Us Brits aren’t the most adventurous of souls. As a nation we are conservative, risk adverse, and have a huge fear of change. The fact that once upon a time our empire controlled a quarter of the globe is baffling considering that most of us wouldn’t even visit a restaurant unless half a dozen of our friends had tested the waters first.
Consequently, me choosing to spend the last day of 2019 in The West Bank was step forward that I was proud of, albeit a step that came in the guise of a day tour from our base in Jerusalem.
The way the Middle East and Palestine in particular is portrayed in Western Media should always be treated with a pinch of salt. The US, in particular, has taken a harder stance on Palestine in recent times, which in my opinion has absolutely nothing to do with what is happening there and everything to do with the fact that half of the World’s Jewish population live in the United States and the Trump Administration is seeking to buy that vote by pandering to that group.
I finished my trip to this part of the world as neither ‘pro-Israel’ nor ‘pro-Palestine’; what was clear to me after ten days in the region was that there is plenty of good and bad on both sides of the argument and the way forward is not an easy one. I also highly recommend that anyone visiting Israel also takes a trip to the West Bank as part of their trip so that they can make their minds up for themselves.
We took a great day trip with Green Olive Tours from our base in Jerusalem, a trip that I’d highly recommend.
The day started with getting across the border, which involved two different vans, given the Israeli citizens cannot access the Palestinian Territories.
Our first stop of the day was at a glass blowing and pottery workshop. I usually bypass these kind of places, marking them down as being tourist-traps, but in this case we wanted to support the local economy where we can; plus the crockery there was of really good standard and is still sitting proudly in our flat a year later.
After this, we headed South to Hebron to the Cave of Patriarchs, also known as Abraham’s Tomb. Abraham was an important dude in both Judaism and Islam, so the cave is split in two with Jews allowed in one side and Palestinians in the other. As you’d expect, there were plenty of checkpoints to get in and out of in the area.
The most shocking thing we learned here was that in 1994, a far-right American Jew called Baruch Goldstein massacred 26 worshipping Palestinians here. Even more shocking than this was that we found out that afterwards, a shrine was built for him in an Israeli settlement, with a tombstone and epitaph describing him as being someone with ‘clean hands and a pure heart’ remaining to this day.
Going back to my earlier point, I’m neither ‘pro-Israel’, nor ‘pro-Palestine’, although one thing I feel strongly about is that innocent people should have the right to worship whomever they wish in a manner which they see fit without risk of being killed.
With that revelation sinking in, it was time to enjoy a bite to eat at a local Palestinian home nearby.
After lunch, we went into Hebron and had a walk through the markets. This was one of the more confronting places I’d been, where the poverty and desperation was tangible. Below, a local market seller tells us how the market traders have had to install nets above their streets due to the fact that the Israeli settlers had set up camp directly above them and decided to throw their rubbish (and sewerage) out of their windows down at them.
After Hebron, we headed back north to one of the most famous cities in the world, Bethlehem, and the Church of the Nativity. This is known worldwide as being the birthplace of Jesus.
The place was about as busy as you’d expect given it’s significance, but we were able to get a few sneaky photo’s in on our way around.
Our day finished with a trip to the Aida refugee camp, a camp dating back to 1950 located a couple of miles outside of Bethlehem. This place wasn’t what I expected either; people drove cars, had jobs, wore normal clothes, and has facilities including schools and youth centers.
This camp is famous for having a giant ‘key of return’ on the entrance gate, and also for featuring the ‘separation barrier’, which contains a number of bits of political graffiti.
And that’s where I’ll leave it for now. As a trip, the day we spent in Palestine is one that will live long in the memory, and although I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as enjoyable, it was a place that we all learned lots from.
Definitely worth going there and seeing it for yourself.