Okay, stream of consciousness rants aside, we are back on the bus to Ramallah. The wall we are driving next to is what separates the West Bank from what is considered Israel Proper, and it is a structure of many names.
This is a boundary that runs the length of the West Bank "border," even though at certain parts, the wall infringes upon what is considered Palestinian territory (according to the 1967 Green Lines previously mentioned). In Hebrew, Jews call this wall the "separation barrier," "separation wall," or "security fence," the last of which refers to the parts of the barrier that is actually a fence rather than a wall. The "security" part of that name is called this way because Israelis believe that the wall has actually done a lot to help with the security issues; once the wall went upon, the number suicide bombings went down. People said that they attended more weddings than funerals after the barrier was built.
Arabs call it the "apartheid fence," "apartheid wall," "annexation wall," "colonization wall," or "occupation wall," where the last few are talking about their view that Israel will slowly encroach upon, further occupy, and annex the already small Palestinian territories. Third parties try to keep it more neutral, with names like the "West Bank wall" or "Armistice Agreement Line." Again, you can see how people on all sides choose to call the same structure by different names.
There is a lot of graffiti on the Palestinian side of this wall, usually in protest of the construction. Near the town of Bethlehem, there are some well-known graffiti paintings, including a Banksy ones. Some compare the West Bank wall to the Berlin wall, painting phrases like "ich bin ein Berliner," or "I am a Berliner" on the wall.
Back to the bus, once again. We drive past many established Palestinian refugee camps, such as the Al-Amari Camp. When Palestinians were driven out of their land in 1948 and again in 1967, there were upwards of one million Palestinians who adopted refugee status, either within the West Bank and Gaza or in a neighboring country.
A very quick tangent about other Palestinian refugees: some actually escaped to Latin/South America. Chile houses the largest Palestinian population (around half a million people today, descendants of those who fled during the exodus) in the world--outside of the Middle East, of course. A lot of these communities speak Arabic almost exclusively, so you'll just have random pockets of Arabic language in culture in the tropics of South America.
On a more serious note, the Palestinian refugee crisis is a very difficult one to deal with. The Arab League recommended, at the beginning of the exodus, for Palestinians to keep their refugee status--meaning their kids are born as refugees rather than citizens of whichever host country they are in. To this day, the Palestinian refugee status is the only refugee status that can be inherited; anywhere else, a kid born to a refugee is a citizen to a country, not a refugee. The reason the Palestinian refugee crisis is still so urgent is because of this status inheritance.
Originally, the Arab League had an optimistic goal: the Palestinian identity would remain intact, even among refugees, so that one day Palestinians can return to their homeland of Palestine. However, because of this, the host countries of refugees choose to isolate refugees and keep them in refugee camps instead of having them assimilate into the countries' societies, which they could have easily done.
Now, seventy years later, Palestinian refugee children are still being isolated from their host country communities; these children have never seen the land of Palestine, yet they are told they must only live to return to this homeland. Many of the original refugees of the exodus aren't even alive anymore because this issue has been dragged on for so long. The 2015 census shows that there are over 5 million people with the status of "Palestinian refugee," and the number has only grown since then.
Besides the refugee camps we saw in the streets of Ramallah, we saw poverty that wasn't present just a few miles to the east and south--just over the West Bank wall. We saw some obviously-named knock off brands of Western companies, like "Star & Bucks" instead of "Starbucks." We saw people living in cramped quarters, quite literally right on top of each other. The streets were dirtier than in Jerusalem, and my heart hurt for the Palestinians.
(picture of Stars & Bucks taken by Cassidy Childs)
I previously alluded to Palestinians who commute to work in Jerusalem every morning. These hard workers have to wake up at the crack of dawn to start their long commute--not long in physical distance, but in the number of hours it sometimes takes to get across the wall. They work jobs in Jerusalem because it pays better, and they are better equipped to support their family.
The Palestinian Authority depends heavily on Israel's economy to have their own, but it's scarcely enough to support such a large population. If, right now, the land were to become one united state, there would be more Arabs than Israelis. However, the wealth is extremely unevenly distributed, and Palestinian civilians offer suffer the consequences of their government's actions--some which they don't even agree with.
There is a lot of nationalistic pride, of course, but at the end of the day, people want the administration that puts food on the dinner table. In Gaza, Hamas is an authority that does this for people, which is why Hamas was "democratically" elected there--more on that later. In the West Bank, the PA is scared to hold another election because Hamas might actually win the popular vote, though no one really knows where loyalties lie, since both administrations have their ups and downs.
After we visited the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, we went to meet with a representative from it. He was the ex-minister of agriculture in the PA, and he had a thing or two to say about the conflict. In the next section, I will be talking about that!