Driving away from Tel Aviv airport towards Jerusalem I learned two things. I learned, through observation, that Israel is an armed camp and that the favourite saying of our Palestinian driver was ‘no problem, no problem.’ The wall around the West Bank is an amazing architectural structure, most walls are. Their purpose is often more sinister. Hadrian ’s Wall was designed to keep my ancestors (the ravening Celts) out of Roman controlled Britain: the great wall of China, to keep the Mongols at bay. So, what was the wall around the West Bank keeping out? When we went to Bethlehem it didn’t seem to be keeping much out. Traffic was flowing easily between the two states, yet there was the feeling that that could change at a moment’s notice.
Maybe to help understand the difficulties behind this was a conversation I overheard while eating at the Austrian Hospice in Old Jerusalem along the Via Dolorosa. The woman, in an animated discussion, was describing the population dynamics of Jerusalem. Out of the one million inhabitants of Jerusalem, two hundred and fifty thousand are Palestinian. Out of that number one hundred thousand have chosen to reject Israeli citizenship; they refuse to recognize Israel as a state. This has created a problem confining these people to Jerusalem.
So, back to the wall: what is it keeping out? Well, the occurrence of suicide bombings have gone down since the wall went up, but tensions still simmer just below the surface. Everyone seems to tolerate each other by pretending they aren’t there. The Palestinians pretend the Jews aren’t there, the Jews pretend the Palestinians aren’t there and the Christians are just tourists. Then something happens and people start paying attention. For example during a traffic altercation the police responded, supported by several IDF (Israel Defence Force) soldiers. Watching everything was a large circle of young Palestinian men. It was like circles within circle with everyone watching each other…and waiting.
I hope that the Jews, being the children of Abraham, and the Palestinians, also being the children of Abraham, can settle this centuries old dispute over inheritance without killing each other. Unfortunately Jerusalem is the mother of much tragedy and much dispossession.