West Bank, Palestine and Israel
It is hard to talk about the wall in Palestine. It is hard to talk about it and be objective, it is hard to talk about it and not fall heavily onto one side or the other. I am going to talk about it in the only way I can, which is through my experience of it. Seeing it, having to wait to get through it, watching others try to pass through, and hearing people talk about how it has affected their daily lives.
To start off with, I was completely ignorant of most of this before I got to the Middle East. I was about as clueless as you can get when it comes to the struggle between Palestine and Israel. I don't even remember if I knew there was a wall. It is embarrassing for me to even utter that now, but I think I am not the only American that really doesn't know much about all of this.
The construction of the wall began in 2003 and is still ongoing. As you drive from Jerusalem out to Bethlehem, it begins to follow you along the highway. When you get to Hebron, the borders run through the city creating a very intensified situation. As you ride from Jerusalem in the other direction, north toward the biggest city in the West Bank, Ramallah, you are stopped by it.
When I first saw it, I was on a bus with mostly Palestinians who were passing through on their way back to Bethlehem. It felt like any other busride as far as the normal behavior of the passengers on the bus, but I felt all of a sudden that I was on a bus headed to a prison. We went through barriers and were enclosed by the wall on the freeway. There was a shame in going where we were headed, like animals being transported from one cage to another.
As I spent time in Ramallah and went out into the country among the villages, I got used to zipping by the wall, seeing the checkpoints, watching the white dots on the hills that were the Israeli homes being built on Palesitnian land. I talked to people about moving around the West Bank, how trips that used to take 20 minutes could now take 2 hours. The Palestinians are stopped on the land that lies within the West Bank by Israeli checkpoints, and can be held there for any amount of ridiculous reason or whim. In Israel, everyone has to serve in the army at age 18. The posts are manned by mere kids, and all the checkpoint soldiers I came across were teens with guns slung across their backs, bossing around elderly Palestinians. It was actually quite painful to endure. A woman of my age who I met and photographed said she has been held at the checkpoints before being asked by the young male guards about the type of make-up she wears, being told that she is pretty.
As I went back to Jerusalem from Ramallah, I came through a very cumbersome checkpoint. I was on a bus again, and the only foreigner. Being a non-Palestinian, I was allowed to sit on the bus while every single other passenger, all Palestinian, regardles of age or condition, had to get off the bus, walk down to the barrier and be inspected. They then just return to the bus and we finally made our way on to Jerusalem. Apparently this goes on in all manner of weather, sometimes the passengers having to wait out in the pouring rain to just get back on the bus again.
It was a very weird experience for me, and I felt guilty being allowed to stay on the bus and to pass freely between the two places. It's weird when you are a witness to the lives of others and you watch as they do what they have become accustomed to and must endure regardless of their feeling about it. For me the situation felt very grave, and I was somber for some time after each interaction with it. It left a bad taste in my mouth, and I fled to Jordan the very next morning after leaving Palestine. They call it the Apartheid Wall, and I can't say I blame them.