Rick Steves’ The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today

Rick Steves’ The Holy Land: Israelis and Palestinians Today


Hi, I’m Rick Steves,
back with more travels. This time we’re exploring
the Holy Land, Israel and Palestine. It’s harvest time. Our goal —
to understand and enjoy the people who love this land
and call it home. Thanks for joining us.   The land Israelis
and Palestinians occupy is, for a third of humanity,
Israel is, literally, holy land, and Jerusalem marks
its sacred center. For Christians, this is where Jesus was
crucified and resurrected. For Muslims, this is from where
Muhammad journeyed to Heaven. And for Jews, the Temple
of Solomon stood right here. The crossroads
of three great religions, the Holy Land has been coveted
and fought over for centuries.   While Israelis and Palestinians
have overlapping claims and struggle to
share it peacefully, this land has a rich
and fascinating heritage. We’ll go beyond the sights, opening our minds
to both narratives to better understand
and empathize with the people. In Israel,
we’ll explore Jerusalem and learn some
of the religious customs and ideas
that shape society here. and we’ll walk
the Golan Heights, where the importance of
maintaining Israel’s security is an enduring lesson. And now we have to make sure
that we are on the high ground, never to let it happen again. In Palestine,
by harvesting olives, making a home visit,
and popping into a university, we’ll get to know a land
few travelers visit and a point of view
few people consider. The whole of my whole country. I don’t know my country. And along the way,
we’ll hear a few of the many perspectives here. We’ll learn about
security walls, controversial settlements, and the persistent challenges
facing the region. At the east end of
the Mediterranean Sea, the region west
of the Jordan River is split between Israel,
predominately Jewish, and Palestine,
predominately Muslim and Arab, which is made up of
the West Bank and Gaza. We’ll start in Jerusalem,
and in Israel, we’ll visit Tel Aviv, the Sea of Galilee, and the Israeli-controlled
Golan Heights. Then, in the West Bank, we’ll venture to Bethlehem,
Hebron, Nablus, and finish in Ramallah. The Muslims and Jews that
call this region home share a family tree that
goes back nearly 4,000 years. That’s when the patriarch,
or prophet, Abraham had two sons. From Isaac came the Israelites,
and Ismael spawned the Arabs. This ancient ethnic mix
is complicated by religions. Israelites were Jewish. Christians worship Jesus, a Jew who brought
his own message. And today,
most Arabs here are Muslim, a religion that arrived
much later with their prophet, Muhammad,
in the 7th century. Throughout the centuries, this region endured
waves of conquerors, from ancient Romans
to Christian Crusaders to Muslim Ottomans. Until the 20th century, the entire area
was called Palestine, as it was in Roman times. While Muslims generally
outnumbered Jews and Christians, the various communities
ngenerally got along peacefully. In the 20th century,
the Jewish population grew, especially with the creation of the state of Israel
after World War II. Today, the combined population
of Israel and Palestine is about 12 million, roughly half Jews
and half Muslim Arabs and only a couple percent
Christian. In 2012,
the United Nations recognized Palestine as a state. Okay, I know,
this is complicated, and it’s contentious. And I imagine some people
on both sides are already upset with me. But I’m a travel writer,
and the beauty for me is to come here with
an open mind and learn. We’ll visit each side, and we’ll
do it in alphabetical order — first Israel then Palestine. Let’s go. Israel is the size
of New Jersey, with 8 million people, twice
the population of Palestine. While the state of Israel
is young, the Jewish people have
a history here going back 4,000 years. There’s history everywhere, and within a two-hour drive
of Jerusalem, you can take a sweeping tour
of sights illustrating its tumultuous past. 2,000 years ago, Caesarea was
a mighty Roman seaport. Further up the coast is the 12th century Crusader
town of Akko. And in the 16th century, after the return
of Muslim dominance, the Ottoman Turks surrounded
Jerusalem with this mighty wall. And the 20th century
has left reminders of the determined
struggle that built today’s
Jewish state.   In 1947, after the Holocaust
and the end of World War II, the United Nations helped found
the modern state of Israel, and Jews, long dispersed
across the world, returned to their
ancient homeland. In the process, hundreds
of thousands of Palestinians were displaced, and to this day, both people struggle to find
an equitable and peaceful way to share what each consider
their rightful homeland. The dividing of the Holy Land
hasn’t been easy. The 1947 United Nations
plan of partition, creating an independent Jewish state and an independent Arab state, was rejected by the Arabs. Civil war broke out,
which led to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. After a year of fighting,
with Israel mostly victorious, a cease-fire was declared and temporary borders, known as the Green Line,
were established. In the 1960s, Arab-Israeli
relations again deteriorated to the point where
war broke out in 1967. With a quick and decisive
victory in the Six-Days War, Israel increased
its territory substantially. [Gunshot] Later, Palestinians, chafing at the loss of
their land and freedom, staged two uprisings,
or intifadas. [Shouting] Approximately 1,000
Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinian
suicide bombers as violence intensified
during the Second Intifada, from 2000 to 2005. In response, Israel asserted
itself more aggressively, building a controversial fence
or wall around the West Bank in the name of security
from terrorism. The epic stories
of the world’s three great
monotheistic religions have played out on this
tiny piece of real estate. It’s been a difficult mix,
and Jerusalem’s the most contested city
within this contested land.   Jerusalem is a sprawling
and modern city of about 800,000 people. But its core,
The Old City, is home to just 35,000. Its venerable walls
corral a tangle of many of this planet’s
holiest sites. Within a 10-minute walk, you can see the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre, so sacred to Christians… the Dome of the Rock,
revered by Muslims… and the holiest place
in Judaism, the Western Wall. For so many people, Jerusalem is the closest place
on earth to heaven. Much of Jerusalem’s importance
rests upon this holy site, which is both an inspiration
and a flash point for the religions
that share it. Muslims believe Muhammad
journeyed to heaven from here, and they’ve worshipped on
this spot for 1,300 years. Jews teach that here Abraham,
as a test of his faith, was asked to sacrifice
his son. nGod intervened and saved Isaac. They call this place
Temple Mount, believe it to be
the center of the earth, and have worshipped here
for 3,000 years.   A thousand years before Christ, King David united
the 12 tribes of Israel and captured Jerusalem. His son, Solomon, built
the First Temple right here. It was later destroyed,
and the Second Temple was built. Then came the catastrophic year
for the Jews — 70 AD — when the Romans
destroyed their temple and ushered in the Diaspora. That’s when the Jews became
a people without a land and dispersed
throughout the world. The western foundation of this ancient temple complex
survives. Here at what’s called
the Western Wall, Jews mourn a horrible past
and pray for a better future. The square operates as
an open-air synagogue, with men and women
separated by a barrier. The faithful believe
prayers left in cracks between the stones
of the Western Wall will be answered. Bar mitzvahs and festivals
enliven the scene. Holding the Torah high,
joyous families celebrate at the most holy place
in Judaism. [Singing in Hebrew] Radiating out from Temple Mount
is Jerusalem’s Old City, It’s divided into
four quarters — Jewish, Muslim, Armenian,
and Christian. Through the Christian quarter
winds the Via Dolorosa, the route it’s believed Jesus
nwalked as he carried the cross. Pilgrims come from around
Christendom to retrace his steps. Their journey culminates at
nthe site of Jesus’ crucifixion, marked by the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre on Calvary Hill, or Golgotha. Today, the dark,
sprawling church is the most sacred site
in Christendom. Built on the site
believed to be where Jesus died
and was resurrected, pilgrims line up to pray at
the place of the crucifixion. And a few steps away,
under a grand dome, they gather to enter
Jesus’ tomb, or sepulchre and place a candle
where he was buried.   Exploring Jerusalem’s Old City,
with its tight quarters and religious passions, I was
impressed by the diversity, the feeling of community,
and how, all in all, things seem to work together.   The Jewish Quarter
is more orderly and modern
than the other quarters. Much of this area was destroyed
during the 1948 fighting or under the ensuing period
of Jordanian occupation. After Israelis took control
of Jerusalem in 1967, they rebuilt this quarter. While it’s not convenient
or economic to live in this
medieval tangle, devout Jews
find great joy in living here
and raising their families so close to the Western Wall.   The Muslim Quarter, with over half the Old City’s
population, is Arab. Like the Jewish quarter, it stretches out
from Temple Mount, which is crowned by that
glittering Dome of the Rock. Like the Jews worship
at the base of Temple Mount, Muslim’s worship on its top,
in the shadow of the dome, with its intricate geometric
designs in stone and tile fitting regally within its pure
and simple lines. Holy as this spot
is for Muslims, it’s controlled by Israel, and residents of Palestine are generally not allowed
to worship here. Most of those praying here
are Israeli citizens, part of Israel’s
Palestinian minority. Here in the Muslim Quarter, a bustling and labyrinthine
marketplace is popular with local Arabs. Today, on the eve
of a Muslim holiday, the market is
particularly busy.   While wandering
the Muslim Quarter, you may see houses
fortified and festooned with Israeli flags, homes of Zionist families
determined to stake out this bit of the Old City
for their Jewish community. Considering the rich
historic heritage of each of these communities, it’s understandable
that both vie for this sacred real estate. This struggle
over control of Jerusalem is a huge
political challenge.   While complete Muslim control
of Jerusalem is unrealistic, many Arabs envision
an independent Palestinian State with this part of Jerusalem — East Jerusalem —
as their capital. It’s a very contentious issue,
and Israel seems determined to keep Jerusalem whole
and in its control. An icon of the tension is the wall that Israel has
nbuilt between it and Palestine. What Israelis call
a “security fence,” Palestinians consider
an affront to their dignity and a land grab,
as it often reaches over the internationally
agreed upon border nand into Palestinian territory. Just five miles from
the Dome of the Rock is a checkpoint in the wall, where I can walk from Jerusalem
right into Bethlehem. Like at border towns
between rich and poor lands all over the world, each day,
workers with special passes cross the wall on their commute
from the poor side for higher-paying jobs in
the more affluent country As long as times are calm, the West Bank’s wide open
for the adventurous traveler. You don’t need a visa,
the currency’s the same as Israel,
good guidebooks lead the way, and you certainly won’t find
any tourist crowds. Bethlehem, a leading
Palestinian city, is the perfect first stop
in the West Bank. For me, no Holy Land visit
is complete or balanced without crossing the wall and learning
from both narratives — Israeli and Palestinian. Suddenly, there’s not
a yarmulke in sight. Wandering Palestinian
streets and markets, I kept thinking how
easy it is to get here, how little I knew of it, and how rarely visited
this land is. While beloved among Christians as the place where
Jesus was born, Bethlehem is now a mostly
Muslim town. Its thriving market
is a classic Arab souk. The main square
bustles with commerce, and the main traffic circle
comes with a memorial to locals doing time
in Israeli prisons.   Bethlehem’s skyline
is a commotion of both crescents
and crosses, a reminder that the town,
while now mostly Muslim, still has many Christians. While all Palestinians
are Arabs, not all Palestinians
are Muslims. In fact, a small minority
are Arab Christians. Nativity Square marks
the center of Bethlehem. Here the Church of the Nativity
is built upon the spot believed to be
where Jesus was born.   Inside,
you feel the history. Emperor Constantine, the first Christian
Roman emperor, had this church
built in 326. A steady stream of pilgrims
and tourists come here from all over Christendom to remember
that first Christmas and to pray on the spot
where tradition says Jesus was born.   Many assume that Palestinian
or Arab Christians were converted
in modern times, but in fact,
their Christian roots go all the way back to
the time of Christ. By the way, a century ago,
about 20% of all Palestinians
were Christian. Today, that number’s down
to less than 2%, and most of those
live here in Bethlehem. Along with Christians, Muslims also consider this
a holy site. In fact,
for over a thousand years, a mosque has also stood
on Nativity Square.   It’s Friday, and Muslims have
gathered to pray. [Prayer] Travel, especially here
in Palestine, is filled with
opportunities to learn. After prayer, I met a cleric and enjoyed a conversation
about Islam. What do you hope for? And what do you see in
the future here in Palestine? I hope, in whole of the world,
to be one family. -One family.
-One family. We need this for life. No fightings, no killings,
no explosions, no violence, to be good people. Every Friday, I say this message
for everybody. So I hope for everybody, and I say to you,
I like to come to take you, your hand from here to go
with each other to heavens, not alone. -I’m not selfish man.
-Right. I love you, I love him,
I love everybody. I like — This is my religion. When on the road, the more people
I can talk to, the better. To get the most
out of this opportunity to better understand
Palestine, we’re joined by local guide
Kamal Mukarkar. So there’s churches but there’s
mosques also in Bethlehem. KAMAL: Bethlehem is
a very holy city for the Muslims as well as the Christians. For the Muslims, Jesus is the second
important prophet. They also believe in Mary,
they worship her. She has a whole section in
the Koran just named after her. A whole book in the Koran
named after Mary? Yes, exactly, and that’s why she’s
very important for them. nWe’re dropping by Kamal’s place to meet his family and enjoy
an evening together. It’s typical
in Palestinian culture that many generations
live under the same roof. We’re meeting Kamal’s mother,
fiancée, his sister,
and her children. After some good conversation
in the living room, Kamal’s mother calls us
to the dinner table. She’s cooked up
a classic tajine. I think it’s impossible for a traveler to be
hungry in Palestine. The food just keeps on coming. And you have to keep
something on your plate, ’cause if you don’t keep
something on your plate, food, you’ll get another time food. As anywhere,
actually making friends and getting into a home
gives an intimate insight into the everyday worlds
of the people you meet. I think this is a beautiful,
beautiful welcome here. -Sahtein.
-And what is that? Bon appetite. -Sahtein.
-Sahtein. KAMAL: Translated, it’s
“cheers to your health twice,” like two times for your health. STEVES: Two times for
your health,sahtein.   Heading back across
the wall to Jerusalem, the contrasts
between the West Bank and Israel
are immediately obvious. Outside the Old City, we’re immersed in modern
Jerusalem.   Joining locals
in an afternoon stroll down Ben Yehuda Street
in Jerusalem’s New City, we appreciate this culture’s
compelling mix of east and west,
secular and sacred, modern and traditional. About three quarters
of all Israelis are Jewish. But most of these are secular
Jews — non-practicing. About 15% of Israeli Jews
are Orthodox, very religious and living
conservative lifestyles that require them to be apart
in many ways. Entire districts of Jerusalem
are known as ultra-Orthodox. About 20% of the population
are Arab citizens of Israel, generally Palestinians
who never left after the formation of Israel. Christians,
who are mostly Arabs, make up a small
and shrinking minority.   Israel is a melting pot nation
like none other. Nearly half the country
nis first generation immigrants, evident in the cultural makeup
of the soldiers who seem to be everywhere. Nearly all 18 year olds do time
in the military. This service is a kind
of cultural boot camp, as even fresh-off-the-boat
immigrants emerge as good Hebrew-speaking
Israelis. While I found most Israelis
look and live as contemporary
as any modern American, there are corners where
traditions are very strong. This is especially evident
in places of worship and in ultra-Orthodox
neighborhoods. With the help of my Jewish
guide, Abie Bresler, observing the way people dress
comes with cultural insights. Walking down the street, there
are so many different fashions, different ways people dress. BRESLER: Well,
that’s because they express their belonging
to a certain group and following a certain rabbi. Different rabbis set standards of how their followers
should be dressed. STEVES: What does the block
on the forehead indicate? BRESLER: Well, in the Scripture, it says you should always have
the love of God on your mind, so in that capsule, they have a parchment
with that Scripture. STEVES: What’s the significance
of the yarmulke? BRESLER: Jews wear yarmulkes because they are constantly
reminding themselves that God is above them. STEVES: Ah, so everybody
who’s wearing a yarmulke, it’s a constant reminder
their Maker is up above. BRESLER: Definitely. STEVES: Now, you see
a lot of Orthodox, even the little boys,
with long earlocks. BRESLER: Regarding the earlocks,
the Torah is very specific — “Thou shalt not shave
the sides of your face.” And these people take those
words as it is written. STEVES: You notice women are
dressed quite modestly. BRESLER: The Orthodox women
are always dressed modestly. But when they get married, they take it one step upwards, and they cover their hair
in public. Regarding the hats,
it’s part of, actually, the uniform defining
which movement you belong to. So, by looking at somebody, you can tell if he’s Ashkenazi and which movement amongst
the Ashkenazi. Or Sephardi or Lithuanian,
and so on and so forth. STEVES: So there are many
different stripes of Orthodoxy
in the Jewish faith. BRESLER: Definitely. In Jerusalem, 19 amongst
the ultra-Orthodox. STEVES: And it’s like the rabbis
are almost like pop stars. They have their own following.
These are the great teachers. BRESLER: More than pop stars. -More than?
-More than pop stars, sure. Put it this way,
they’re spiritual stars, without the pop. The state of Israel was born,
in part, out of the Holocaust, a defining event in the long
history of the Jews. To appreciate the impact
of the Holocaust, critical in understanding
the psyche of today’s Israel, visit Yad Vashem. This powerful museum
and memorial chronicles
the systematic slaughter of six million Jews
by Nazi Germany.   Its Hall of Names
is a project designed to give every victim
the dignity of simply being named
and recorded. This archive aspires to catalog
and, therefore, remember each of
the six million victims.   Yad Vashem also celebrates the creation of modern Israel. nIt shows the spirit of Zionism, that determination
of those who came both as concentration camp
survivors and refugees from Europe to forge for themselves a state
for the Jewish people. Photographs of the first
settlers show early Zionists returning to
their ancestral homeland, starting as a trickle
in the 19th century and becoming a flood
after World War II.   Today, just a couple
generations later, the skyscrapers of Tel Aviv
stand like exclamation points, declaring,
“We’ve come a long way.” There was a popular slogan
back then — “A land without a people
for a people without a land.” That was inspirational,
but it ignored the reality of the Palestinians
who actually lived here and were displaced with
the creation of Israel. Still, it’s impressive
how the true grit of those early Jewish settlers turned sand dunes into Tel Aviv
and built modern Israel. The historic town of Jaffa, now consumed by the sprawl
of Tel Aviv, was the Ellis Island
of the new state. This was where new arrivals
first set foot in Israel. Much of Jaffa, historically
an important Arab town, was destroyed in 1948
in what Israelis call their “War of Independence.” As in any war,
there are winners and there are losers. And while Israelis celebrate the birth of their nation,
Palestinians call Israel’s Independence Day
“The Day of Catastrophe.” They remember their loss — the destruction of many Arab
nvillages that once thrived here and how hundreds of thousands
of those who fled ended up in refugee camps
over a newly drawn border.   Just a 10-minute drive north of the old stone buildings
of Jaffa are the new glass and steel
buildings of modern Tel Aviv. Gleaming Tel Aviv
feels as modern and busy as any American city its size. While its history
only goes back a century, the original main drag,
Rothschild Boulevard, is lined with
venerable buildings. And Tel Aviv’s beach scene
is filled with a live-for-today vibrancy. In this culture,
food is love, and seems to celebrate
the bounty of the land. We sat down with our Israeli
nguide, Benny, and driver, Kobi, to get an edible lesson in this
part of their culture. Hey, cheers.
L’chaim. L’chaim.
Very good. So, Benny, could you say
this is typical Israeli? Yeah, you can say this
is typical Israeli. Everything that you see here
is grown here locally. STEVES: Now, you could say
this is Israeli, but it’s also Arab cuisine. BENNY: Yes.
We call it now Israeli food, but you can find it in
the Arab countries, you can find it in Lebanon, you
can find it all over the place. Here we have eggplants
with olive oil and tahini. Here we have the tahini itself. Here we have another eggplant
salad with vegetables. That’s the hummus. Very famous hummus
made from chickpeas. This is something special.
This we call tabbouleh. It’s made of burghul and parsley
and cucumbers. Very special, very tasty. It’s okay to reach and dip
your pita bread into it. You dip it in each
of the salads, and that’s the way to do it,
no need of a fork or a knife. And, Kobi, how do you say
bon appétitin Hebrew? -Beteavon.
-Bete… -Beteavon.
-Beteavon. Thank you. -L’chaim.
-L’chaim. L’chaim.   STEVES: Israel is small
and laced by modern freeways. Getting around is easy. Road signs are in three
languages and three scripts. Hebrew and Arabic for Jewish
and Arab citizens of Israel and English for visitors. A short drive up the coastline
takes us to Haifa, a prosperous and open city
famous for its tolerance. Many people here are part
of Israel’s Arab minority. I was impressed at the youthful
and positive energy. It feels like
young Israelis here, whether from Muslim
or Jewish families, are most interested in living free
from the religious and ethnic baggage
of their parents. In a trendy café,
it was hard to tell who’s who. Talking with a local
Arab-Israeli family, we learned that,
while problems persist, they consider
this land their home. Now, what is it like
socially in Haifa, if you’re an Arab-Israeli
with Jewish-Israelis? Is it separate,
or can you mix? Well, we mix in
restaurants, at work, we socialize here and there. But… Some neighborhoods,
some streets are mixed. Some streets.
Not a lot. I used to hear from her that,
once, they were more together. Yeah. Like she had neighbors
that used to… -Really?
-Yeah. To do everything together.
Now, no. STEVES: And what do you see
for the future? For Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews together,
your children, what do you hope for? Everybody hopes for peace and a better life,
but I doubt it. -I doubt it.
-The reality is? The reality is not like that. Even with all the problems
that there is here, this is our roots, you know? We’ll never,
never give it up. With everything
that happens around us. STEVES: That’s beautiful.
I like to hear that. Yes.
We love it here. Heading into the interior
takes us down, 700 feet below sea level,
to the Sea of Galilee. Israel’s primary source
of water, it’s both fed and drained
by the Jordan River. Galilee is popular among
Christian pilgrims. It’s famous as the place where Jesus did his
three years of ministry and where so many Bible stories
were set — from loaves and fishes and Sermon on the Mount,
to Christ walking on water.   When exploring the Holy Land,
your sight-seeing careens from ancient holy sites
to reminders of 20th century strife
and wars. Overlooking the Sea of Galilee stands the Israeli-occupied
Golan Heights. Taken from Syria
in the 1967 war, and now firmly under
Israeli control, a visit here helps explain
Israel’s commitment to holding the high ground.   See, now, a former
Syrian position… Our guide, Benny, show us
the strategic significance of this area
from an old Syrian pillbox. Standing here on
a former Syrian position, one can understand
how vulnerable was the settlements, the villages and the kibbutzim
of Israel before 1967. For a whole generation, the Syrians were here
on the Golan, on the edge of the cliff, targeting and shooting every single village
and kibbutz of ours. Every day, they looked up
to Golan, saying, “Is it going to be a day
of shelling today?” STEVES: Artillery from
this little base — boom. Mortar shells, artillery,
tank shells, machine gun fire. STEVES:
And the Sea of Galilee was the source of the freshwater
for Israel. Still is. BENNY: The Sea of Galilee
was always and still is the most important water
reservoir we have, and that’s why, today, it’s very difficult
for us even to conceive leaving the Golan,
allowing anyone to be here. Above all, we must maintain
our security. The security of the Israelis,
the families, the children. Then we can speak about
all the other things.   Control of land
is the crux of the problem between Israelis
and Palestinians, and occupying the high ground
is more than a military issue, it’s a civilian one, as well. Israel is developing
settlements, fortified communities
on the tops of hills, deep into the West Bank. Essentially Israeli towns, these controversial
developments reach far into what Palestinians consider
their territory. Many Israelis make the case
that developing this land is justified because
the land was unused. And many Jews believe
it’s God’s will that they occupy
Biblical Judea and Samaria, which is what they call
the West Bank.   Roughly half a million
Israeli Jews now live in settlements
in Palestine. These planned
and gated communities come with all the comforts. And with Israeli
government subsidies for housing
and transportation, young Jewish families
can afford to live here and commute from West Bank
settlements back into Israel. As in other democracies, there are disagreements
over government policy, and many moderate Israelis
oppose construction of settlements
in the West Bank. But Government policies
still allow the ongoing construction
of these settlements. I chatted with several settlers
to get their perspectives. And to get another narrative, I talked with
my Palestinian guides, both residents
of the West Bank. Now, there’s a lot
of confusion in America about settlements and so on. Is this a settlement? Is this what you would
consider a settlement? Well, the word “settlement”
has all kinds of connotations. We consider it a city. And just like Seattle’s a city,
so is Ma’aleh Adumim a city. There is some dispute
in the world as to what this should be
and what its status is. Are you settlers? Or what do you —
how do you consider the name? I don’t have name for that. We live in Israel,
this is Israel. Yeah, so this is your town. -Yeah, this is my country.
-Exactly. Now, what is Ma’aleh,
what is Jordan Valley? It’s Israel.
Everything, it’s Israel. Israelis, I’ve heard,
would say, “Well, the land
is unused anyway. It sits on the top
of the hills.” Yeah, that’s —
[Laughs] That’s a good excuse,
but why it’s unused? Because we are not
allowed to use it. I’m sure you have a thousand
dollars in your bank account, and you’re not using it,
you know, so it’s still your money,
you know. -That’s a good analogy.
-Yeah. Whenever you want to use it,
you want to use it. Whenever you don’t want to use
it, you don’t want to use it. It’s our land.
It’s our right. What would you say
to an Arab that says, “This is on the other side of
the line defining the West Bank, and it’s Palestinian territory,
and you don’t belong here.” What would you say to them? I don’t know. My history goes back not to
the line, whatever the line is. My history goes back
thousands of years, and in my history,
this is part of Israel. Why should I leave my country?
I was born and raised here. My grandfather, his grandfather, his great, great, great,
great, great grandfather, and we still here,
we didn’t leave. We do need to find a way
to fix everything, but I don’t know how easy
it’s going to be, and if it’s going to be
possible now. You know that, daily, there are
settlements are buildings, the wall is being built, and the Palestinians
don’t do anything about it. We don’t fight, we don’t do
anything against it. We just want to show the world that we are a people
that want peace. We want to show them we’re accepting this now, because we want to show you
this is not who we are. We are people who want
to achieve something. My hunch is they’ve learned
that there’s only one future, and that is to respect Israel
and not be violent. I don’t know if they’ve learned.
I’m not convinced yet. STEVES: I’m hopeful.
That’s my hope. -That’s my hope.
-That’s your hope. I think we’re all hopeful.
I don’t think we’ve seen it yet. Those settlements
are making these — this idea of us
building the states on that land impossible. If you want peace, if you want
a two-state solution, help us achieving that,
you know. The settlements, for sure,
they don’t help. I know this is the big,
million-dollar question, but do you think the future —
the best future is a two-state solution
or a one-state solution? -You answer.
-I don’t know. I’m not in politics.
I’m a computer programmer. I’m hoping — and that’s part of
the things I’m involved in — to create, plant seeds, hopefully, maybe 10 years,
15 years from now, people will realize
the importance of living together and having one pluralistic
democratic state. You can’t do one country
to Israeli and to Palestine. ‘Cause it’s not going to work,
it’s not going to work. It’s not going to work.
It’s going to make only war. Yes.   Being here, I can see the appeal
of these neighborhoods, especially for young families. But I’ve learned that
these Israeli enclaves embitter the Palestinians
as much as violent resistance embitters Israelis. And many fear that the more
the West Bank is fragmented by Israeli settlements, the more elusive a mutually
agreeable solution to this region’s troubles
will become.   The Palestinian perspective
of the situation is illustrated
by maps like this, showing how their land holdings
are shrinking since the creation of Israel in
1948 with each passing decade. And there’s the wall,
begun in 2003 by Israel to defend its border
with the West Bank. Israeli’s say this is
a security fence, built after losing
a thousand of its citizens to suicide bombers
in the previous decade. And they claim
it’s been effective, noting that,
since its construction, there’s been almost
no terrorism. Palestinians counter by saying
that the wall was built with the pretense of security. They say it’s actually
a land grab designed to hobble
a Palestinian state. The fence or wall, which is over 300 miles long, generally runs well within
Palestinian territory. And it’s nearly twice as long as the border
it claims to defend, redrawn in order
to secure settlements, aquifers,
good farmland, and holy places within
the West Bank for Israel.   While it’s landscaped and can look attractive
from the Israeli side, the wall is unfinished
and feels demoralizing from the Palestinian side.   This struggle
has been difficult, with killings
and tragedy on both sides. While one man’s terrorist may be
another man’s freedom fighter, the fact is,
in recent decades, both sides have
suffered terribly. Israeli Jews have been
killed by Palestinians, and Palestinians have
been killed by Israelis. I can certainly understand
Israel’s need for security, but walls are designed
to keep people apart, and to me, that’s
part of the problem. I felt that young generations
on both sides want to connect, but with this barrier, which many call
“the separation wall,” people connecting
to find common ground is not an option.   Beyond the infrastructure
of conflict, it’s the treasured land
that defines Palestine. Rejoined by our
Palestinian guide, Kamal, our first stop is
Battir Natural Park, famed for its hikes
through olive groves and ancient terraces. Here in the Holy Land, the land itself is holy
to its inhabitants, and for Palestinians,
the olive tree is a kind of lifeblood
for their culture. KAMAL: We are in Palestine. This is Palestine here. These are the biblical terraces
of Battir. And we call them biblical
because they’re over 2,000 years of age. My ancestors came here
and carved these terraces into the mountains. It was the only way
for them to survive. You know,
the mountains are hilly. You need the terraces
to plant on them. They did that at that time,
and guess what? We exist to today.
We’re still here. Only though them. That’s why I love this place. This tells me
this is where I belong, tells me this is Palestine. STEVES: What do olives mean to
the Palestinian people? KAMAL: Olives,
they’re the best trees. They’re the poor man’s tree
because the olive tree gives without taking. The olive tree gives us
the olives without even needing us to do
anything for it. It’s October,
and across the land, as they have since
ancient times, families gather in
the olive groves for the harvest. Children are let out of
school for the week so they can work the trees
with their parents. In the West Bank, 60% of the trees
are olive trees. To Palestinians,
the beloved olive tree represents their past
and their future. They say,
“It was planted by our grandfathers
for us to eat, and we plant it for
our grandchildren to eat.”   In nearby villages,
families take their olives to the communal press
to make oil. The traditional technique
survives, though boosted by
hard-working machinery, as a busy crew in
oil-soaked shirts meets the demands of
the harvest season. Rounds of olive paste are
pressed into a weeping mass. The fresh oil,
after filtering, becomes a golden liquid poured
into jugs to be taken home.   As if rising out of
those ancient olive groves, the ancient city of Hebron,
with over 200,000 people, is the largest city
in the West Bank, and it’s the bustling
commercial capital, with nearly a third of
the entire West Bank economy.   Just strolling the streets, dodging cars, and mixing with the people, I feel the energy
of an economy that seems
primed to grow. Commerce spills out
everywhere. Exploring the market streets, I’m immersed in
Palestinian life. Experiences like these
are why we travel.   Along with all
the market activity and commerce comes high security
and tension. That’s because this city
has the tomb of Abraham, so sacred to both Israelis
and Palestinians. Here, Jews live literally
atop Palestinian Muslims, nas the two communities struggle to be near the tomb
of their common patriarch. While the city is
mostly Palestinian, a determined
and well-protected community of several hundred
Israeli settlers has staked out
the high ground. The tension between
the communities is illustrated by a wire net that protects the Arab food
and clothing market from the garbage of
the Jewish residents above. Israeli troops are posted here
in the name of security. Turnstiles and checkpoints
are a way of life. A no-man’s land with
Jewish political art decorating closed buildings
divides the two communities.   And it’s all about this very
sacred and complicated site — an ancient structure
capped by a medieval church which now functions both
as a mosque and a synagogue holding the tombs of
Abraham and his family. The focal point for
both faiths is this, the tomb of Abraham. Poignantly,
access for the feuding descendants of Abraham
is divided by a pane of bullet-proof glass. On one side of the glass, Jews worship in the synagogue, the second-most holy place
in Judaism. It’s enlivened with singing,
studying, and praying among the tombs
of their great patriarchs.   The other half is a mosque,
where Muslims worship before their shared patriarch
with equal fervor. Its exquisite minbar, where the imam stands
to give sermons, is a rare original
from the 12th century, with inlaid wood
and no nails. Unfortunately,
this holy place’s history has a tragic aura.   For centuries,
Jews were generally not allowed
to worship here. Then, after the Israeli victory
in the war of 1967, the space was shared
by Jews and Muslims. But during a Muslim service
in 1994, an Israeli settler
entered here with his gun and killed 29
Palestinian worshippers. Since then, this holy space
has been divided, emblematic of
the difficult challenges that permeate the Holy Land.   As a visitor traveling from
Palestinian city to city on fine modern freeways, it’s easy to underestimate
the complexity of the region and the extent
of Israeli control. Palestinians
living in the West Bank, while nominally autonomous, are living under
an Israeli occupation. Israel has granted sections
of the West Bank various degrees
of autonomy. Palestinian cities
are generally Palestinian-run nwith their own security forces. These islands of
relative independence are surrounded by
zones controlled by Israeli military. Most of the West Bank
population is in Palestinian-controlled
cities, but Israel still controls most
of the roads and most of the land.   If there’s
a problem or unrest, Israel can activate
checkpoints like this all across the country and stop all traffic
in the West Bank. Within minutes,
they can lock down and isolate every Palestinian city. Palestinian cars
have green plates. Israelis have
yellow plates. Generally, most West Bank roads
are open to all. But when times are tense,
checkpoints are manned and only yellow plates
are allowed. Things are pretty quiet
during our visit, and we’re able
to move fast and free, even with our green plates,
throughout the West Bank. Some of the most dramatic
and evocative scenery here is in the vast and arid
Judean Desert. Hiding in folds of
the desert are fabled monasteries which,
since ancient times, have given hermits
the isolation of their dreams.   Our ears pop as we continue
deeper into the desert and drop below sea-level. The road ends at the lowest
place on earth, the fabled Dead Sea. Palestinians living
in the West Bank have no access to waterfront. Officially, there’s no seaside,
riverbank, or lakefront in the West Bank. Israel adjusted the border to control the entire
Dead Sea shoreline. But when tensions are low, Palestinian families are allowed to enjoy some
Israeli Dead Sea resorts.   Approaching any
Palestinian city, a bold, red sign
makes it clear — you’re leaving the realm
of the Israeli military and entering the zone controlled by Palestinian
security. This comes with a checkpoint,
sometimes manned, sometimes unmanned
in a simple drive-through. Regardless, there’s always
a watchtower, reminding those
coming and going that Israel is keeping
an eye on things. Nablus is the second city of
the West Bank in population, with a fine modern center
and a long history. In Ancient times the Roman
Emperor named it the new city —
that’s Neapolis or Nablus. The people of Nablus are
relatively conservative. And immersed in this vibrant
city’s commercial commotion, I found simply being
part of the scene a powerful experience. Famed or notorious
for its fighting spirit, the city has walls crusty
with political posters. These young local men, considered terrorists
or freedom fighters, depending on your perspective, are mostly in Israeli prisons
or dead. Yet, they live on with posters
that celebrate their commitment
to Palestinian independence. As these posters fade, I’m hoping that
what seems to me like a new spirit of
nonviolence to address
the region’s problems reflects a permanent shift
in Palestinian strategy. A recurring symbol throughout
Palestine is the key. Many towns display a big key as a reminder of
a big issue here — refugees, the hundreds of
thousands of Palestinians who were displaced with
nthe creation of Israel in 1948. Here in the West Bank,
over 60 years later, many refugee camps
are still filled with Palestinian
families who fled when their land became Israel. To this day, these people —
whose parents and grandparents, thinking they’d be
returning home soon, grabbed their keys
and fled back in 1948 — treasure those old keys and are
happy to tell their story. MAN: Around the 19th
of October, 1948, my family was forced
to leave their village. They closed their house
and moved away, waiting for two weeks, and then
they will be coming back. 65 years later,
we are in a refugee camp, still waiting for this return,
which never happened. Two-thirds of Palestinian people
became refuges in 1948, dispersed in 59 refugee camps, and most of them have
these old rusty keys for doors that do
or do not exist anymore. Among the many refugee camps
in the West Bank, the biggest,
with over 20,000 people, is Balata,
just outside of Nablus. The 10′ x 10’ platting, marking where tents were posted
back in 1948, survives. Only now the tents are gone, replaced by multistory
cinder block tenements. Throughout the world, there are
refugee camps like this. Wandering these lanes, I can’t imagine living
in such dense population… the lack of privacy… Being a parent with children
and little money… the frustration
of an uncertain future. For over 60 years,
the United Nations has maintained a calming
and helpful presence. When the UN-run-and-funded
school lets out, the streets flood with children
nhappy to practice their English with a rare traveler venturing
into their world. [All shouting] [Steves laughs] A women’s co-op provides
training and helps kick-start cottage industries
run by traditional artisans. And the commerce enlivening
the main street of the camp is like that of a town. We’re joining little Mustafa, who’s been sent by his mother
to get chicken for dinner. [Chicken squawking]   Around here, pride can come
in little triumphs, and Mustafa is heading home
with dinner for the family.   Life goes on in these camps, as the refugees wait for
a resolution to their plight.   It’s time to move on to our
final stop in the West Bank. It’s October,
and the landscape is pretty brown
after a scorching summer. Today’s vistas feel timeless. In fact, I can imagine
Abraham, Jesus, or Muhammad each traversing
these same valleys.   The city of Ramallah functions as the de facto
capital of Palestine.   While most Palestinians
consider Jerusalem their rightful capital,
so do Israelis, and sharing the city seems
unlikely for now. That leaves Ramallah to host
the Palestinian government and international agencies. Adjacent the president’s
headquarters stands the tomb of
Yasser Arafat.   While he certainly has
plenty of detractors, this Palestinian statesman, who led the PLO
from 1969 until 2004, is without a doubt the father
of modern Palestine. Call him what you like,
people here celebrate Arafat as the man who did more
than anyone else to raise awareness of
the Palestinian struggle for independence. With its international
professionals and university students,
Ramallah has an almost cosmopolitan energy you feel
nowhere else in Palestine. Whether coming together
at the Square of the Lions or browsing down
a stylish shopping street, Ramallah helps me envision
a peaceful and prosperous Palestine of the future. Nearby,
at Bir Zeit University, with its beautiful campus
and 9,000 students, you feel a younger generation
working hard and engaged. A stroll through the campus
gives me a chance to connect with students
and learn a bit about both their culture
and their aspirations. In a university like this, are there more men
or more women studying? Women, I believe,
women, yes. STEVES: What is it like for
a woman in Palestine? They live freely,
like womens in the world. Yes, we can do everything today. We can go out together,
and no judgmental, nothing. This feels so free
and beautiful here, and you have such a future,
but you’re living behind a wall. What is that like? It is like I don’t see
the whole of my country. I can’t go to Jerusalem, also. I can’t go to the sea.
I can’t see the sea. I don’t know my country. STEVES: Because it’s on
the other side of the wall? Yeah. There was
a history of violence during different struggles, but I feel today that
there’s a recognition that violence is not
a winning strategy. What is the thinking
in Palestine about violent resistance now? For us to stick together,
to be together, to be one unite, you know. And this is our victory to us, for us to keep together,
to stay together, and never let them make us feel,
at the end, that, yes, to accept the idea
that we are the bad guys. ‘Cause we are not. So what is the hope for —
for the future? Of course, to live in peace,
to have peace and to be — To have all your family around,
to go abroad whenever you want. We’re very happy
that you’re coming and give you these points
and these thoughts about us, because we know that Americans
and public in general, they know the bad idea about us. So it’s our pleasure
to have this opportunity to give our thoughts
and who we really are. STEVES: Free women
with a good future. -Yes.
-Insha’Allah. Insha’Allah, insha’Allah. STEVES: Traveling here
humanizes the Holy Land. On both sides of the wall, nyou feel the religious passion, the historical suffering, and the national pride. And you meet
endearing people. Good people motivated
by fear and love. Land is treasured, land is disputed, and land is
the basis of dreams. Both communities
have inflicted pain, and both communities
have endured pain. And peace is possible
only when both sides move beyond the past
and make real concessions. The United States
is clearly a stakeholder, and it’s hard
to imagine a roadmap to peace in the Holy Land
without American involvement. There’s no easy answer. Yet, traveling here, I feel
there’s a growing realization that neither side
is going away, violence is not the answer, and everyone will be better off
when dignity, security, and economic justice
are provided to all. I know the hurdles are high, but after hearing
both narratives, I can envision a peaceful
and prosperous Holy Land, with a secure Israel
and a free Palestine. And I’m hopeful.   In this land, so treasured by
Jews, Muslims, and Christians, I’m reminded that the prophets
of each of these religions taught us to love our neighbors. And the lessons learned from
traveling here in the Holy Land can inspire us all
to strive for that ideal. I’m Rick Steves. Until next time,
keep on traveling. Shalom, salaam,and peace.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *