Editorials and Opinions

Opening the gate: Perspective on Palestine

By Aron Milberg
Published: September 2009

Well, we’re all back to school. I hope you all had a wonderful summer, because I did. My summer, however, was a little bit different than most. In addition to the usual sitting around that I, I traveled quite a bit, and most importantly I traveled to the place that I talk about most: Palestine.

On a program called Birthright Unplugged, an anti-Zionist response to the Taglit-Birthright trips, I took a tour of Israel proper and the West Bank.

I came in with a moderate position on the issue, supporting the two-state solution. But now, after my first-hand experience in the area (after having run my mouth on the subject for the last few years), I’m not so sure anymore.

My guidebook mentioned something called “Palestine Syndrome. It is the term for what happens upon experiencing the down-to-earth hospitality of the Palestinian people, the great food of the area, and the vastness of the oppression Palestinians face: you fall in love with the region. I experienced this in full.

Everywhere our group went, we were greeted with intense hospitality and respect, in spite of and perhaps due to my being an American and a Jew. Not a single person I met on the trip hated Jews or Americans, and in fact, the Palestinians were actually excited that a person coming from this background was willing to hear their story. I never encountered any sort of Islamic extremism, and in the Dheisheh refugee camp where our group stayed for two nights, I encountered precisely the opposite.

We were greeted by the Palestinians with intense hospitality and respect, in spite of my being an American and a Jew.

Most people disdained Hamas and the religious right, and welcomed “Western ideas like secularism and feminism. There were pictures of Che Guevara graffitied everywhere, even graffiti that read “Women can change the world. It was heartbreaking to think that this situation is portrayed so inaccurately in the Western media.

What was even more heartbreaking, though, were the things we saw at the end of the trip. We visited a woman’s house in the West Bank. The Israeli government wanted to demolish it in order to build the wall through it, but she refused. So they built the wall around her house, separating her from her village and conjoining her to the bordering settler village, from which she experienced constant harassment and ill-will.
The gate opens for her family only twice a day; sometimes her child cannot return home from school because the Israel Defence Forces refuse to open the gate. She still greeted us, however, with customary niceties, engaging us in conversation and serving us tea despite her poverty.

Still sadder was what we saw on the last day of our trip. We were taken to a pine forest in Israel proper, a sight that was eerie in itself. The Palestinian man who took us there showed us a British map of the village that used to stand there. It had a bus system to the rest of the Middle East, many houses, and a successful school system. He led us up a hill and came to a halt.

Near tears, he said, “This was where my house was when I was six years old, and proceeded to show us the location of his kitchen, his porch, and where he used to play.

The Zionist militias destroyed our guide’s village in 1948 and expelled the Palestinian population, as they had done to around 400 other villages. Contrary to popular belief, none of these villages was evacuated, on the suggestion of neighboring Arab states. In this particular village’s place, they grew a pine forest.

There are still 6 million refugees, all of whom are guaranteed the right of return by several international courts of law, many of which, the Geneva Convention being a good example, Israel has signed onto.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza still suffer from a morass of legal stipulations and can be arrested at any time (for instance for the accusation of “throwing stones between the years of 2001 and 2006). Israel is still blockading Gaza, the site of some extremely volatile bombing campaigns, such as the one in February.
In spite of all this, I felt safe walking through Ramallah, where I was confronted by people wanting to talk to me, to tell me their story, to take pictures with me. In spite of all this, Palestinians remain the most educated Arab population in the world.

By all, this I am convinced that the two-state solution is impractical. There are too many refugees and too much at stake. The only solution, in my mind, is a one-state solution, a bi-national solution, with no specific established religious or national identity, a state that extends from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, where all Palestinian refugees have the right of return, and where Jews and Palestinians (Christian and Muslim alike) can co-exist in a democratic fashion.

Though not in the foreseeable future, it is possible.

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