As the taxi sped from Tel-Aviv towards Jerusalem, I was struck by the vast open spaces between towns.  Occasionally small olive groves and a cluster of small stone houses appeared.  Stopped at a checkpoint by the police about 10 km. before reaching Jerusalem, the taxi driver nervously fumbled for his papers.   After almost an hour, we were back on our way.  As we approached Bethlehem, more checkpoints appeared.  And then I saw it: The Wall – not quite the Great Wall of China but it certainly winds over the landscape much like it.  Looking at it from a distance, however, pales beside the experience of approaching it on foot to cross from one part of Bethlehem to another.  

As the taxi sped from Tel-Aviv towards Jerusalem, I was struck by the vast open spaces between towns.  Occasionally small olive groves and a cluster of small stone houses appeared.  Stopped at a checkpoint by the police about 10 km. before reaching Jerusalem, the taxi driver nervously fumbled for his papers.   After almost an hour, we were back on our way.  As we approached Bethlehem, more checkpoints appeared.  And then I saw it: The Wall – not quite the Great Wall of China but it certainly winds over the landscape much like it.  Looking at it from a distance, however, pales beside the experience of approaching it on foot to cross from one part of Bethlehem to another. 

 

The Wall, like most walls, is full of graffiti:  "We are not terrorists."  "Give us justice and you will have peace."  "All religions are equal." But the graffiti that says the most about the situation here is "Ghetto."  The Palestinians who write the graffiti think that they are being ghettoized, but, in fact, it is the Israelis who have created their own ghetto.  All over Palestine, Israelis in trailer outposts and fully constructed settlements have created little ghettos closed in by fences and barbed wire with soldiers patrolling the perimeters. Newly constructed roads and tunnels linking the settlements have walls and barbed wire around them. All that seems to be missing from the iron gates is the "Arbeit Macht Frei."  

Within the barbed wire fences and walls is the land confiscated from Palestinians whose families have been living and working there for thousands of years.  The olive tree groves lie neglected; the fields are not plowed for the grain and fruit that has sustained this part of the world since before the time of Jesus. In many cases, families are unable to see even their closest family members due to the imposition of a permit system by the Israeli government since The Wall actually juts into Bethlehem itself, cutting and dividing old neighborhoods and communities.

 

Official Israeli support for Jewish "settlers," as they call themselves has actually increased religious friction and tension.  In Hebron, about 20-25 km to the south of Bethlehem, 400 or so persons have disrupted and almost destroyed the central shopping area, or Qasba, of a city of more than 190,000.  Three high rise apartment units surround what was once the busiest shopping area in the West Bank; the Israeli army has closed off a major street and closed down the wholesale vegetable market due to "security concerns."  Here, as in other parts of Palestine, Israelis have created their own ghettos. 

 

What is most visibly disturbing for anyone first coming to Hebron is to see how the settlers have treated the local population. Settlers began throwing debris into the Qasba to drive out the shopkeepers; then they began heaving rocks and boulders large enough to crush a truck.  The shopkeepers have had to construct protective fencing over their shops and the walkways to protect them and the shoppers.  If I hadn't seen this with my own eyes, I don't think I would have believed it.   

 

Several days later, as I looked down from the hill of Dominus Flevit with its spectacular view, the monk told me that he prayed for three things:  Justice, respect for human rights, and mutual understanding.  But in Israel-Palestine, official Israeli policy has little respect for human rights which leads to even less mutual understanding resulting in a lack of justice for hundreds of thousands of people in both Israel and Palestine.

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