The following report was written by Joshua Morris, a student at the University of Birmingham UK, after driving through the West Bank for the first time.
After spending a rather hectic afternoon traversing areas of the West Bank, visiting both settlements, outposts and Palestinian villages I was caught in very much two minds. On one hand it made me immensely proud of Israel, and on the other, deeply embarrassed to call myself a supporter of the state.
Although beautiful in some parts, the West Bank is in many ways a desolate place. It lacks natural resources and the land is very hard to cultivate. Interestingly however, when travelling through it, my instant gut feeling was not sorrow for the clear daily hardship which faces the Palestinians who wished to work and build upon this bleak land, but pride for Israel. This was because, for much of the journey, all I could see through my eyes, was the wondrous achievements of how the state of Israel and Jewish people had settled and built upon this land just like this. Whilst driving, I felt myself slipping back sixty, seventy, eighty years in time. I simply could not get the idea out of my head that what I was driving through is the canvas or the foundations from which the modern state of Israel has sprung, on which its story has been painted. Israel’s thriving metropolises, most notably Tel Aviv, have grown from land exactly the same as the dry arid conditions through which I was now driving . Every time I looked out of the window, I was constantly reminded of the fact that even in one of the most harshest natural environments on earth, Israel’s pioneers and its subsequent generations have managed to create a richly diverse, cultural and economically successful state.
However these rather Zionistic thoughts triggered another reaction within my brain. If Israel has to all intents and purposes become a regional superpower using this parched land, why have the Palestinians in the West Bank failed so drastically? To the tune of mass unemployment and a life expectancy, which is a massive 8 years less than their Israeli counterparts living in some cases a mere kilometre away.
This question however was quickly answered when visiting the IDF checkpoint situated on the outskirts of Nablus, which processed every vehicle entering and exiting the city. In fact up until recently the Israelis operated a strict quota system as to exactly how many vehicles could be within Nablus at any one time. What began to dawn on me whilst observing soldiers interrogate a Palestinian builder and search through his cement mixer was that the intrinsic difference between the Palestinians living in the West Bank, and the original Jewish pioneers, who built the state which I am in so many ways proud. It is not that the Palestinians lack the founding Zionists’ desire, motivation, or passion to create a state for their people, as many would like to think. Rather, the difference is that despite many obstacles which Israel and its Jewish residents were forced to overcome sixty years ago, they did not, after Independence, involve, outposts, road blocks and settlements. There was no state, which would periodically demolish their homes or build fences, walls and roads which would cut their land, villages and towns in two. At no point was Ben Gurion for example, humiliated at a checkpoint when travelling from his Kibbutz in the Negev up north.
The Israeli public must be reminded of the fact that when we look at the Palestinians, we are not looking at strangers, but are in fact peering into our and Israel’s past. We were once also stateless refugees living in an uninhabitable landscape, however through sheer will and determination the state of Israel was born. It is with this in mind, we must also allow the Palestinians of the West Bank to, use all their resources, desire and passion, to also create a state which their children and children’s children are proud of.