This past Monday took me to a meeting at the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv, a modern Israeli city on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
The meeting went well. Afterwards we enjoyed a delicious lunch at a beautiful outdoor cafe.
Transport to and from TelAviv was via Egged, the Israeli bus company. Service was great. People were friendly and helpful. The bus terminal was a 7 storey building, with a multitude of shops and restaurants throughout. As is the case in many cities, the residential area around the bus terminal showed signs of decay, with a number of dilapidated buildings and little vegetation. A sign that yes, poverty exists in Israel as well.
The bus pulled out of the terminal. Suddenly, I realized that we were driving by all kinds of things I haven’t seen in awhile…..things that do not exist in the area of the West Bank that I am currently living.
The bus was driving along a major road to get out of the city…..a black top road, smooth….no potholes. Fresh paint marked the lanes. Tall office buildings.. The ones we called “sky scrapers” when we were kids. Lots of them. Shiny glass. Black. Dark blue. Reflective as the late afternoon sun shone upon it. Modern apartment complexes, clusters of residential housing. Clean. Well maintained. Balconies. Plants. Beautiful flowers. Colour!!! Bright pinks, greens. Even some orange. A large stadium, used for basketball, with “Nokia Section 11, Nokia Section 12,” signs marking the various seating sections. Along the roadside, for miles, were municipally maintained gardens with irrigation pipes running along the surface of the ground. Trees. Leaves. More colour. It was late in the afternoon, rush hour traffic. Late model cars. Shiny paint. Clean glass. Good looking tires. People heading home from work. The bus drove on. More pleasant looking apartments.
More roadside trees, shrubs, flowering bushes. Shopping plazas. Car dealerships. Tire shops. Up on the right…a multi storey movie theatre!! Parking lots, paved parking lots, with lines marking parking places. Bus shelters for people to wait in. Off in the distance construction cranes. Building is happening! Now we’re on a 4 lane road, with a median. More plants, irrigated plants, in the median gardens. Above us, lanes of traffic flow off onto another road. An overpass! A park. Children playing. A playground structure…..climbing toys. Landscaped trees, shrubs, green grass. A little girl, about 8 years old, intently balancing on her pink roller skates as she moves along the sidewalk…..a sidewalk!
How do I reconcile this reality, with the reality of the Yatta area of the West Bank?
A reality that includes narrow roads and numerous potholes. Many roads that are barely passable. Paint to mark traffic lanes? Non-existant. Paved parking lots? Also non-existant. Basic garbage pick-up? Not available in Yatta. All garbage is burned in community dumpsters. Older model cars with the “well used” look abound – cars with windows that don’t quite close, scrapes, dints, and dull paint, exhaust systems that smell like they have seen a better day. Some farmers still deliver their produce to market in either a horse or donkey drawn cart – the same cart that can also be used as a mode of family transport. The reality of water shortages means few plants, few trees. No entertainment facilities, no public parks, no playgrounds, no public gardens, no manicured lawns. Buildings that look worn, often with broken glass. An intercity transit system consisting of well used mini-vans that run when they are full. No scheduled service, no bus shelters. People stand waiting on the side of the road until one arrives. New construction is limited to certain areas, and prohibited in over half of the West Bank (unless you can get a non-obtainable permit) A community water system would be nice, but instead each house is equipped with water tanks on the roof and a gravity pressure system. You conserve what you can and when the water runs out, you order more. There is also no community sewage system.
Before 1948, Jews, Christians and Muslims shared this Holy Land. Now it is splintered and divided. Since the 1967 war, Israel has occupied the West Bank. This occupation is in direct contravention of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, passed Nov 22, 1967, calling for “the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict; termination of all declarations of a situation of belligerency; and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” (page 26, A Basic Background Resource to the Current Context of Israel and Palestine: An Historical, Political and Human Rights Overview, 2010: UK:Ireland Quaker Peace and Social Witness) This was reaffirmed Oct 22, 1973 by UN Security Council Resolution 338. Other international laws, including those of the 4th Geneva Convention (governing rights of civilians under times of occupation) are also frequently disregarded. These laws are binding on Israel according to the international community, but yet they are ignored and world nations choose to turn a blind eye to what is happening here.
For sure, disparities between measures of quality of life between Tel Aviv and the West Bank can be attributed in part to a number of factors, including climate, soil conditions, personal preference and culture. However, the reality of the occupation and it’s effects on Palestinian life here cannot be disputed. Why do we as a world community ignore the West Bank? Why do we as a world community ignore international law and continue to allow the State of Israel to perpetrate the illegalities it has practiced with this occupation for over 40 years? Why do we apply international law to some nations but not to others? Why are some of the world’s citizens more valued than others? Why do we tolerate such wanton disregard for the basic human rights of a dispossessed people? Why do we choose to look the other way to needless human suffering?
Peace, Salaam, Shalom,