My Palestine Visit – Part II
By Irfan Engineer
After crossing the Check Post, we all got into a bus which had been waiting for us. The driver Ali helped us all load our luggage into the bus and we drove towards Jerusalem. All of us on the bus shouted hurrah! as the bus rolled. There were probably no more obstacles. However, about ½ a Kilometer away, there was another Israeli Check Post and the bus had to stop. Ali dealt with the officer (probably he reported at every check post that the passengers were international tourists and we would be spared the thorough checking). The Officer at the check post would check a few passports to satisfy himself / herself and with American passports being forwarded first, they would let the bus pass with cursory checking. Every short distance there were check posts and we soon learnt to accept it as a given fact. The American passports saved us the humiliation of thorough checks every time. It was cool in Amman as it is on a height. However after crossing into West Bank, it was a bit hot as we were in Jordan Valley. Our Journey to Jerusalem meant climbing up the mountain and it would be cold again.
The roads in West Bank were surrounded by barren looking land on both the sides. Being desert, very little land was cultivated. The road on which our bus was rolling were constructed by US based companies like Caterpillar on occupied land and they became “Israeli roads”. Palestinian vehicles were not allowed on the road in the apartheid system practiced by Israeli state. We saw hectic construction of roads by Israel on occupied Palestine territory to expand the road network and broaden the roads. In the apartheid system that Israel has developed, there are three types of license number plates issued for vehicles. Vehicles with yellow licensed number plates could move about on any road, including on the roads constructed on occupied territories of West Bank. The vehicles with green coloured numericals on white background license plates were not allowed on the network of roads which connected the Jewish settlements with main roads and highways. The offence of any violation of this rule did not attract fines but summary trial by military courts (we will see the functioning of the military courts a little later) and could mean long prison sentences. The check posts ensured that no violation goes unpunished. The third type of license plate was white letters on green background, which meant that heavily taxed Palestinian commercial viehicle. The whole road system is to ensure that apartheid rules are meticulously followed and Arabs are kept off roads meant for and connecting Jewish settlements. As we were climbing up towards Jerusalem, we could see the Jordan River Valley on our left and tip of Dead Sea. There wasn’t much water in the Jordan River.
In about two hours time, we were approaching Jerusalem. As we entered the beautiful and historical city, we were struck by the beautiful architecture of the city. The walls of the old city and the buildings were constructed with light chocolate coloured stones which are available in abundance in West Bank. Stones from Bethlehem and Biet Sahoor are famous and carted thousands of miles for construction. Jerusalem has witnessed rule of various empires and this was evident from its monuments and even residential constructions. Romans, Umayyads, Ottomans, all ruled in Jerusalem.
Before we reached our destination – Hotel Imperial, we saw five star and seven star hotels, with all modern amenities, including the scarce water, and owned by the Jewish companies. Being holyland for the three communities – Muslims, Christians and Jews, the city attracts tourists all year round from all over the world. While the Jewish companies reap huge profits, the Palestinians are practically left out of the tourism industry, except petty shops with items for tourists and a few hotels.
By 3.00 p.m., we reached Hotel Imperial inside the walled city. The road inside the walled city too was paved with stones. The area of walled city we were in was mostly inhabited by Armenian Christians. There was Armenian Museum and structures with Armenian Architecture. As we climbed the staircases of Hotel Imperial, owned by a Palestinian, we saw the walls decorated by Palestinian artifacts, chandeliers, bells, beautifully woven Palestinian women’s dresses pinned on the walls. It was more of a museum than a hotel depicting the Palestinian life and culture and history of struggle to achieve liberation. It was a sort of political statement – defiance of apartheid and Israeli state. After checking in our room, I was tempted to talk to the owner of the Hotel and he was willing. Greeted me with “mar habba” as well as “namaste”, instantly recognizing me as “Hindi” (as Indians are referred in this part of the world). He told us that to run a hotel for a Palestinian in occupied territory was a great struggle and not easy at all. Right from ensuring water supply to dealing with the Jewish Municipal Corporation for a Palestinian required nothing less than political will and commitment matching that of full time political revolutionaries. Surrendering and selling the hotel to waiting Jews was a much easy option. The authorities did everything to make it impossible for him to run his hotel business so that he would sell his hotel to Jews and allow Jews toe hold within walled city in East Jerusalem. He was holding out and Insha Allah would never surrender his Hotel however adverse the situation might be. The Hotel owner contributed to the Palestinian Liberation struggle by running the hotel. He however lamented the betrayal of some of the Palestinian leaders to the cause. We had a good late afternoon lunch and rested for a while before we were ready for the evening programme. I also meandered into the small by lanes around the hotel where Palestinian shop owners were selling various items to tourists. Seeing us four Indians, the shop owners would call us “Hindi? Namaste” trying to befriend us to vend their goods. We bought a few.
… to be contd.