The West Bank: Is There Still Hope?
It’s easy to understand why people lose hope. After losing their homes and spending years under military occupation, how can they not lose hope? Rather, it’s difficult to understand how someone can keep their hope. Could I say the same about me if I were in their place? Throughout the years I’ve met various Palestinians, Palestinian-Americans, Palestinian-Jordanians, etc. and I’m always impressed by the strong hope they have for peace. While they continue to be disappointed by the failed attempt at peace they have not lost hope for the creation of a Palestinian state. This is not to say that there aren’t those who’ve lost hope. Plenty of people are starting to lose hope in a two-state solution. Yet, meeting Palestinians who still believe they will one day return home and see peace between Israelis and Palestinians gives me, as a foreigner/visitor, so much hope.
I started learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in high school but it was at a very basic level. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that the subject really became a part of my studies. As a Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations concentrator, I inevitably have to study the conflict. The Middle East is a very large region and is more than just the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but the fact of the matter is that it’s one of the first things people think about when the Middle East is brought up in conversation. That’s why I decided to travel to Israel and Palestine last year with a group from Harvard. I needed to see both sides of the story to better understand the conflict. At the end of that program I realized that I’d probably never fully understand.
Now, I’m back in Israel and Palestine. How do I feel? There are moments of anger and frustration. There are moments of hope and pride. I choose to focus the most on those positive moments. It’s important to recognize the reasons for that frustration but I think it’s more important to focus on how to continue to feel hope.
Our first day in the West Bank we visited the city of Rawabi, the first planned city built by Palestinians that began receiving families in 2015. At the moment there are 250 families living in Rawabi with more planning to move there by the end of the summer. The city is supposed to have around twenty-something communities (similar to apartment buildings), which have small garden areas where children have playgrounds. There is a large park with restaurants and a theater. There’s also a shopping center under construction. Although the city is not fully finished there has been so much construction done already so you can really imagine what it will look like once it’s done.
Seeing Rawabi really gave me hope. When children grow up surrounded by fear and violence it is refreshing to see places, like malls and movie theaters, where they can have fun and actually be children. Although I do worry about Rawabi’s future in terms of the private-public sector relationship this city showed me that Palestine and it’s people do have the potential to succeed regardless of the barriers that have been forced upon them.
Leaving Rawabi with hope made it even more difficult to visit Jalazone Refugee Camp in Ramallah and be hit with a wave of poverty and occupation. We toured the camp and saw posters of martyrs and shops named after holy sites and Palestinian cities. We were surrounded by children, mostly boys, fascinated by our presence. I took very few photos because I felt uncomfortable treating the refugee camp as a “tourist site”. It is important to understand that this is the home of hundreds of refugees who fled their homes (usually towns in present-day Israel) but I did want to offer some insight into a Palestinian refugee camp within the West Bank.
There is more than 50% unemployment within the refugee camp and children are growing up in poverty and fear. Most of them have never visited the towns their families come from. It is difficult to see the challenges that Palestinian refugees live in. It’s a hard realization that while we, in the U.S., can take 10 minute showers or go to malls and movie theaters, Palestinians sometimes don’t have access to basic necessities like food or water. Seeing this makes me want to do something to help but I really don’t know how to help. Instead I’m choosing to write about it and have hope. I will continue to have hope for Palestinians and to support the attempts being done by people like Bashar al-Masri and Palestinian entrepreneurship programs like the Work Factory and Leaders.
I don’t know what the future of Palestine looks like but if it’s anything like what I saw in Rawabi or in the offices of Palestinian entrepreneurs then I have hope.
Selena Rincon is a member of the 2016 Ibrahim cohort. For more posts and to learn more about Selena’s experience in the Middle East and beyond, check her blog: Selena’s Rincon: My world in a cozy corner.