiting Israel, due to the thought of it being dangerous, or unwelcoming.
The locals are very cordial and welcoming in West bank and I couldn’t recommend a visit any more to the curious traveller. You can check out my photo album of Palestine, by clicking on my Facebook fan page here.