West Bank wall: Symbol of division

By | May 20, 2009

The water was also controlled by the Israeli government, and could be turned off at any time. I did not experience this, but was told about it when I inquired about the rickety looking water barrels on all the rooftops. They were, I was told, to catch whatever water did fall in rain – as a backup to the erratic water supply.

Our tour bus was stopped at various checkpoints, going back and forth between East and West Jerusalem (Israeli controlled) and going in and out of places like Bethlehem and other places in the West Bank which the Palestinian Authority (at that time) had control. At one point, our tour bus was kept for more than an hour because the tour guide and bus driver were both Jordanian and Palestinian and so the bus needed extra inspection.

Also, every day’s drive kept us going past the shabby neighborhoods and towns that belonged to Palestinians and seeing new red-roofed settlements being built by Israel in land designated as Palestinian.

In West Jerusalem – controlled by Israel – I saw modern glass-windowed hotels. We even stopped at a diamond exchange one evening. We had our luggage searched by hand at Tel Aviv airport and saw Israeli soldiers with machine guns standing on most corners. We were told about the gas masks kept in each hotel – just in case. We traveled to the Lebanese border and saw the tanks – ranged on both sides. On the Golan Heights, we looked out over the wasteland that separates Israel from Syria and saw the roads lined with little yellow markers.

“Those are land mines,” the Palestinian bus driver said when we asked. “The ones they know about.”

It gave me the creeps.

The Israel I saw was a land seemingly at peace, but clearly under siege. The Israelis feared attack from terrorists and threats from surrounding Arab countries. The Palestinians feared being able to get everyday needs, with travel restricted and most jobs only existing outside Palestinian areas. (That has only increased today.)

Now there is a wall that, when complete (projected for 2010), will stretch across 400 miles – sometimes cutting right across people’s backyards. It will completely isolate 40 percent of the residents of the West Bank.

It seems to me that the banner that welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Aida Refugee Camp, just north of Bethlehem, on May 13 was right – “We need bridges, not walls.”

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