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Bethlehem, Paradise and Humiliation

July 1, 2010

Yesterday I wrote that things are too complicated in Israel for an easy solution to their conflict with Palestine. I said that the international consensus surrounding a two-state solution is risible. Today I don’t feel so stumped by the political difficulties.  When I wrote yesterday I had only visited the Palestinian territories that lie under Israeli military control (areas B and C).  These areas bear the scares and everday distress of an occupied land.  At any moment a demolition order might be served on your home, a settlement (Israeli towns illegaly built in Area C) might requisition your water supply, tear gas or bullets might tear through your life.  These areas are war zones where one side has all of the weapons, all of the rights over infrastructure, all of the power. It’s shameful to admit (and I hope that I can claim some of my prejudice from missing the West: feeling a little exhausted by the Syrian postal system that might deliver your cards or the Jordanian price system that depends on how hard you haggle) but I was fast to judge the Palestinian territories.  Wasn’t it a little bit true that they needed Israel to provide the infrastructure that would give them the opportunities I enjoy?  Would they be able to create opportunities without the power of the Israeli state?  In the words of my Tel Aviv pals weren’t these impoverished and broken people just a little bit ‘miserable’?

Today I entered area A, where the Israeli military have no jurisdiction and Israelis are forbidden (by Israeli law) to go.  I went to the city of Bethlehem.

It was a long day: a UN/NGO meeting with the governor of Bethlehem; four hours spent with the scenes of the Nativity; amazed exploration of a permaculture farm twenty minuntes from where the shepherds watched their flocks by night and crossing the Bethlehem checkpoint.  After how this blog began I wish that I could write more and write better about the occupation that is 17 years older than me.  Unfortunately (or perhaps not) I texted Angela from the Bethlehem checkpoint: ‘this is the saddest place I’ve ever been – I’m getting alcohol on the way home’.  She texted back: ‘already done’.  Now I’m on my fifth glass of a 2l bottle of wine and it would be silly to try and analyse how wrong I was.  I will just say that the Palestinian areas with no Israeli inteference are doing good.  They are self-sufficient (economically, agriculturally, culturally), well serviced (or as well as they can be during an occupation) and the people are the friendliest that I have met throughout my travels. Every taxi I took was free; the bus went out of its way to drop me close to the check point (and a lot of Israeli military); women took my hands, bought me falafel and told me about their brother in Canada.  All of the people I met do not have permits to allow them to leave the West Bank.

Enough writing – please take time to look at the photos and if I write a final paragraph which will read something like ‘Israel get out of the West Bank’, then please read that too.


bluffing in a VIP meeting. the governor was desperate to make clear that there had to be coordination of the various humanitarian initiatives by NGOs and the UN. he came back time and again to one point - the humanitarian issues are symptons of political problem. offers of humanitarian aid will never solve the political problem. NB. ASHTRAYA!!!! - though no-one was daring enough to actually use them...

The Church of the Nativity was empty apart from me. Someone had rubbed myrhh on these stones so that when you lean to pray you dissolve into the timelessness of incense. This star marks where Jesus was born: commemorated since AD37.


this is Baat Qaraaka in the valley below the town of Beit Sahour. Beit Sahour is a beautiful town, no less 'functional' than any Western town - it has cash machines, supermarkets and surrounding hills which are fully irrigated. Press on this picture to learn more about the Baat Qaraaka initiative - a brilliant permaculture community which is teaching these farming skills to Palestinians whose water supplies are cut off due to the occupation. They had aubergines, tomatoes, olives, apricots, spinach, fish (well almost), chickens, corn, sunflowers, herb garden, and other vegetables and fruits that I can't remember. The had the best compost loo I've ever sat in (quotes and poems pasted to the walls). They have caves where volunteers can stay. They have a solar oven that will roast a chicken but won't rise bread. Have a look at my facebook for more photos of their paradise.


one more photo here because it's too good not to - but for more permaculture tech photos check facebook... beds made from rubbish and tires, walls made from bottles, clothes keeping roots humid...


this is the walk way to the check point. you go through long metal cage after long metal cage whilst cameras that you can't see allow the metallic loudspeaker voice of the Israeli military police to direct you forwards (or, presumably, to deny you entry)

the wall that protects Jerusalem from Bethlehem (historically these cities have not been separate) is covered, around the Bethlehem checkpoint only, with grafitti. There are six Banksys - including the policeman shooting a gun that only shoots flowers and the young Palastinian girl frisking an Israeli soldier. The most common phrase is 'BUILD BRIDGES NOT WALLS' or variations on that theme like, 'hope builds bridges, fear builds walls'. I can be a bit of a religious nut which is why this one effected me the most.

this is the shot from the inside of the cage where you can me momentarily contained (like me) or kept for longer (like the Arabs in front of me) - I suppose they can keep it in the shut position indefinately. By this point you have wound your way through the chicken run that runs by the side of the wall. Now you are in the checkpoint proper. There's a big military presence and a feeling of fear mixed with defiance. Only a priviliged few Palestinians are allowed the permits to more 'freely' between the West Bank and Jerusalem. One of the Arab kids, in the queue ahead of me, got stuck by the cage malfunctioning and was yelled at my the metallic voice. She took the piss - holding her hands high above as though there was a pistol in her back.

Just one more time.  My visit to Bethlehem – to the the governor only wanting enough freedom to empower his people and to end the handouts; to the tourist area, the ‘normal’ town of Beit Sahour and the agricultured land of Baat Saqaan  – everywhere had the potential of prosperity.  It was not a potential that was unrealised.  It was one that was realised in spite of the political realities.  Whatever the end of the Israel/Palestine conflict, the short term is clear.  After 42 years it’s time to pull the troops from Palestinian territories, to open up negotiations as to how and if the illegal settlements can stay, to concede to international law.

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