To go to Jerusalem, I decided to do a tour. It seemed like the most efficient way to see all the sights in one day. I went on the Green Olives Tour. I chose it because it took me from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it included sightseeing in a political overview of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As I mentioned in my previous post, the reason I came to Israel was to understand my Jewish identity and the conflict. I honestly couldn’t form an opinion regarding the conflict because everything I saw in the world felt like propaganda. So I made some opinions based on opinions of my fellow Jews and then I came to Israel. This tour is very openly about educating people about the conflict with a real life look.
The Car Ride
A man named Fred came to pick a girl and me up at another local hostel. He took us to Jerusalem and explained a little bit about the tour. It is about the conflict and we discussed some of the laws that are in Israel and the disparities in the population. He was a Jewish man that made Aliyah* from Scotland. He owns the Green Olives tour company with two other Jewish Israeli and three Palestinians. The goal is to educate about the conflict and provide relief to the victims of the conflict.
What he explained was that Israel is not as democratic as I initially thought. Palestinians’ votes are not counted and laws are made to favor Jewish citizens more than others. Some of the examples are Palestinians are not allowed to have Israeli passports, shoved into areas outside of the cities. We even drove through some of the Palestinians areas which were really rundown. They aren’t allowed to work in the Israeli areas without a special permit and even with that permit they can’t drive into Israeli territory and they can’t have Israeli passports. We passed through the border check point from Palestinians settlements to Jerusalem. Men with AK-47s are there and they have the right to pull anyone over if they look Arab. If you are Palestinian coming through the wrong checkpoint you can go to jail for a couple months.
He also explained that many people within Israel are trained to believe that Jewish law is the only law and that the rest of the world hates Jews. He told me that all Jewish students in grade school get to have a school trip to visit a concentration camp such as Auschwitz. However they are followed around with armed guards because they are told Polish people hate Jews (poles are very friendly. If you mention you are Jewish they mention the Museum History of Polish Jews). They also are given the tour by Israelis not by the officially trained tour guides. The point is to instill fear in the students that the world is a dangerous place for them. This point is true to a certain extent but the fear is a little overblown.
So then we went on the tour which was lovely. I was on a tour with Asian-American family and our guide was very informative. So he went over the basic history (which is a lot). We saw the sights like passing by the Mosque, saying a prayer at the Western Wall and walking by the Stations of the Cross. We walked by an excavated wall that is meant to prove that an ancient Jewish kingdom once stood in Jerusalem. We were told about the issue with the Western Wall plaza. Apparently, it was a Moroccan neighborhood but the Israeli government kicked everyone out and built the plaza. Then we had amazing hummus at Lina’s restaurant.
Then the second part of the tour was the unconventional part. It was about the conflict. We went through some of the neighborhoods to see the disparities between Jewish neighborhoods and Palestinians neighborhoods. Then the settlement issues came to light very clearly with some graffiti on the walls.
The Palestinian neighborhoods have nice parts solely because a rich man decided to buy up land to make sure that Palestinians could live there. Then as the neighborhood started getting more and more torn apart we see a valley with caves and people are living out of these caves. It’s terribly rundown and we can see more and more people living out of shacks. Then we see two houses with graffiti saying, “Settlers get out.” Basically, the Israeli government makes it illegal for the Palestinians to build so they get around that by building temporary structures or living in the caves. Then the Israeli government moves in Jews, I’m assuming the ones on Aliyah. They use these settlers to push Palestinians out of their neighborhood. As I understand, the Israeli government makes it really hard for Palestinians to work, live and survive, a lot of their resources are through UN organizations. The ability for them to get a really good education is hard and even if they manage that, their ability to get a decent job is even harder and even if they get that the ability for them to live in a decent neighborhood is even harder than that. The issue is the while Israel is a Jewish state they are trying to make it only Jewish and pushing out all other religions and people. The guide said, “Israel wishes that it could wake up one day and all the Palestinians are gone.”
Talking to People
I’ve talked to quite a few Israelis and other people that have been here for a while, a lot of them agree that the treatment of the Palestinians is barbaric. That isn’t to say that people don’t think Israel shouldn’t remain a Jewish state or that Israel doesn’t have the right to exist. People just seem to want a more democratic government and equal rights for all. It also seems to be that most Palestinians would settle for just a little more opportunity. Also, Israelis and Palestinians seems to be friendly, it’s not terribly unusual for them to marry and Green Olives Tour Company is co-owned between Israelis and Palestinians. The actual relations between the people seem okay but at a bureaucratic level it seems impossible for anyone to come to an agreement about anything.
It was also explained to me that even if there was equal rights between Israelis and Palestinians, there would still be problems in Israel. There would still be anguish between Muslims, Jews and Christians fighting for the Holy Land. There would still be other Middle Eastern countries that don’t want to see Israel exist. But the basic theory is that if Israel was less hate-able, there would be less hate towards the country. No one is naive enough to believe all the problems would evaporate and the world would be a beautiful and peaceful place. Many people seem to want is equal rights for everyone. It sounds simple enough in theory but in practice there is a lot of hate between people.