Yesterday's visit to Kalkiliya was a fascinating window into life under Occupation. Kalkiliya lies at the westernmost tip of the West Bank, just 12 kilometers from the Mediterranean at the narrowest part of Israel.
A small private group from England, organized by ToursInEnglish.com, spend most of the day in this beleaguered town of 45,000. After passing the Israeli army gatekeepers of the only entrance to Kalkiliya, the group spent an interesting hour with members of a local self-help organization learning about the challenges of life in this prison city, surrounded by 8-meter high walls and formidable fences.
Much of the discussion centered around the lack of funds for any meaningful services to be offered to the mostly poor people living in the city. Cut off from most of their farmland by the fences and walls, unemployment is high, and services are few.
After touring the interior perimeter of the wall, the group took an unusual trip through a closed road, with fences on both sides, to the nearby village of Habla which is also surrounded by a fence. The road travelled under the perimeter fence of Kalkiliya, then under the adjacent israeli settler road route 55), then under the fence on the other side route 55, finally entering Habla (pop. 15,000). Thus the residents of Habla have no access to the outside world, only to Kalkiliya.
Habla is only 10 kilometers from Tel Aviv but is another world, the people living at a pace of yesteryear, encapsulated by fences, with little hope that their lives will change. In the meanwhile the nearby Israeli settlement of Alfe Menashe has open access to Israel with all the amenities of the first world at their disposal.
On the return to Kalkiliya, the group visited the only zoo in the West Bank. Funded by European agencies it is an oasis of normalcy amid the crushing occupation. With animals from many parts of the world, the zoo also serves as a recreation area for the populace, with large picnic areas, playgrounds, a restaurant, and a swimming pool. It is truly an anomaly in the Occupied Territories.
Then came a stroll through the central market and shopping area of Kalkiliya. Due to tomorrow's holiday, Eid al-Adha (Arabic: عيد الأضحى ‘Īd ul-’Aḍḥā) or the Festival of Sacrifice (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eid_ul-Adha), the streets were thronging with people doing their last minute shopping. This religious festival is celebrated by Muslims and Druze worldwide in commemoration of the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God.
The noise was amazing, reaching a crescendo in the fruit and vegetable market where all the venders seemed to have loudspeakers set at top volume blaring out their wares and prices.
A welcome lunch was served in the quiet upstairs area of a small restaurant, with humas, fu'ul (bean stew), salads and felafel.
Kalkiliya is a forgotten area of the West Bank, well worth a visit.
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