It is challenging to try to relate the relevant history of the area now known as the Palestinian territories without offending someone. Depending on the point at which you begin the narrative, the balance of things, rights and claims can look very different.
So many accounts have been written, but it is unlikely that anyone has written or will write an “objective” and definitive summary that would be accepted by everyone.
Nonetheless, I’m attempting to relate some of the history that had led to the unique state of law and justice in the territory under the present-day Palestinian Territories.
I was there as a volunteer for an NGO dedicated to agricultural development along with my friend Ayame and my mother, and it was an experience that truly made me go deep in the history and discover the best expression of human being’s capacity to react against difficulties.
But before digging into my wonderful adventure, let’s take a glance at its history for a second.
The land variously called Palestine is small (5,640 sq km the West Bank and 360 sq km the Gaza Strip at present) and has been settled continuously for tens of thousands of years. Archeologists have found evidence of agriculture at Jericho dating from before 10,000 B.C., making it one of the oldest sites in the world (reason why we visited). During its long history, the area, population and ownership of the territory have varied greatly.
Of the territory, the land within the recognized borders of Israel makes up of about 78% of the total. The remainder has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. Part of this area is under the autonomous control of the Palestinian National Authority.
The territory became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1517, and remained so until the end of the World War I in 1918.
This is a crucial moment: here is when it is good to start the chronology of events that has determined the state of law in the areas now considered as Palestinian.
In 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference, much of the Ottoman Empire was divided into Mandates, all territories that were assigned to the victors of the war.
However, the most determining demands were those of the British and French demands, rather than the views of the land’s inhabitants. The British were anxious to keep Palestine away from the French, and decided to ask for a mandate that would establish a Jewish national home of the Balfour declaration (will be detailed later), assuming the Jews would support the British claim. The Arabs opposed the idea of a Jewish national home on the territory, considering that all the areas being discussed were theirs, also bearing in mind that the Balfour Declaration expressly declared that the already-settle population should be respected.
By this moment, many had recognized the inevitability of conflict between Jews and Arab Palestinians over possession of the territory, the attempt of Britain to keep its presence in Palestine through self-governing institutions, the Jewish fear of the Arab majority, and the Arabs unwillingness to accept any Jews at all.
Jewish immigration to the region swelled in the 1930s, driven by persecution in Eastern Europe, even before the rise of Nazism. The rise of Hitler in Germany added to the long tide of immigration. Palestinians resisted Jewish immigration and demanded their independence which led to widespread rioting, later known as the Arab Revolt in 1936, which was characterized by violence on both sides and lasted until after World War II. In 1947, Great Britain turned the Palestine issue over to the United Nations, which issued an infinite amount of resolutions aiming to solve the difficult situation.
One of these resolutions, nº181 issued in 1947 aimed to divide the land into two approximately equal portions, but since Israel proclaimed its Independence in 1948, it expanded its occupation to 77% of the territory, including East Jerusalem.
Over half of the indigenous Palestinian population was expelled. Jordan and Egypt took control the other parts of the territory that would have been assigned by the resolution to the Palestinian Arab State (West Bank and Gaza Strip).
In the aftermath of the 1967 war, Israel occupied the parts of Palestine that had been under Jordanian and Egyptian control. The war brought about a second exodus of Palestinians, estimated at half a million. Although UN Resolution nº242 (1967) called on Israel to withdraw from territories it occupies, the situation remains the same.
The Palestinian territory has never been a formal, independent and sovereign state and since 1967, has been under various levels of military occupation and control by Israel. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was created in 1994 as a result of the signing of the Oslo Agreements, being in charge of governing the West Bank and Gaza strip until a final status agreement is negotiated with Israel.
So, back to my adventure!
I was meant to reach the town of Beit Sahour, suburb of Bethlehem, where I will be working for the next 2 weeks.
Departing from Jerusalem, a taxi drove us along the road to Bethlehem, for about half an hour.
The landscape is dry and simple: in the whole territory there are few roads, getting lost is almost impossible.
Along the road to Bethlehem stands the Separation Wall. A highly controversial 8-meters tall concrete wall constellated with massive watchtowers that runs for 670 km along the possible border of a Palestinian state.
Israeli government justifies the wall as essential for security reasons, so that Palestinians are prevented from entering Israel.
Beit Sahour is little town east of Bethlehem, little piece of Holy Land claimed by Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Franciscans and Muslims. The curiosity about this town is that it is believed is to be close to the place where the New Testament announces the birth of Jesus.
My volunteer experience starts right here, in Beit Sahour.
Bottles-preserving project. Used to both save the bottles found as garbage and used as element for a wall that will enclose a room used as a green house.
Our goal with Bustan Qaraaqa was this: plant as many plants and trees as we can, make the best of water usage (very scarce resource in the West Bank), and somehow invent a way to increase the agricultural system, such the aquaponic program below:
The tanks contains fish, whose water serves as nutrition supply for all kinds of plants, including the most exotic ones. In fact, salad grown out of this system proves to be greener, fresher and richer than a regular one.
The gang at Bustaan Qaraaqa 🙂 after a day of hard work.
The guy below is a true hero in the West Bank, Abd A-Rabbeh. He lives in a tiny farm in Al-Walaja, on the verge of a hill facing East Jerusalem.
Very charismatic and dedicated to simple farming life, Abd defends his little farm from the constant warnings of land confiscation imposed by the Israeli government. In several occasion he has found burned trees when he had been away for a few hours.
Inside his cave, he holds so far 5 guests-book with thousands of visitors’ signatures.
The Palestinian territory, particularly the West Bank, has a unique geographic location that results in a variety of ecosystems.
The West Bank territory is rapidly degrading due to the following factors: climate change, political and socioeconomic limitations imposed by the Israeli government, mismanagement of land, scarcity of water, industrialization and rapid growth of the population. Because of its naturally arid soil combined with a lack of proper irrigation and absence of proper management of natural resources, the West Bank faces problems of desertification, serious economic crisis, water scarcity, lack of basic sanitary infrastructures, and centralization of peoples in smaller spots of land, which are likely to escalate as a result of its current situation.