by Dandan, K4P Intern
“If you open your google maps, you will see that we are crossing a dotted line. There’s no sign, but we have crossed the green line and are now in the West Bank,” said Yaniv, an Israeli tour guide who led the 9th grade K4P excursion into West & East Jerusalem on Friday, March 27. “Why do you think there is no sign?”
Ir Amim, which means “City of Nations,” is an Israeli organization which seeks to expose the public to the historical and present day realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a specific emphasis on Jerusalem. This time, it provided a special tour for the K4P Leadership group, not afraid to address the political situations or divided landscapes of the city. Up front, Yaniv invited students to ask questions and voice their views, even if they disagreed.
Before boarding the bus, everyone received a map of the greater Jerusalem area, with lines and shaded areas of various colors. Included in this geographical depiction were boundaries reflecting shifting land designations throughout history, such as those that denoted West Jerusalem, the West Bank, and municipal jurisdiction. The shaded areas marked present-day Israeli and Arab neighborhoods, along with Israeli built-ups planned for the future.
On this map was a blue spot for Gilo, an Israeli neighborhood located south of West Jerusalem that many Israelis do not realize is a settlement over the green line. This was the first stop of the tour, where Yaniv presented a brief account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict beginning from the 1948 war. He disclosed: “I learned about this when I was 25 years old, more or less, about what happened in the 1948 war to the Palestinians, after I had served in the Israeli military for three years.”
This disclosure led him to touch upon why the students were there: “It’s important we try to understand Jerusalem beyond the tourist perspective. Most of us don’t get out of our comfort zones. We live in one neighborhood, go to the same school, shops, restaurants, and parks…We are here to discuss Jerusalem as a core issue of the conflict.”
From Gilo, the tour winded north through East Jerusalem’s Har Homa (Jewish), Sur Bahar (Arab), East Talpiyot (Jewish), Jabal Makabber (Arab), Mt Scopus (mixed), and the Pisgat Ze’ev area (mixed). Often the bus would wind along a road with a Jewish neighborhood on one side and an Arab neighborhood on the other. Yaniv encouraged the students to notice the physical differences and feel between the neighborhoods. He also led students to think critically about the positioning of the walls.
“Why do you think the Israeli government would want to build a wall in between Abu Dis and Ras Al Amud?” he asked, as he pointed to the concrete vertical shafts separating these two arab neighborhoods while the group stood on a promenade overlooking the Kidron Valley down below. Besides focusing on physical separations, he also addressed a wide range of socio-economic realities. Some of these included: differences in rights as an Israeli citizen versus resident, the effects of the wall on poverty distribution, and implications of current developments on the two-state solution.
Enriching Yaniv’s tour were the commentaries of the K4P advisors who lived during the times of conflict before the students were born. Bahia, a Palestinian Muslim faith advisor, offered her narrative on what it was like living during the second intifada:
“For me it was so hard. We were completely disconnected from the Palestinian West Bank and from Israeli West Jerusalem, so it was dangerous to go to the West Bank and to Hebron. The road was blocked with piles of stones. It was impossible to get from place to place. The military was blocking everywhere. The intifada was throwing stones, so we also might be hit by them because we had an Israeli ID and license plate on the car.
Many times the Israelis busted into my home. One night, my brothers were inside and I have 6 brothers. We were all sleeping when they came. One of them [Israeli soldiers] got the others and said, “Oh, there’s a bunch of kids here. Come, come, come over.” It was terrible. It was not even easy to move in East Jerusalem. You would be arrested and accused even if you don’t do anything. Most of my brothers and family members suffered from this, even if they didn’t have anything to do with politics. Before Oslo, it was safer, it was better. After Oslo came, it was a disaster. Everything was destroyed.”
For a few students, it was their first time venturing forth into these areas and getting a feel for their realities. However, for some, they’ve heard about these threads before. Yasser, a Muslim student, would learn about these realities through his father on their visits to Ramallah and Bethlehem. Eyal, a Jewish student, chose to take a class on the conflict at his school.
As in-depth as his tour was, Yaniv encouraged the students to take a closer look at the places and situations they see everyday.