There is a 708 kilometer long concrete barrier running through Bethlehem acting as the division between Israel and Palestine, with large towers every few meters filled with Israel soldiers monitoring the world down below. However, this line does not act in accordance with the official Green Line borders as articulated in 1967 in Resolution 242, which in fact is around 18 kilometers away.
The Wall is said to be there for safety, to protect the Israelis on the other side from Palestinian terrorism. However, it acts more to dishearten and destroy the hope of Palestinians who will always dream of attaining the right of return and going back home. This is especially clear when you see Israeli settlements scattered around the West Bank, some imbedded even within the cities such as in Hebron – these settlements also have a barrier to maintain their safety, however it is not made out of concrete but rather an electric fence. These help maintain the sense of freedom that the Israelis have and feel they deserve to have, while the Palestinians in Bethlehem face a large wall looming over them every day, reminding them that they are nothing but captives in an outdoor prison.
The towers along the wall are equipped with the normal methods of attack or ‘protection,’ with launchers for tear gas and rubber bullets, but also for chemical ‘skunk’ water that is occasionally dosed over the land below without any true purpose, with people having to scatter, passed out bodies being dragged home by their families. The soldiers in the towers don’t go the washroom, rather urinating into bottles and throwing them out the windows with the rest of their trash into the Palestinian side of the wall. While this is disrespectful in itself, there is a tower just above a cemetery filled with Palestinian graves, now covered completely in rotten food and Israeli piss.
I witnessed hundreds of Muslim Palestinians attempting to visit Jerusalem to pray in their holy areas during Ramadan. This is supposedly a kind gesture by the Israeli government, allowing Muslims over 40 years old to enter what used to be their home – however, this is not necessarily true, as even as I watched so much people try to enter Jerusalem, I saw maybe half be turned back. The main reason for this was because they had previously been imprisoned, but in Palestine, nearly everyone either has been imprisoned or has had one of their friends or family be thrown in jail for very minuscule acts of resistance, either physically or politically, or sometimes for no reason at all. Even those who I have talked to in Jordan who may have the option to return to Jerusalem after leaving during the Nakba would not risk it; after hearing so many stories of Arabs being shot at simply because they were too close to Israeli trucks, they do not want to put themselves in danger. Whenever I tell people that I am going to visit the West Bank, I see a mix of excitement and sadness on their face: they want people to see how lovely their home is, but heartbroken that a stranger can visit when they will never be able to.
After the Nakba in 1948, when most (or at least many) Palestinians left/were forced out of their homes (the narratives differ), they locked their doors and brought their keys with them. Now, you can see refugees with keys to their old homes hung above their beds, or handed down to their children, as a symbol of the right of return. These keys represent the hope that Palestinians have of one day returning to their homes in Jerusalem or elsewhere in modern day Israel. Large murals and statues can be found across the West Bank, especially within refugee camps in a way to not give up home.
Murals are incredibly powerful in these areas, ensuring that people do not forget their history of the atrocities that have been committed. Murals commemorating those who died during the 1st Intifada, of the children who were killed recently in Gaza, of those who participated in the hunger strike protesting prison conditions and the lack of prison visits allowed. Looking in awe at walls filled with inspirational quotes from Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, I was told by a local: “it doesn’t matter what religion you are from, we can get inspiration from anyone. Muslim, Jewish, Christian – our issue isn’t between each other, it’s with Zionism.”
Some of these murals or posters have been removed, after being shot at by rubber – and real – bullets multiple times by the soldiers in the towers along the Wall. Entrances to UNRWA schools and windows have been moved due to constant shooting, with large fences constructed out of wire and concrete to protect the students, creating a complex largely resembling a prison. Due to water often being cut off by the Israeli government, water is stored in huge black barrels on top of every building to ensure that they will not be without water. If you look out to the settlements, you will not see these barrels; they do not have the same fears. It is necessary to acknowledge these difficulties in order to one day improve them – simply ignoring these realities will create a world where things will never be able to progress, Palestinians never able to stop living as refugees in their own land.