Ramallah And The Slums Of Area A
If you have been paying close attention to the blog, you know that the West Bank, an artificial construct that arose out the 1967 War when Israel seized land previously overseen by Jordan that was both west of the Jordan River and east of what was Israel proper, is divided into three areas, A, B, and C. Our Israeli guide Gil cannot enter area A, but we came to see Area A for sure. If you want to understand the current chaos in the West Bank, you must visit all the areas. B is small and differs from A only in that its security is under Israeli control while A is kept secure by the Palestinian Authority.
Rami, our Palestinian guide, picks us up on Tuesday morning, July 25, and we head into Ramallah, the current capital of the Palestinian Authority, the home of the PLO, a hot bed for Hamas, and the site of nine refugee camps as well as Yasser Arafat’s tomb.
Now a refugee camp is no longer a collection of tents and open fires. It is physical cement structures, mostly built by the United Nations which oversees the governance of the camps despite their being in Area A, which should come under the administrative and security aegis of the Palestinian Authority. The camps are the wild west, really, governed by gangs. Green Hamas flags are here in the camp. They would never fly in the rest of Area A because the Palestinian Authority would arrest those flying that flag. Mahmoud Abbas, the 88-year old president of the Palestinian Authority (in year 18 of a 4-year term) wants to develop peaceful co-existence with the Israeli government, or at least so says our Palestinian guide a reporter for the New York Times. The PA cooperates with the Israelis on matters of security and the Israelis are supposed to stay out of Area A. But the Israeli Defense Force, on occasion, decides to mop up some terrorists as they recently did in Jenin. Then the Israelis come in with tanks, if need be. Our guide says this is how Israel breaks its agreement with the PA to stay out of Area A. Israel says it’s a matter of Israeli security. It’s complicated.
You get the picture, but then again you don’t. We are taken through the back alleys of a Ramallah refugee camp and see the poverty and despair, up close. These alleys can be defended against IDF troops from the rooftops by dropping refrigerators or stone blocks on the soldiers as they navigate the streets in pursuit of refugee camp dwellers deemed a threat to Israel. We look up a lot.
A young boy rides his motor bike up to us and strikes up a conversation in Arabic with Rami. We learn that both the boy’s father and his uncle are under administrative detention in Israel. They have no idea with what they were charged and the family cannot see them. Or so Rami says. He also says that the boy too will be held under administrative detention once he turns 15. We don’t know if this is so. We are getting the Palestinian party line. As Gil has told us, his is a “no blame tour.” And, so far, it has been just that, but not here. Rami has a distinct Palestinian point of view—interesting to hear, but only partly credible.
As we make our way out of the camp to meet Gil back in Area C, I was as sad as I have ever been on a trip to Israel. I see no solution at all. That opportunity was in 2000 when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak essentially offered Yasser Arafat Areas A and B as a Palestinian homeland. Arafat would not agree to settle for this and the Second Intifada began shortly thereafter along with the construction of the miles-long wall between the West Bank and Israel and the settlement growth to hundreds of thousands of Jews in Area C. Area C, over 60% of the West Bank, is essentially Israel, whether or not the Israelis annex it as they did East Jerusalem. The putative Palestinian homeland shrinks on a daily basis.
One-state, two-state. Red-state, blue-state. There seems to be no middle ground and no compromise. And, Israel itself seems about to fracture trying to determine if it is to become an Orthodox Jewish state, hostile to any peace with the Arabs of the West Bank, or a secular, pluralistic democratic state where the Arab population has full rights and the Arabs on the West Bank gain some sort of self-determination. Is Israel to become an autocratic theocracy or remain a democratic state? It’s all in a state of flux. It’s all so complicated.
And yet, as we learn about the heroes who fought for independence in 1948 in Gush Etzion, just as our American Founding Fathers fought for our independence, you cannot help but swell with Jewish pride at the miracle of today’s Israel even as it suffers growing pains bordering on civil war.
In Israel, it’s always complicated.
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