The author recently travelled to the West Bank for the first time, a trip that showed the shared and divided ground between Palestinians and Jews.
On the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel – 14 May 2018 – the day the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the day over 60 Gazans, many of them children, lost their lives and thousands more were injured in demonstrations against the move, my husband and I visited the West Bank to see the historic sites of Bethlehem and Hebron.
We’d come to Israel for the history, keen to see the incredible sights of this ancient land. Israel has much to offer amateur historians – from the early Canaanite period through to the British Mandate and everything in between. It has a remarkably chequered narrative, so many influences, so much layering, so much to take in.
In particular we wanted to see Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities on the planet, spiritual centre of Judaism, home to the site of the First Temple built by Solomon in the tenth century BCE. Christians too have a deep spiritual connection with the city because Jesus lived and taught there, and it’s where he was imprisoned, tried and crucified. For Muslims, it’s the sacred place from which Mohammed ascended into heaven and it’s associated with some of the major prophets of Islam. The importance of religion in Jerusalem shouldn’t be underestimated – synagogues, churches and mosques not only cater to the spiritual needs of their flocks, but attract millions of tourists every year.
But back to the West Bank. We hadn’t realised the significance of the date we chose for our West Bank excursion having booked a private tour from Australia months before, but the added security around Jerusalem and its outskirts gave us pause for thought. We were taken by taxi from central Jerusalem and past the checkpoint at the Separation Wall where we met our guide, Yamen. He couldn’t pick us up from Jerusalem himself as he’s a West Bank Palestinian and his movements are restricted under Israeli law.