Driving up a seemingly deserted street in Area C, we listen to the engine of the minibus and the words of our tour guide, Osama, saying we are going to some sort of lookout. There are apartment buildings all around us, too tall to be “legal” according to Israeli law. The minibus climbs up the hill in front of us, then halts on the side of the road near a cement wall we can’t quite see over. We follow Osama to a gap in the wall where we see a gorgeous view of the city of Ramallah. The buildings are made of what I have heard called “Jerusalem stone,” or limestone. It makes the city gleam in the bright morning air.
The resemblance to Jerusalem shocks me. Ramallah looks exactly like the suburbs in the mountains. That is, except for two things – hills instead of mountains, and thousands of black shapes on top of every roof.
Osama begins by explaining that the ground we are standing on is in Area C, the portion of the West Bank under full control of the Israeli government. From there we could see Area A, another segment of the Palestinian territory. Earlier Osama told us that even though Area A is supposedly under full control of the Palestinian authority, the military occupation is still felt there.
This is the second of three daytrips that I will take in the West Bank over the course of my Winter term in Israel-Palestine. I hoped to take in as many perspectives as possible, including those from Americans on Birthright, and from Israeli and Palestinian civilians, soldiers, veterans, peacemakers, leaders, protesters and refugees. Luckily, just prior, I had had the opportunity to go on Birthright, stay with Israeli family members, spend time with a new friend who is an IDF soldier and works in the Iron Dome, and participate in three tours to multiple checkpoints and some small Palestinian villages.
Before we travel down to the city, we talk a bit more about daily life in Ramallah and the West Bank, in general. Someone asks about the multitude of strange black shapes on top of every building. Osama tells us that Israel controls all water flowing into the West Bank and restricts it so much that Palestinians only have access to a single one of their own springs. Before coming under Israeli military occupation, they had access to all five. Apparently, in the summertime, Palestinians in Ramallah and many other cities only have running water twice a week, and so they must store it in the large black containers on their roofs to conserve what they can.
Access to water is a basic human right. The fact that Israeli settlements have running water 24/7 and neighboring cities like Ramallah do not is appalling to me. Learning this challenged one of my long-held beliefs: I had always been taught that Israel was supplying water to the Palestinian territory as an act of charity, despite terror threats from the West Bank. Instead, Israel is restricting Palestinians from using their own water supply located in the West Bank itself. I understand that Israel feels the need to protect itself, but I struggle to see how this aids its security at all. If anything, it inflames tension between Israelis and Palestinians and makes violence more like
I would be lying if I said traveling to Israel and the West Bank and seeing what I saw has given me hope for the two-state solution. I did not talk to many people who believe it can become a peaceful reality. However, there were so many people on and off the tours, Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Arabs and foreigners alike, who just wish for peace. They want to live happy, healthy, normal lives without worrying about terrorist attacks or whether they will have enough water in the morning. Despite the bleakness of this political moment, I am committed to help make that a reality.