There’s a poster that I see quite a lot around Amman. It’s a hand-drawn picture of Jerusalem. In big capital letters at the bottom it reads ‘Visit Palestine’. The irony is that, for most Jordanians, visiting Palestine is not so easy. But I’m a white woman with a British passport. I can visit Palestine without a second thought.
A few months ago, I took advantage of this and visited Palestine. I visited two Palestinian cities during my stay: Bethlehem and Ramallah, the latter being the de facto Palestinian capital. In Bethlehem, there’s a wall which Israel calls the West Bank Barrier. When it is finished, it will stretch 700km along the Israeli-West Bank border. It is justified as an Israeli security precaution and at parts it reaches eight metres high and is topped with barbed wire. Crossing it is not easy, especially if you are an Arab. In my ignorance, I didn’t really see the point in visiting the wall – a wall’s a wall, I thought, and I’ve already seen it. What I was unaware of was that the wall in Bethlehem, as in many Palestinian cities, has become a space for activism – a space where people rebel against a government that has denied them worth and stripped them of dignity. The wall has a clear purpose, which is to involve the world in the struggle for equal-
ity. The target audience is the tourists who are herded in by European tour companies and then herded back out, their heads full of the history, weeping for Christ’s sacrifice, turning a blind eye to the present injustice. As much as the wall is evidence of Israel’s power and strength, its very existence is also testament to the Palestinians’ resistance. Israel’s build ing of such a barrier reveals its own failure to achieve its aims – it is a symbol of a struggle that Israel never wanted and a struggle which the Palestinians are far from abandoning. The wall demonstrates the Israeli government’s strength and its potential for cruelty.
In Ramallah, unlike Bethlehem, it feels almost possible to forget the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. In Bethlehem, Palestine feels like a courageous rebel group, but in Ramallah, Palestine feels like a state. It is very pretty. There are trees and the air feels clean. There are nice houses, parks for children, and even mansions and shiny cars. But you don’t have to scratch far beneath the surface to find the pain. I stopped in a playground. Like many British playgrounds, the walls were painted with murals. But instead of happy images of animals and flowers, there was a painting of a dead baby. On top of this, the emptiness of the place was striking. There were no children in the park, and further out the streets were deserted. Apparently the streets weren’t usually this quiet, but the people here are still recovering from the recent attacks in Gaza. Events like that take their toll on the West Bank, too, and it takes a while for life to return to normal. As you go further out of the centre, you’ll find the refugee camps, in which approximately 30,000 people live, without homes and in danger of being without futures and without hope.
The irony is that the life of the ‘Visit Palestine’ poster began with the pencil of a Jewish refugee fleeing Nazi Germany, expressing the same longing for a homeland free from prejudice and fear that the Palestinians who display thisposter are expressing today. However, while on one level, the life of this poster sees hate lead to hate lead to hate, the way that Jews and Palestinians have used exactly the same image to express exactly the same feelings of fear and longing for a safe home, is a reminder that whatever our differences, we are all humans. We must hope that this common humanity wins out in the end.