Israel trip continued…Rawabi and Ramallah

The West Bank— Rawabi and Ramallah

Saturday, 10-26

Pastor Nabors (in regular type): The West Bank!  My God.  After breakfast we are on the bus and head to the West Bank. I’ve read about it, seen it on television and in movies, heard lectures about it, but nothing on earth could prepare me for this entry into another world.  We are told about the critical importance of water and how it is used as a military weapon in this region to contain Palestinians.  Palestinian homes have water tanks on their roofs.  They are used during times the Israeli decide to stop the water supply into their homes, for one reason or another.  “Give me my water.”  Areas are designated A, B and C.  As we approach Ramallah a sign reads, “Israelis are not allowed beyond this point.”  It is intended to convey the message, “You are on your own from here.”  Our first stop is a Palestinian city called Rawabi.  It is a planned city that began in 2007.  The goal is to have 26 neighborhoods.  There are four constructed so far.  Our first stop is the city’s  visiting center.  The center is no longer active.  It is a beautiful, incredibly modern building, but it lies empty at the highest point in the city.  We go in, dazzled by the architecture and shocked by its barrenness.

Pastor Ruen: The name Rawabi means hills. Rawabi is being built with private Palestinian money and investment from Qatar. Eventually there will be housing for 45,000 people; housing for about 4,000 has been built to date. What is known as Jerusalem stone we learn is actually from Ramallah. Area A in the West Bank refers to areas that are totally under Palestinian control. Area B refers to areas that are under Palestinian jurisdiction, but Israeli military control. Area C refers to areas that are totally under Israeli control.     

Alaa offers more information about Palestinians.  Ambulance service will help anyone who is hurt.  However, Palestinians are taken to inferior hospitals while Jews are taken to hospitals with better services.  The average life expectancy of a Jew is 82 while it is 60 for a Palestinian.  The average Palestinian earns 750 dollars a month compared to 2400 dollars a month for Jews.  The founder of Rawabi had a vision for beginning the city in 2007 and construction began in 2012.  All of the buildings and homes are made of “Ramallah stone” from a nearby quarry.  It is often called Jerusalem stone by the Jews.  The town has the largest amphitheater in the Middle East, seating 20,000.  We stand on its stage and Diane sang the Julie Andrews song about Hills.  There is a Palestinian University with degrees up to the Ph.D.  For the most part, Alaa shared that Palestinians feel like humans for the first time when they travel abroad.  This made me think of the hundreds of black ex-patriates who left America- including James Baldwin, WEB, Richard Wright, Jacqueline Baker and more.  We are told that belief in a two-state system is disappearing.  The idea of a one state rule determined by fairness seems to be dominate among Palestinians today. 

(After we got back from the trip, 60 Minutes did a great piece on Rawabi, its origins, and the hope for the future. Here’s a link to it.

We take a moment to enter the Palestinian headquarters in Ramallah.  It is a small city in the West Bank, just 10 miles north of Jerusalem.  At the front center of the compound is the grave of Yasser Arafat, considered to be the father of the Palestinians.  This is very moving for me on so many fronts.  I remember my high school years and how Arafat, along with Castro were pretty much-admired figures by African Americans.  It is apparent that this is not the case among the Israeli.  Our Jewish guide shared a crass statement at the graveside of Arafat citing a rumor that he was actually gay.  None of us thought this was funny and I found it offensive.  It was preceded by a comment from our guide Alaa that Arafat often said he was married to the movement/Palestine and that his wife (much younger than him) was his second wife.  This created a real problem for me with Amit and I had to talk with him about it.  He did apologize and that was helpful. Settled, we moved on and again, I was amazed by the unity of Amit and Alaa. No doubt, the fact that Amit and Alaa share the same space and work as a team, is nothing less than a miracle in itself. At any rate, I am moved as hell to stand before the grave of Arafat who, while an impossibly complex and difficult brother, was also a freedom fighter for social justice without peer during his day.  It was during my high school days that I recall Camp David with Begin, Anwar Sadat and President Carter.  It seemed then, that all things were possible and that Palestine would be taken seriously in no time at all.

Rabbi London: I, on the other hand, struggle being near Arafat’s tomb. He has so much blood on his hands, and he was never able to lead the Palestinians to peace.

Sam Bahour, Palestinian Activist and Businessman

We now talk with a brilliant Palestinian activist, Sam Bahour.  He was born in Youngstown, Ohio where his father (born in Palestine) had moved and began to raise a family.  He often visited Palestine with his family as a child.  Sam takes us through the Oslo Peace Accord, the various annexes, talks to us about the land, agriculture, politics and elections.  He helped start the first telecommunications system in Palestine run by Palestinians (but having oversight by Israel).  He shares a story about the water tanks above each Palestinian home.  He talks about economic resistance and share his own story about leading a construction site in building the first Palestinian Mall during an uprising.  He took less money and was given permission to continue building the mall during the fighting.  He then talks about the occupation and says the media only covers the visible occupation- the walls, fences and soldiers.  But he went on to share the invisible occupations- mental, emotional and spiritual. 

Sam mentions how his people had hope with the 4th Geneva Convention and the Madrid Peace Conference, but how it quickly dissipated.  He is looking for a distributor in the US for the chocolate made in his area.  There should also be a US distributor for the Ramallah stones. 

Pastor Ruen: He talks about what he calls the “invisible occupation.” One can see checkpoints, walls, and watchtowers, but what’s more debilitating for Palestinian life is what cannot be seen—being delayed by hours at checkpoints, inability to access one’s lands, lack of water (Israel controls water resources). He also discussed Trump’s negative impact on the region. The Palestinians trusted the U.S. to be an arbiter in the conflict. Then the U.S. became Israel’s lawyer. Now Trump is like a policeman with a baton in the street. He closed the Palestinian PLO office in D.C., he moved the embassy to Jerusalem, and he’s blown up the negotiation process. Sam has written on his website 101 things that Israel could do to reduce the tensions in the region.

Sam also mentions a book, Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation, a collection of essays written by well-known authors and edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman about life in the West Bank. Michael Chabon wrote the essay about Sam.

Gershom Gorenberg, Jewish Activist and Scholar

We arrive back at our hotel and receive Jewish historian and journalist, Gershom Gorenberg who shares his story and analysis.  He recommends a book The Unmaking of Israel.  Gorenberg offers a history lesson on the settlements and the wave of Messianic theology that swept in with Orthodox Jews after 1967.  In 1977 the right (wing) first won with the election of Begin.  He muses, “What is the real story?” and recommends a second book Collapse by Diamond.  The values the people cling to most stubbornly  under inappropriate circumstances, are those values that have helped them succeed in the past.  

52 years ago the Six-Day War happened.  “War is a policy by other means.”  Israel defeated the Palestinians and took over boundaries.  With the war- “We got a wonderful dowry, but we have to keep the bride.”  Holding the West Bank and not giving the vote was impossible.  No official strategy was adopted.  In July 1967, there was a Jewish state.  The term “functional compromise” was born and Simone Peres supported this effort.  The thought is that there was a miracle in the 1967 war.  Jews believed this was the case.  The Jews defeated three armies.  In reality, Jews were better prepared, had more military strategy and of course, had the assistance of the west.  Thus, it was no miracle but a carefully crafted and systemic plan sanctioned by economic and political powers throughout the world, particularly the United States and pro-Zionists within it.  With the victory of the war came the sanctioning of Zionism on a larger scale.  The government began building settlements (Jewish) near the Green Line.  The result is permanent occupation without annexation.  Every Israeli can vote in their own districts. 

The artificial reality of today is that there are 428,000 Israeli Palestinians in the West Bank and over 650,000 altogether.  What difference does it make that history is a mistake?  Where does the present road lead us? 

The One State Solution—This outcome is not a viable. Great quote- “If you are going to realize all your dreams, you will leave your children nightmares.”  I want, not just co-existence, but co-operative existence.

Rabbi London: He also says that just because the two-state solution might seem hard to achieve doesn’t mean that the one-state solution is better. As he argues in The Unmaking of Israel, a one-state solution merely transfers all the problems internally; it doesn’t solve anything. Issues of land claims and rights would have to be fought in a single state which is a recipe for continued strife. Think Yugoslavia, he says. Gershom Gorenberg also gave us a wonderful quote for those who have thrown up their hands at finding a resolution to the conflict, “Pessimism is an unrealistic point of view that things can’t change and therefore I don’t have to get involved.” He reminds me of why I keep working on the issues of Palestinian-Israeli peace, despite how frustrating it is.

There is a mixture of religious and national lenses at work here.  King Hussein had a view that was the best and it was realized at Camp David. 

The Pity of it All, story of Jews in Berlin is another recommended book.

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