It seems Israel and Palestine are once again busy trading rockets and getting people killed on both sides like a playground fight that got way out of hand. In the latest conflict, the death toll stands (as of writing) at 3 Israelis and 86 Palestinians which, to me, suggests that if you are going to have a religious war, it’s best to put more resources into high-end weaponry and missile defence systems and less into prayer and knock-off rockets fallen off the back of a lorry.
Now, before I continue, I should say that I’m probably going to offend people writing this. I’m sorry. I’ll do my best to offend both sides equally but if you want to launch a fatwa against me anyway, go ahead. My real name is Mr D. Cameron and I live at the tenth house on Downing Street in London, England. You’re welcome for tea and biscuits any time.
I’ve never been to Gaza so I’m not sure what, if any, differences there are, but I did visit the West Bank/Palestine with my American friend. I suppose, now that I think about it, the biggest difference at the moment is that the West Bank isn’t having the ever-loving almighty bejesus bombed out of it.
In the West Bank we spent three nights with an American activist in Bethlehem and we did a day trip to Hebron, supposedly the town where you can see clearest the tension between the two states – all right, smart arse, Gaza City probably holds that title at the moment; although, in counter-smart-arsery, that’s not in the West Bank, so neeeeerrrr.
Our guide, a local resident wanting to share his story, led us down what the locals call “Apartheid Street” in Hebron and we passed through a military checkpoint. After looking at my passport, the hot military chick waved me through without a second glance at my backpack. Having a British passport is one of the best things about being born on this humble little island. But little did she know I actually had a variety of new gadgets fresh out of Q’s warehouse piled into that backpack.
We followed the path, then when the path disappeared we climbed over a few mounds of rubble, shuffled through some overgrown bushes, and up a ladder – dodging a few tree branches on the way up – and onto the roof of his house.
“If they see you, they might shoot you,” our guide said to us. It was simultaneously the most terrifying and cool thing anyone has ever said to me. I laughed, but I was silenced when I saw the Israeli soldier patrol along the walkway about twenty feet away. My British passport was good but it couldn’t stop bullets.
We were in one of the West Bank’s notorious “settlements”, which are areas where Israeli civilians have moved into Palestinian territory under the protection of Israeli soldiers.
“Look,” our host said, pointing to the bottom of the water tank on the roof. “Bullet holes. They shoot this tank so we do not have water. Never have water. We get a new tank, they shoot that too.”
Around the house itself, in the garden was a series of suspect-looking plastic bottles. Urine, we were told. “They throw them from their houses up there.” He pointed.
Inside the house great chunks of the walls were scorched. “Flamethrowers,” our guide said casually, like it was no bigger a deal than having a double glazing salesmen come round. “They come when we are not here.”
There were spaces were windows used to be, but were now sealed and chained. Some windows were outright smashed. Everything was so filthy even Kim and Aggie would’ve called it quits. I couldn’t help but notice the Fairy Liquid by the sink; their attempts at normality were as absurd as they were stoic, like grabbing an umbrella at the first sign of volcanic eruption.
We passed two young boys in the house. “It is difficult. We cannot let them go anywhere. My uncle had his grand-daughter kidnapped. And the wire and glass on the ground – it is not fun for them.” Is that understatement of the year all wrapped up?
After the tour we sat down in the living room. I’m not sure if they were way ahead of their time or behind it, but the focus point of the room was a computer. It was an ancient thing, running Windows 98 at best, but on it we watched two videos. Videos made by an amateur film company and a grainy news report respectively, both designed to highlight the plight of Palestinians living here.
“Do you see a solution to the current situation?” My American friend asked.
“It’s complicated,” was the reply.
A few days later I was back in Jerusalem, staying with a guy who served for three years in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and was involved in the Gaza War, a three-week armed conflict in the winter of 2008-2009 in the Gaza Strip. On the first night he took us to a gay party under the walls of the Old City, where I had a strange encounter with an Israeli goat herder. The next night he cooked for us, taking extreme care to keep everything kosher, and we talked politics and religion until the early hours.
“If they want to keep attacking us, we’ll keep killing them. We don’t want to kill them. We want to live in security, to have jobs, to have homes, to be happy. But if we don’t feel safe, we’ll shoot them. We all join the military, we all serve, we all know what war is like, but we’ll die for this country. These are our homes.
“I don’t know what’s beyond the wall, I don’t know what Ramallah and those places are like. I don’t want to know. They can stay there and they can come to Jerusalem because most of them probably want the same things we do. But if they use bombs we will shoot them. We can’t live in fear. No one should be expected to live in fear.”
While you were reading that, six more pinpoint airstrikes on military targets ripped through Gaza City and a few dozen more wayward rockets were fired towards Tel Aviv.
“What do you think will happen?” Asked my American friend. “Will Israelis and Palestinians ever live in peace?”
“Well, I think it will get worse before it gets better,” he said, presciently. “But it’s complicated.”
Fast forward six months and I’m sat at home watching Israel and Gaza rack up kill counts faster than the latest Call of Duty game. I can’t help but think of the people I met in Israel and Palestine. I think of them and I know they’re afraid of the air raid sirens and the hum of the drones, but they’ve come to accept that they’re a part of life as they go about buying their Fairy Liquid and preparing their kosher meals, going to their jobs and maintaining their homes. They, and I, know that because of religious scripture and political manoeuvring and the massive stockpiles of weapons that are lying around, any peace treaty that gets made will only be a temporary solution.
Teacher will call everyone back in after lunch, there’ll be a few classes about ethics and why bullying is bad, homework will be set, but by tomorrow everyone will be back out on the playground with yesterday’s lessons already forgotten.