DEFINING BORDERS

Defining Borders

By

Leonard Zwelling

         Since the start of my blogging from Israel, I have referred
to various peoples and geographies without defining them. This was an error,
but it is just as well that I made it for if I had defined these critical terms
two weeks ago, I would have gotten them all wrong.

·     Israel-A Jewish, parliamentary democratic state carved
out of the British Mandate of Palestine consisting of about 78% of that land.
Israel also includes the Golan Heights and other northern territory seized from
Syria in 1967 that was not part of the British Mandate. Confused yet? Wait.

·     The West Bank-This is territory west of the Jordan
River that used to be Jordan until it was taken by Israel in the 1967 Six Day
War. It is most, but not all, of the remaining 22% of the British Mandate land.

·     Sections A, B and C-These are three arbitrary
divisions of the West Bank. They differ in that only Arabs live in A and
Israelis cannot enter. Only Arabs live in B and Israelis can enter. C is up for
grabs and it is in this area that Israel is constructing new housing called
“The Settlements.”

·     Palestinian-Essentially an Arabic-speaking person who
lives in, had lived in or has family roots back to land within the British
Mandate of Palestine. Palestine never existed as a country and still does not.

·     East Jerusalem-A special area east of the city of
Jerusalem that is sort of in the West Bank (the 22%) but not in A, B or C and
whose citizens have special privileges and Israeli IDs allowing them to cross
all of these borders and, as our guide Gil says, have more access to Tel Aviv
beaches than any tourist does.

·     Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the Gaza Strip, The West
Bank-All make believe countries or segments of other countries whose borders
were drawn by the British from territory formerly controlled by the Ottoman
Empire to improve the likelihood of the Brits capturing Iraq’s oil riches and
access to the Suez Canal in an attempt to dominate the world after WWI.

Got
it? No? Me, neither. But, if you don’t at least start to get this, you will
have no chance of understanding the rest.  

On
Monday, September 8 our guide Gil had to desert us. He is an Israeli and thus
cannot enter territory A, the location of the birthplace of the Prince of
Peace, Bethlehem. Gil hands us to Nasser, a tall, well-spoken Arab man who
escorts us past the security checkpoint and the prison wall-like 20 foot high cement barriers
covered with barbed wire that ring this part of section A and into his
hometown, Bethlehem.

Immediately
one gets that “I don’t think we are in Kansas, anymore” feeling. The drop in
socio-economic standing from the Israel side of the border is palpable. Still,
there is organized commerce, lots of cars and storefronts everywhere.
Construction is on going and it was far busier than when we had last been there
15 years ago.

We
visited the Shepherd’s Field where the news of Jesus’ birth reached the sheep
herders (probably in the Spring not December) and the Church of the Nativity
where the actual birthplace is thought to have been. It’s in a cellar not a
barn for the animals were kept in cellars then and the manger was more likely
rock or plaster not wood.

But
it is what happened to us afterward that was so disturbing. Nasser gave us the
full tour of his city. The commerce and construction were visible but by no
means up to the level across the cement wall. He took us to a wonderful bake
shop with pastries of local and Syrian origin including baklava like I have
never seen or tasted. 

We went to a small souvenir shop where I spoke with the
Arab owner for a long time about the situation in his homeland and in that of
my people. Like so many we have met, all he wants is peace. He wants to have
his life and his business undisturbed by politics. And mostly, he would like
the Americans to return. Me, too. Everyone on both sides of that awful cement
wall have thanked us profusely for ignoring the western media and just showing
up.

Nasser
takes us back to the border at an alternate checkpoint that is less heavily
patrolled than the one we entered. He plops us into Wadi’s cab. Wadi is an East
Jerusalem Arab who thus has full right of passage everywhere.

We
drive past new high rises and I ask Wadi, “what are those?”

“Jewish
settlements,” he answers.

We
pass beautiful homes from the 1920’s in what used to be Jordan across the
street from what used to be Israel. Both sides of the street that used to be a border are under Israeli control since
1967. The seals on the houses are all in Arabic. Each has the name of the
family who was displaced and wants still to return. All of a sudden, the “right
of return” becomes real. How would you like to be displaced from your house for
political reasons despite having your family’s name engraved on the house
itself?

Wadi
thinks this return of his people is unlikely.

This
is the other side of the problem from the one we had seen for the week before
in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and all points in the 78%.

The
next morning we push off for the north. After visiting the site at the Jordan
River where John the Baptist was thought to have immersed Jesus (10 feet from the
East Bank and Jordanian border), we head all the way north into the Golan Heights and
beyond.

Kibbutz
Malkiya was settled at Israel’s birth by Holocaust survivors . Eitan, the head
of kibbutz security, is our guide and he piles us into his jeep and heads down a bumpy dirt road to pick fresh
apples in the orchards of the kibbutz about 40 to 50 feet from the Lebanese
border under the watchful eyes of both the IDF and Hezbollah. We are up against
a fence that separates the Israeli fields of wine grapes and Granny Smiths from
the terrorists’ fields of opium. One of the ways Hezbollah funds its terrorist
network is through the sale of the raw materials for illegal drugs right across
from the Israeli vineyards. Once again, borders in this land mean everything.

Then
Eitan takes us even closer to the Lebanese border. How do I know? Because we
visit a tank command of the IDF on that border They are watching for any
pernicious crossing attempts by Hezbollah with two huge tanks and automatic
weapons at the ready. They rise at 4 or 5 in the morning as this is the time when Israel is most vulnerable to attack from Lebanon. 

Most of the young men do not speak English. One who does
is an Israeli Christian born of British and Russian parents. He and his unit had just
been redeployed from Gaza to this desolate but beautiful corner of northern
Israel (see his YouTube piece about the truth in Gaza at link below). These
very young people are defending their fellow countrymen no matter where they
are needed. No questions asked. Just like the young men and women in the US
Army and other uniformed services who are protecting us. There’s just not an
ocean between the Israelis and their enemies.

We
brought gifts and sent pizza to the troops, but it was never going to be
enough.

The
following day we visit Sacred Christian sites along the Sea of Galilee. It is
quite frankly amazing how small the territory was through which Jesus spread
his message during his life yet somehow it reached around the world.

But
when it came to defining borders nothing was starker than visiting a site on the
Golan Heights from which Israeli tanks wiped out the Syrian armor in 1967 though the
Israeli tanks were outnumbered by a factor of at least five. The Israeli tanks
from Britain were superior to the Soviet-made tanks used by the Syrians which
were far more vulnerable to Israeli shelling from the high ground.

To
bring the past few days to an absolutely absurd conclusion we sip coffee at a
café called the Coffee Anon. This is a play on words as anon means cloud in
Hebrew and the café sits high above the Golan looking into Syria. It was this
land that UN Secretary-General  Kofi
Annan (get it?) wanted the Israelis to return to Syria. This coffee shop
represents the Israeli answer. Not on your life—or ours.

Atop
the hilltop sat three UN soldiers in full combat gear and blue berets from Canada, Finland and Switzerland. They
were peering into the valley below with huge binoculars. They were following
the fighting in the long ago abandoned city of Quineitra where
rebels were battling Syrian troops and every once in a while we heard the boom
of mortar fire. Apparently 44 Fijian UN troops had been kidnapped, but they
could tell us no more. As Arab fights Arab, rebel group fights rebel group,
Sunni fights Shiite and ISIS fights Hezbollah we sit high above the fray
watching the UN watch the fighting. It doesn’t get any crazier than that!

These
past three days have been mind-boggling as we really stuck our noses near and
across the borders of Israel. I am both proud of being a Jew and Israel
supporter and very concerned for now I have friends who are Arab residents of
the area that was part of the British Mandate of Palestine delineated after WWI
by the British who are long-since gone. Some live in section A. Some in East
Jerusalem and some in Israel. It is very evident that these people can co-exist
with each other now just as they did when the first Zionist came to this part
of the world well over 100 years ago.

As
Jews, we cannot live without Israel for without Israel none of us may live. But
we also must find a way to resolve the 100-year conflict that gave birth to a
necessity for Jews (Israel) without figuring out how to do the same for the Arab
residents of the territory delineated by the British in the same artificial way
they chopped up this entire part of the world for oil and a canal.

I
don’t understand it even yet. But this trip brought me closer thanks to Gil,
Nasser, Wadi and Eitan.

It
is not insoluble. But it surely will not be easy.

Here’s
the link to the video about the Truth in Gaza:

http://youtu.be/dptebR9bV5I

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