In my recent travels across the bridge I was able to visit what the world knows as Israel and the Arab world recognizes as Occupied Palestine. The wall, the checkpoints, the languages, the religions, the ideologies all split what was historically one into two. It’s jarring, it’s visible, it’s disturbing, and it’s all in your face. It is a border within a border.
What is really striking though is not the checkpoints, or the wall. You expect those, and even become intimate with them as they are everywhere in the West Bank. They are accompanied by soldiers, guns, barbed wire, cameras, questions, and they are EVERYWHERE. What is striking is the difference in lifestyle and surroundings not minutes from the wall. Even amongst Palestinians living within Occupied Palestine.
The urbanscape quickly changes from one of the familiar Middle East to that of the concrete and steel of the west. It is very evident that the West Bank is frozen in time, with little or no development taking place. It is paused in time, the roads, the buildings, the architectural styles, the farms, the people and their clothes even. I have been visiting in the past 30 years and it hasn’t changed much that, at least, is something I can count on. It is comforting, in a sad way, to know that I can see the same things, in the same place, in the same context, without fail.
On the other side of the wall it’s another story all together. It’s a modern scape with roads large and wide, highways, tall buildings, concrete, glass, and boulevards. They all look shiny and new in contrast. It is so different that you forget that you are in the Middle East and instead memories of Europe come to mind.
That is not the case In mixed cities though. Mixed cities are ones with both a Jewish Israeli and a Palestinian population. These communities “live” side by side and coexist. But the values, the histories, the languages, the spaces, the stones, the thoughts are contradictory. You see beautiful old Arab homes boarded up, waiting to be remodeled for use as offices or apartments. You see old homes dwarfed next to new modern buildings standing tall. You hear Hebrew spoken all around even from the mouths of Palestinian babes. Menus, signs, billboards all speak to one segment of the population. The oppression is all around in architecture, in the street planning, in the neighborhood segregation, in the food, it is omnipotent.
I may not have been surprised by all of this but there were things that saddened my even more than all of that. I’d like to share two: It saddened me that my friends found it easier to use Hebrew amongst themselves and with their children. It also saddened me that Palestinians were afraid of the West Bank and of being with Palestinians on the other side of the wall. When you can’t find the words to express yourself in your own language but rather in the language of the oppressor and you are afraid to cross to see your brothers and sisters then you know the end is near and the wall was there a long time ago only now its made of cement. Is it making what was one two or is it making two one?