Israel's West Bank Segregated Roads

- by Fred Schlomka -

A letter to American Friends
The January 2019 opening of Israel's new segregated West Bank highway was a wakeup call to all defenders of liberty and democracy, yet it's unclear if the international public, especially Jewish Americans, fully understand the implications of transportation segregation in the Occupied West Bank. Does the Israeli rationale that separate roads will keep its Jewish population safe, really make any sense?

Or does it make no more sense than a similar 'solution' to political violence in the USA.  For instance - Imagine if there had been a completely different aftermath to the 1964  race-related Harlem riots that tore through New York City. Imagine if the city had planned and implemented a system of segregated highways in order to keep white New Yorkers 'safe' from the violence of people of color? Would that have been a rational course of action?

Yet this is exactly what the Jerusalem city government has managed to do, in collaboration with the Israeli Ministry of Transportation. Route 4370 by-passing Anata is part of the north-east ring road around Jerusalem. It is a 4-lane highway with a 25-foot concrete wall running down the middle, with two lanes on each side. One side is exclusively for Israelis, mostly Jewish settlers, and the other side is for Palestinian Arabs.

The Israeli side of the road enables Jewish settlers to save time driving to Jerusalem from their West Bank communities in northern Judea and southern Samaria. However their Palestinian neighbors are denied this access, and are funnelled into the Arab side of the road, which after several miles is closed off and tunnelled under the Israeli side, eventually exiting after several miles only into Palestinian West Bank communities, east and south of Jerusalem.

Ar Ram Segregation Wall alongside Route 60 in Jerusalem
This is the second road of this type to be built in Jerusalem . A section of Route 60, from Jerusalem to Ramallah, was a 4-lane boulevard until 2007, when Israel built a 25-foot concrete wall down the middle of the highway. In this case, the wall serves not only to segregate the road, but also to divide the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ar Ram. Drivers on the west side of the road have free access to Jerusalem and Israel, whereas Arab drivers on the other side of the same road are only able to access West Bank areas managed by the Palestinian Authority.

To continue the US analogy - imagine if the riots of the 1960s did not culminate in civil rights reforms for African Americans, and the violence in New York and other cities had escalated. Imagine if the roads leading to Harlem and the south Bronx had been blocked off by the government, and the only way to go from one neighborhood to another was to enter the 'Black Only' side of the Harlem River Drive, with no exits except to reach the other ‘colored’ neighborhood. To make matters worse, New York City and New York state governments, and Washington, declared this to be an acceptable solution for ‘peaceful coexistence’, much like the old Jim Crow laws were deemed by some to be acceptable in other parts of the USA. Imagine . . .

Israel calls these routes, 'Fabric of life' roads , putting an Orwellian spin in the middle of an ideology that segregates people on the basis of religion. Similarly in the USA, segregationists used to refer to the concept of ‘separate but equal’, which of course it never was, as it is not in Jerusalem or the West Bank.

Route 4370 by-Pass road showing the Wall down the center
These roads are part of a long-standing policy of segregation by successive Israeli governments that has created a system of Arab reservations in the West Bank, populated mostly by stateless people who need permits to move outside their communities. The isolated reservations are surrounded by Israeli settler villages and towns with Jewish populations who have passports and full access to the rest of the country and the world.

In Hebrew the Israeli government calls its West Bank policies ‘Hafrada’ (הפרדה), which translates as ‘separation’. The translation of ‘separation’ in Africaans is ‘Apartheid’.

Keep in mind that the US street violence of the 1960s was largely tempered by the civil rights reforms. The conscience of white people finally motivated Congress to vote for structural political reform, eventually resulting in complete equality for all citizens – at least under Federal Law. Or maybe they just got scared enough to ‘grant’ equal rights to everyone, or perhaps a little of both.

Israelis are not motivated to follow this path, and the increasingly strident Zionist ideology of the state requires the maintenance of a Jewish majority at all costs, in order to continue the veneer of democracy. However this veneer has become wafer thin due to the continuing curtailment of basic freedoms and the opening of yet another segregated road.
- Fred Schlomka lives in Israel/Palestine and is Managing Partner of Green Olive Tours.


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Your guide to the top 5 mixed parties in Israel and Palestine!

- by Alex Jones -

1. Anna Loulou (Jaffa)

What a tragedy! After nearly a decade of service to those who believe in peaceful acceptance of the other, Anna Loulou management recently announced they will be forced to close due to issues around noise and crowd management. The boisterous groups who drink and smoke outside most nights of the week were great for building atmosphere but apparently not so popular with the increasingly gentrified neighbours! Owned by a diverse group of partners in old Jaffa, what Anna Loulou lacks in size it makes up for in energy. They celebrate a wide variety of musical styles and host great regular nights like Arabs Do It Better, All That Jazz and Latina Palestina. They have always explicitly tried to appeal to a crowd of mixed ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation, though the ever-larger groups of kids on Birthright trips are a far cry from the underground early days. They reject terms like coexistence and instead focus on diversity of experience. You have just 3 weeks left to experience this place in its original home but rumour has it they will be reopening again soon in a new venue. Keep your eyes on this blog as we will be happy to do some late-night research on your behalf whenever the new venue opens!

2. Kabareet (Haifa)

As much as Tel Aviv is the region’s nightlife capital, nowhere can compete with Haifa’s Arabic and mixed parties. It is the one city where you will regularly see Arab and Jew on the same dance floor thinking nothing of it. Of a long list of great options, Kabareet stands out as our top pick. This is the national focal point of Palestinian electronic music and the fabulously run-down building covered in old movie posters is a hipster’s delight. With public transportation running seven days a week and less political attention on it than bigger cities like Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, the relaxed atmosphere at Kabareet and across the city’s venues make this a special place. Coffeeshop Rai, café Masada and Elika art bar are all worth a mention too.

3. Baladna (Jish)

This place is a real hidden gem. Jish is a mixed Muslim and Maronite Christian village in the Galilee, sitting in the foothills of Mount Meron. It is a beautiful place to visit in any season, but the atmosphere, food and drink on offer at Baladna would be reason enough to come no matter how it looked! This beautiful Ottoman-era building is bristling with character, serves modern versions of classic, local dishes and often has live music. The bar staff are generous with the drinks and you are very likely to find both local Arabs and Jews enjoying this place together any evening you visit.

4. Snow Bar (Ramallah)

Okay, this one is a bit of a stretch, considering that Snow Bar is in the middle of Ramallah, itself in the middle of Area A (an area Israelis are prohibited from entering under loose IDF regulations). But there a tonnes of internationals here, and more and more young, left-wing Jews from Israel are letting their curiosity get the better of them and choosing to visit the West Bank too. Places like Snow Bar are a good reason to come. This place has a pool, big outdoor seating area, serves good food and great drinks at half the price they would be served across the Green Line. Ramallah is often compared to Tel Aviv because - relative to what is around them - they are young, fun, liberal bubbles. Ramallah gets international nightlife attention (Nicholas Jaar played a gig at the Grand Park Hotel last year) that nowhere else in the West Bank can compete with and Snow Bar is a good place to start exploring this side of Palestinian culture.

5. Liwan (Nazareth)
Nazareth is a tiny but mighty hub for Arab music and nightlife. There is a burgeoning rock music scene and some great little places in the old city that unfortunately many tourists overlook. The typical visiter to the city comes on a rapid pilgrimage to a few churches yet there is much more than meets the eye here. Liwan was founded by two locals and a German in 2016 as a cultural space and cafe. By number five on the list you must be exhausted after so many great late nights so this may not be the best place to party! But over a Palestinian beer or two, at Liwan you will have challenging political discussions, hear fantastic local music, and rub shoulders with open minded Muslims, Christians, Jews and more.  They can also point you in the direction of Alreda, another nice mixed spot to eat, drink and chill nearby which gets an honourable mention.


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Why is Christmas on the 25th of December?

- by Alex Jones - 

When I was a kid, we celebrated Christmas by opening gifts on morning of the 25th of December. I never questioned this, and it seemed the most natural thing to do considering everyone around me did the same thing and this was marked on our calendars as ‘Christmas Day’. But I later learnt that for many Christians, families have their biggest celebration on the 24th of December. I was even more shocked to learn later that depending on which branch of Christianity is most prevalent where you are, you may celebrate on January 6, 7, 18 or 19!

Christmas lights and the Nativity Church
Yesterday in Bethlehem was the Orthodox celebration of Christmas. The Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church makes a journey from the Mar Elias Monastery in Jerusalem – thought to be near the spot where a heavily Mary rested on her way to Bethlehem – towards the Nativity Church in Manger Square – thought to be the spot where she then gave birth.

Incidentally, he crosses the West Bank barrier through a special gate, build expressly for this purpose, and his procession recently has been greeted much less warmly by Palestinian locals. The church has recently been ‘forced to liquidate some assets’. Read: selling a large quantity of land in prime strategic locations to Jewish settlers. Much of the land was originally sold by Palestinians to the church assuming they would keep it safe and a lot of locals feel betrayed that it is now in the hands of settlement movements considered illegal by the international community.

But why do we celebrate Christmas on this date at all? Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Jesus was born on this date, or even that he was born in winter. In fact, it seems unlikely considering the shepherds were sleeping in the fields while their flocks grazed under the chilly December skies. You can visit the Shepherds’ Fields church on our Bethlehem tour which is said to have been built on the spot where this happened and anyone who has been there with us recently knows it’s not an ideal place to camp out in mid-winter!

One theory is that when Constantine converted to Christianity in 313, his subjects throughout the Roman Empire were expected to follow suit. It must have been hard to take away their beloved Pagan shrines, festivals and traditions and so many of the Christian equivalents were adapted and put on top. One of the largest festivals was Saturnalia, which honoured the god Saturn. It was held on 17 December of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities through to 23 December. One theory is that Christmas was celebrated on the evening of the 24th or the 25th to compensate for banning Saturnalia.

Another theory suggests an astrological metaphor. The night of the 21st-22nd is the shortest of the year, known as the winter equinox. For two more nights the sun rises only an imperceptible amount to an ancient astronomer, and the third night, from the 24th to the 25th, is the first when many believed it rose again. This is of course symbolic of Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection three days later and may have been why the 25th was chosen as the date to celebrate Christmas.

But this doesn’t account for the date discrepancies between the various Churches. It is true that many Orthodox countries like Russia used the Julian, rather than the Gregorian calendar, which are about a week apart from one another. But even if the name of the day is different, an event in the sky still takes place on the same moment everywhere on the planet!

Assyrian Orthodox Church in Bethlehem
The best explanation comes from a tradition that says that Christ’s death occurred on the same day of the year as his miraculous conception. If we work backwards from mid-April the year he was crucified, and assume that even though he had no human father he did nevertheless spend 9 months in the womb, his date of birth would be approximately 33 years earlier, on December 25. The Orthodox Easter is about a week later than the Latin Easter, so the Christmas date shifts too.

Whatever the reason, it does give open-minded pilgrims, and cities like Bethlehem, an excuse to celebrate one event for nearly a month! If you missed the first two Christmases in Bethlehem, all is not lost, because the Armenian Christmas rounds the festivities out, on January 18. And of course, Bethlehem is a great city to visit year-round, Christmas time or not.


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