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Exclusive Interview from the West Bank:
Impact of the security wall

Conversations from the West Bank

Julie A. Sergel

Israeli separation barrier at Abu Dis, close to the eastern part of Jerusalem"It’s killing us. I wish they could remove it,” said Joseph, a Christian Palestinian living in the West Bank, referring to the infamous wall constructed by Israel to delineate boundaries and ward off suicide bombers. Joseph lives in an Arab Christian community located in Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem.

The Israeli wall runs alongside pre-1967 boundaries and scales 220 miles of a projected 403. It has been referred to as The Apartheid or Berlin Wall since its inception in June 2002. “I know it cost them too much,” said Joseph, acknowledging the Israeli government’s need for protection. “I am with the security, but not in that way.” The separation barrier, still under construction, defeats even Berlin’s former barricade—more than double its height and four times its length in its completed state--although getting there (completion) is controversial on both sides. “Not all the Israeli people want the wall,” he explained. The reality of lost Palestinian homes and varying degrees of fight in response to getting them back or just giving up and leaving the country entirely is heavy. Joseph shared that to simply go to Ramallah, the unofficial capital of the Palestinian Authority approximately six miles north of Jerusalem, requires encounters with the concrete wall and its loaded security system.

With expectations of headway forged by newly appointed Mid-East envoy Tony Blair, or other external efforts by the West to create internal balance (correcting infrastructure ailments), I was told “Tony and George are the biggest liars in the world, following only their interest with Israel. All of us want a solution, even Israel, but they (Blair and Bush) don’t have the power to do anything.” Stalemate seems reliant upon personal interest, which I am told benefits all leaders, both Palestinian and Israeli, who glean from what is happening on the ground. Assistance that is received from the West and other contributing parties has been helpful, although with the great influx of Muslim and Christian immigrants, there are also problems. “People think that they can be comfortable without hard work in life, “ said Joseph. “They get used to benefits from western assistance, [and this] makes a big problem.”

Complications persist. A major trouble spot is the black market and the strict monopoly where “business in Palestine is dominated by two persons.” Joseph explained the difficulty of life in the West Bank, the struggle to not be able to do things as you wish, and the general sentiment that as people continually see “the troubled life here,” they start to believe “it will be so forever.” Joseph, a well-educated male, very fluent in English, and in his early twenties, is a banker in Bethlehem. He is also of Greek Orthodox descent and part of the Arab Christian community that makes up two percent of the Israeli and Palestinian population. He enjoys all people who are open-minded and move forward toward peace. “We have to look for the good things, go on and continue our life,” he said, implying that without this, “we still move backward.”

A major contributor to progress for the Palestinians has been Italy. The European Union and aid from the West have helped, but Italy in particular, has played a major role. Joseph explained that they have been working in a very good way to help the people as a whole—creating social and health programs and most needed, jobs--although unemployment rates continue to be high. Contributing to the situation is the aspect of hiring people. This is where “Waseta,” an Arab word that essentially works out to mean “special connections,” or “hook-up,” makes a way for some. Typically, it can take about year to find a job. Men and women are both employed with equal rights. Sometimes, women have better jobs and are hired as managers overseeing all men. There are no conflicts in the work place where Christians and Muslims, male and female, work together as talk about religion, politics and sports is forbidden.

Conflict belongs to the two different mentalities—the Israeli one and the Palestinian one. “Palestinians think of getting back to their houses in Israel—Jaffa, Haifa, Tel Aviv, etc. but actually it is unreasonable. They have to realize that they can never get back.” And yet, resolve must be two-sided. “Action from one side, can’t say something.” Joseph explained a joint program he once participated in, where 22 Palestinians and 22 Israeli Jews spent three months together—eating, studying, playing, touring—“whatever you expect any young guys can do, we did.” In relating this to any potential path for peace, Joseph expressed the current lack of it, and yet continued hope for it to be found potentially amongst “the young Israeli guys, if they can get a position in the political ground”—although he doubted this would happen in the coming years, maybe in five or eight.

When questioned about thoughts on government and peace, and plans for the future, Joseph responded that Hamas became more famous after the Israeli pullout and triumphing in elections, “but after the winning, there was a surprise. They couldn’t know how to work and go on with the new situation.” At present, Fatah is strong, internally. A dual theme that carried through our talk was the idea of courage to forget the past as well as vigor to take West Bank and Gaza and look forward--that, and settling the problem of Jerusalem. “The President of Palestine said he wants Jerusalem back. In the future, maybe we can settle this.” When asked if peaceful co-existence were possible, he answered, “If there is peace, we will live. There are no magical answers.”

On a grander scale, life for Joseph resonates with that of all of humanity. Alongside life’s challenges, goals include marriage one day (within one’s faith)—“after being established in life, with an apartment and money to get married.” Joseph has been busy with study (attaining his American CMA [Certified Management Accountant]) and work at the bank. When time permits, he enjoys dancing, reading, swimming and communicating with “mates” [friends] online via webcam, which I sadly don’t own and couldn’t reciprocate. This was one of the misconceptions Joseph wanted to clear up—“people outside [thinking] we are not up to date with technology and everything in the world.” Another point for correction is the idea that [people think] “all Palestinians are terrorists.” Joseph suggested the media was sometimes responsible for this.

As the dialogue neared its end, there was one more thing I wanted to know. In a land smothered with so many borders and boundaries and ancient names, amidst them all—how did he grasp his own identity? Which came first, second, last, etc.? Joseph answered my plea with this: “I see myself as Arab Christian first, human being second, and Palestinian, third.”

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