Israeli Alphabet Soup
This trip to Israel had two main goals. The first was to incorporate the Biblical sites in Jordan into our almanac of places we have visited in Israel with roots in the Old and New Testament. Many of these places are way off the beaten track and some, like Aaron’s Tomb, inaccessible for those aged 75. The second goal was to better understand the situation in the West Bank. That’s what the last few days were about as we travelled from Caesarea where we played golf on Israel’s only 18-hole course down to Jerusalem, my fourth home.
Like everything else from history, to geography, to politics in Israel, It’s complicated.
Let me try to explain. If you need more info, the web site above is pretty good.
After the Oslo II treaty of 1995, the West Bank was carved into three zones, A, B, and C. Please remember that the area we call the West Bank was Jordan until 1967 when the Israelis seized it in the Six Day War. Also remember please what a Palestinian is—an Arab whose family lived in the land of the Mandate of Palestine when it was under British control. Many of these people were displaced in the Israeli War for Independence in 1948. That’s why that war is called the Nachbar or catastrophe on the Arab side. Some Arabs, the most fortunate Arabs in the world who aren’t princes, remained in Israel and now constitute about 20% of the Israeli population. The rest scattered, mostly to Jordan and surrounding countries and many settled in the area of the West Bank, west of the Jordan River and east of the green line or the pre-1967 boundary of Israel with Jordan.
Anyhow, after Oslo II, the land, which stretches from the Jordan River north, south, and west, was literally craved up into these three non-contiguous areas. That is, all of A is not one piece and the same is true for B and C.
Area A is under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Israelis cannot enter Area A and there are large signs and checkpoints to make sure that they don’t.
Area B is controlled locally by the Palestinian Authority, but security is controlled by Israel and the two entities jointly govern. It is suggested that Israelis refrain from entering Area B as well.
Area C is Israeli controlled. C is where all the settlements are and some 400,000 or more people live in Area C. For all intents and purposes, despite any treaty, Area C is Israel and the people who live in area C, the settlers, act like they are Israeli. They speak Hebrew and are all Jewish.
So, on a hill high above the Arab city of Nablus (also known previously as Shechem, Area A), we stared down from Area C to Area A and B. In Hebron, only 3% of the city is Area C, but the Israelis control the key roads and lines of Arab shops stand empty because the road in front of them is Area C even as they are in Area A. The Arabs are not allowed to drive to their shops and their Arab customers cannot approach them from the street. The store fronts stand vacant, the land, once valuable, is virtually worthless, the commerce, gone.
In other words, where I once believed that all area A and B tracts were contiguous to each other, they are not. Some are hard against the Jordan. Some are miles to the west like Jenin where the Israelis recently conducted a few days of raids clearing out known terrorists who threaten Israelis in Area C or in Israel proper.
As our guide Gil says, whether or not the Israeli Knesset decides to annex Area C may be of no relevance. It functions as if it was Israel and constitutes about 70% of the West Bank. Or, Israel really does control the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority controls very little. In 2000, Yasser Arafat could have had that 22% for a Palestinian state as Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak agreed to it at Camp David. But, as Abba Eban said, “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Arafat refused to sign and the Second Intifada began, and the Israelis built a fence to keep the Arabs out, and it’s all been downhill since.
No map can convey the disaster that this is on the ground, especially for the Arabs. What’s more, the current Israeli right-wing government is likely to make matters worse by either annexing the West Bank, or allowing the settlers to cause physical harm to their Arab neighbors. This has already happened.
What I have come away with from this trip is that there is no viable solution, two-state, or one-state, and that Israel is probably content to control Area C and expand the settlements so that there can never be Arabs on this land.
Everything in Israel from the demonstrations that are edging toward violence, to the passage today of the bill to weaken the power of the Supreme Court, to the palpable unrest among so much of the population really concerns me.
It appears that Prime Minster Netanyahu jumped from his hospital bed (he had a pacemaker inserted) to the Knesset to lead his rowdy coalition to vote to begin to undermine the balance of power in the Israeli government. It was 64-0 with all the opposition walking out in protest.
But, I take heart in knowing that this stuff has been going on for three thousand years or so ever since Moses and Joshua had to by-pass hostile residents of what is now Jordan, to fight their way into the Promised Land after having wandered in the desert for forty years. And now we have been to the places where the Israelites had to fight in the Bible and to the places where they continue to fight today.
It’s always complicated.
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