Dateline: Bethlehem, West Bank.
For the past few weeks the turmoil in Gaza has received widespread media coverage by virtually all news organizations. However, while anyone who reads The New York Times, The Boston Globe or other reputable news sources can easily find stories from Gaza on the front page it has been harder to get a sense of the atmosphere in the rest of Israel and the West Bank. For the past week, as the violence in Gaza continues, I have been staying in my family’s apartment in a suburb of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. During my time here I have formally met with Israeli settlers and Palestinian refugees and have visited several important sites in the West Bank and Israel. These experiences may serve as a gauge by which one may be able to get a better understanding of what the day to day has been like in the area outside of Gaza.
When I first arrived I noticed that very little seemed different from the numerous other times I have visited the area over the past 20 years of my life. Both all major cities shops and restaurants were open, people were sitting in cafés, you could find American tour groups in the old cities and attractions, and the Israeli checkpoints were not disrupting the flow of traffic like they have in the past during the intifadas and other similar periods of tension. In fact, when I met with a group of Americans, they divulged that they felt a similar sense of normalcy saying that the only way they were aware of the conflict in Gaza is by checking the news at night.
In the following days I met with a Palestinian family from Al-Arub refugee camp and an Israeli family living in the Efrat settlement. Here are a few of the things they had to say.
First, Marahai, the Palestinian father said that he believes that the conflict will begin to wind down as the Israeli people become more upset about the civilian casualties, the destruction and the general loss of life. He believes that the conflict will begin to wind down soon for this reason although he also mentioned that Hamas is prepared to fight to the last man and for however long. He also mentioned that in his view Muslim teachings and tradition coming from the Koran, the New Testament and the Old Testament do not condone or encourage killing people because of differences in religion. He said that groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Islamic Jihad are the number one threat to Islam because they give Islam a negative image.
Marahai’s wife Rania also mentioned a few things, one of the most telling was the comment that she often purposely does not read the news for a day. She said that after constantly reading the same stories over and over again it becomes too much to bear. One day five people die the next day ten all the time families are under attack. Sometimes she cannot take it and she wants to detach herself from the conflict and simply live without worry.
Both Marahai and Rania conveyed the notion that the atmosphere is tense and Palestinians are very angry but for the majority of the time the situation in Gaza has not changed life in the West Bank. They also mentioned that many people view the recent violence in Gaza as just another part of the ongoing occupation.
Bob, the settler, was born in America but moved and started his family in the Israeli settlement Efrat. On the topic of the rockets that come into Israel, Bob said that it does not disrupt daily life that much. The alarms go off, you stop what you’re doing for 10 minutes, go to the designated shelter, and return to whatever you were doing after as if nothing ever happened. He also mentioned that he believed that the humanitarian aid Israel has been giving the Gazans in the form of food water and medical care was counter intuitive. In his mind the aid only served to help the people who were attacking Israel.
Bob’s wife Barbara
also commented that the number of rockets coming from Gaza and the proportionally low amount of damage done seemed to her to be a miracle. She said that with all of the “miracle’s” that happened every day (the interception of Gazan rockets) it seems strange that more people aren’t believers as it proves that this is the land of God and he is protecting Israel.
I met with these people specifically because I wanted to hear the opinions of Palestinians and Israelis, and because I knew that the opinions held by these people were not extreme but rather are held by a large portion of the respective populations.
The day after meeting with the two families (Thursday) I was beginning to get worried that large protests and violence would begin to flare up in the West Bank, but I was imagining that they would begin Friday or Friday night. It turned out Thursday night saw intense and violent demonstrations in Ramallah and Jerusalem which resulted in the deaths of two Palestinians and the injury of approximately 200. However, as I am writing this on Friday morning, I fear that the worse has yet to come. By chance this last month has been the month of Ramadan Lately it has been a common practice for Palestinians to break their fast and after to gather in the streets and organize small protests some of which end in small clashes.
However, given that today is the final Friday of Ramadan and given that Jerusalem today can expect to host around 500,000 visiting Muslim pilgrims I, and many locals, have been anticipating the atmosphere in Jerusalem to be particularly charged. Moreover, with the high volume of people, the importance of the day, and the custom of protesting after breaking fast many people are expecting to see some fairly massive demonstrations in the holy city this Friday night. In response to the bloodshed in Gaza the Palestinian Authority has called for a “Day of Rage” which could easily add flame to the fire.
While, the atmosphere in Israel and the West Bank has been generally calm for the past few weeks, given recent developments, it is almost certain that clashes will begin to erupt in the West Bank and Jerusalem tonight and in the days ahead.