Thoughts on a month spent living with a Palestinian family in the Bethlehem, in the Palestinian West Bank. It took a while to put them all together.

Nine foot high concrete slabs that form part of the separation barrier between the West Bank and Israel

Nine foot high concrete slabs that form part of the separation barrier between the West Bank and Israel

This first paragraph was found abandoned, begun on August 2, but never finished. Perhaps because my mind at the time was too scrambled to put my thoughts on the West Bank straight, unable to describe what I wanted to say. 

Whilst life may be normal in many ways, you don’t have to go far to find the harsh side of reality in the West Bank. Just talk to someone long enough and an allusion to the conflict will be made. Look closely enough and you’ll see the writing on the wall, literally. Slogans telling Israel what people think of it. Slogans calling for the nine foot wall to be brought down. Words of peace, of love, of frustration and anger.

It’s hard not to be changed by the reality of living in the West Bank, or in greater Israel I would imagine. Growing up in a peaceful, relaxed and free country, the concept of living with a doubt in the back of your mind that perhaps your life could be changed by conflict on any given day is an alien one.

As a visitor to the countries there are things that I will never get used to.

I will never get used to the sight of teenagers with rifles.

A watch tower sitting over the Palestinian section of Hebron, covered in barbed wire.

A watch tower sitting over the Palestinian section of Hebron, covered in barbed wire.

I will never get used to the nervous feeling trying to get in and out of both Israel and the West Bank.

I will never get used to hearing some (and by no means all) Israelis cursing Palestinians.

I will never get used to hearing some (and by no means all) Palestinians cursing Israelis.

I will never get used to the sight of Israeli settlements dotted across the hills of the (Palestinian) West Bank; illegal under international law they keep being built causing problems both for Palestinians and Israelis.

I will never get used to the stark contrast between Tel Aviv and Hebron. The former free and relaxed, the latter full of barbed wire and a tension so palpable you feel like the third intifada could start at any moment.

I will never get used to seeing a group of people trapped behind walls and wire unable to move freely.

I will never get used to the feeling of guilt as I pass through the checkpoints without a problem whilst the Palestinians are questioned and harangued.

Bethlehem twinkles at night and the sunsets over the desert are stunning.

Bethlehem twinkles at night and the sunsets over the desert are stunning.

Life does carry on as normal in Palestine, but normal is subjective. There is a “normality” that generations have grown up with that shouldn’t be normal, and that goes for both Palestinians and Israelis. There is a disparity between the two and no honest Israeli can deny it.

It’s hard to walk away from Palestine without mixed feelings. On the one hand there is a beauty, a kindness and generosity that stretches far beyond wanting anything in return. On the other hand there’s frustration, anger, heartache and despair that leaves me feeling bewildered. How can humans can treat each other like this?

In the end leaving left me with sadness. I left behind people who I love and admire and miss every day. But I also smile at many of the happy times.

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1 Comment

  1. One month flies quickly in Bethlehem | Anything to Declare?

    December 9, 2016 at 12:44

    […] It’s certainly not without its issues however; the people are not free to do as they want, but I didn’t meet one person who wasn’t proud to be Palestinian and even those who could live elsewhere if they choose, wanted to stay in Palestine. It is their home and they love it. […]

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