Adam Stein teaches English to international students at the University of Texas at Arlington. He is from a Jewish American family. He travels frequently to Palestine and he spent this summer in the West Bank, where he helped as a volunteer with advanced English instruction for the staff of two different organizations: Defence for Children International, a Geneva based NGO, and al-Rowwad, a cultural and educational organization that supports women and children in Aida Refugee Camp, in Bethlehem.
The rolling hills covered with olive trees. The Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall. Scores of biblical sights. The Holy Land is a destination not only for the intrepid traveller, but also for Muslims, Christians, and Jews who hope to explore their religious roots.
Throughout their history, Jews have been an oppressed people. This oppression began to dissipate in 1948 with the formation of the state of Israel.
Today, Jews around the world enjoy great political and economic power. For those in Israel, this power has come at the expense of the indigenous population of the land. As Israel has always been propped up politically, military, and financially by European powers and the United States, the quest for dominance over the Palestinian people endures with no end in sight.
I’ve travelled through Israel and West Bank, Palestine twice this year. The former is a wealthy, developed country while the latter is a territory that has lived for decades under the occupation and colonization of the other. The signs of the occupation are undeniable in West Bank: the sniper towers, the checkpoints, the heavily armed Israeli soldiers, the hundreds of miles of the “security” wall, Israeli flags hoisted at full mast, and highway signs with Hebrew lettering.
European Jews began colonizing Palestine around 1918. In 1948, roughly 750.000 Palestinians were forced from their homes to prepare for the founding of the state of Israel. This colonization continues today in the form of Israeli settlements, which are recognized as illegal under international law. Per the Fourth Geneva Convention, it is illegal to transfer a civilian population onto a land under occupation. Since 1967, Israel has had all of Palestine under military occupation. Today, there are 124 settlements strategically placed throughout West Bank with a settler population of 350.000. Occupied East Jerusalem additionally has a settler population of 300.000.
As I traveled throughout the West Bank from the holy city of Bethlehem to the de-facto capital Ramallah and up to the beautiful city of Nablus, I was always perplexed. If Palestine were truly so dangerous, why has Israel relocated so many of its citizens here?
You see them hitchhiking on the highways with their yarmulkes and prayer books. Everywhere you look, you see hilltop settlements densely populated with posh, cookie cutter homes with their signature red roofs. If you were to enter a settlement, you might find a university, shopping malls, and factories.
Now that’s West Bank, what about Gaza?
Well with Israel’s seven-year land, air, and naval blockade, it’s been virtually impossible to visit Gaza.
But what about Hamas, aren’t they an evil terrorist organization whose sole purpose is to destroy Israel? As sinister and reckless as Hamas is, they could only dream of destroying Israel. Just how does a dispossessed political group with crude, inaccurate rockets compete with Israel’s nuclear warheads, drones, F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, tanks, nuclear-armed submarines, and the Iron Dome Missile Defense System? The numbers speak for themselves.
Since Israel’s siege on Gaza began on July 8th, over 2100 Palestinians have been killed. The UN estimates over 70% of which are civilian, including 490 children by a recent UNICEF report. At the same time, Israel has only lost four civilians.
The $3.1 billion in US taxpayer money given to Israel every year in the form of military aid ensures absolute superiority over the occupied.
As one who has traveled to 35 countries, I can honestly say the Palestinians are among the friendliest and most hospitable you’ll ever encounter. The only danger I came across was in the presence of the Israeli military. I learned the hard way that peaceful protesters are met with tear gas and sometimes live ammo.
Reflecting on my experiences in this part of the world, I think of CNN’s travel and food guru, Anthony Bourdain, in last year’s Jerusalem episode. In addition to Israel, he spent time in West Bank and Gaza. In Palestine, he sampled the exotic cuisine of the locals and savored the stunning landscapes of the Holy Land, yet he couldn’t help but notice the horrors of the occupation.
Like Bourdain, I have witnessed things that typically do not appear in the news.
Sure we see Israel and Palestine in the news when tensions become escalated, but the daily realities of the barbaric occupation and colonization rarely make headlines.
With Palestine continually gaining more supporters around the world, hopefully the global community will step in to challenge this asymmetrical power dynamic toward the eventual liberation of the Palestinian people from years of subjugation and humiliation.