The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has submitted his bid for full statehood at the United Nations. But if the UN does vote in favour of ‘Palestine’, what would that mean for ordinary people? Three Dutch families on both sides of the border give their views.
The notorious wall snakes over the hills of the holy land into the horizon. Jim Hasenaar and I have climbed a hill to get a better look as the controversial Green Line which separates Israel from the West Bank. Jim and his wife live just a stone’s throw from the five-metre high wall.
He is glad it’s there. “We don’t have any trouble from the village you see there, Gabla. But we do from Qalqilya, which is further away. There were terrorists there and they can no longer enter Israel. There have simply been fewer attacks in recent years.”
Mr Hasenaar thinks the Palestinians in the West Bank should be given autonomy. He wishes them the same peaceful life that many Israelis enjoy.
His oldest son Ron is due to begin his three-year military service in November. But it does not make much difference to Jim as father of a soldier whether the Palestinian territories are independent or not. “The borders will not be opened anyway. People say there will be rocket attacks. But I am not worried about that. We live so close they would have to shoot into the sky to hit our house and then the lads will be endangering themselves.”
Open air prison
The next day, I arrive in Ramallah, the unofficial Palestinian capital. The city centre is bustling with life. Water consultant Peter Laban takes me to a beautiful theatre and a modern cinema to demonstrate how much resilience the Palestinians have.
“This theatre, which puts on lots of plays, makes it clear why I live here,” he says. “The people don’t give up. They just make the best of things, in spite of the limitations caused by the occupation.”
Life is good in Ramallah, but in reality it is an open air prison, is what he is saying. His Palestinian wife has great difficulty leaving the area.
Mr Laban thinks there is a time bomb under the West Bank. He estimates that the water the Israelis allow the Palestinians to extract will run out in 30 to 50 years time. “Then you won’t be able to live here anymore,” he says. He believes that behind the scenes, it is water that dominates the long-drawn out conflict and not religious differences.
There is a huge blue chair standing in the middle of the square, a symbol of a Palestinian seat at the United Nations. The 63-year-old Dutchman is happy to be photographed with young Palestinians in front of it. There will be a big celebration if the UN votes in favour of Palestinian membership.
On the journey back to Jerusalem, I get a small insight into what it must be like to be an Arab with an Israeli passport. I join the long queue to pass through the Qalandia checkpoint. All of a sudden it closes, without any explanation. Angry young men bang on the turnstiles. It takes an hour in the hot sun before I reach the other side.
Uri Heilbron lives in a settlement in the rugged hilly landscape of the West Bank. I expect an improvised shack, but instead I see how builders work on a nice, modern house on the hillside.
Surprisingly the builders are Palestinians. It’s a conscious choice. Uri is also learning Arabic so he can talk to his Palestinian neighbours. Some people think he is a bit odd, Uri admits.
Uri hopes the fences around the village will be removed one day, but the international treaties do not mean much to him. The village he lives in is mentioned in the Old Testament and he hopes to stay there for the rest of his life. But he is not prepared to use violence to defend the settlement.