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TRAVEL: Israel & Palestine - A Land in Conflict

Hellohello!

It's been almost three weeks since I returned to the UK from visiting Israel and Palestine, and I've finally managed to get through all the photos and pick out my favourites. I say favourites, but perhaps it would be better to describe them as the ones that meant the most to me. The trip was a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions, and putting it all in to words is actually a bit daunting.

I was there for only a week, and I know it's an over-used cliché but it really did feel like months. Ever since I can remember I've always been fascinated by The Holy Land, from a young age we were taught of the importance of Jerusalem and the role it has in the history of Islam so when an opportunity arose to visit I jumped at it. It was hastily-arranged and very last minute so it hadn't fully sunk in where I was headed, even while I was on the plane.

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The Dome of the Rock - inside lies the foundation stone, where Muhammad (SAW) ascended to heaven  

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Inside The Dome of the Rock

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Sporting my Arabic Calligraphy shawl

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Candles inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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Opulent Hanging Lamps above The Stone of Anointing, Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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Obviously!

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Fountain in the Old City, Jerusalem

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Jerusalem Light Rail, Jaffa Street

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Handmade Tiles at a Ceramics Factory, Hebron

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Inside Masjid al-Aqsa

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Orthodox Jewish Men Praying at the Western Wall Complex

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You're never too old...

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Cat sat comfortably in the Old City, Jerusalem

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Sidestreet within the Old City, Jerusalem

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"America don't worry, Israel is behind you" - Plenty of t-shirts like this on sale in the Old City

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Old Meets New - Motorway adjacent the Old City Walls, at night.

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Falafel and Hummous in the Old City!

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Colel Chabad Kitchen for the Needy opposite Western Wall - one of many examples of Jewish philanthropy in Israel

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Strolling through the Israel Museum, Jerusalem

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Re-enactment of Christ's Walk with the Cross - Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem

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The Grave of Mary (Mariam), Mother of Jesus

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Prayers at the Western Wall, Jerusalem

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Walking on the Holy Land in my Primark gold toecap mauve ballets

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Belgian Waffles with Chocolate and Ice Cream - Aldo's, Jaffa Street

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A closer look at the tiled mosaics of the Dome of The Rock

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Loved the street art in Jerusalem, this one at Mahane Yehuda Market

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Sinister Separation wall in Bethlehem - 30ft high, 700km of Apartheid

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Explore the West Bank

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High Military and Police presence, Hebron

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One of three Security Gates at the Ibrahimi Mosque, Hebron - Final resting place of Abraham

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Inside the Ibrahimi Mosque - location of Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre in 1994

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Minbar inside Ibrahimi Mosque, built in 1091 donated by Salahuddin

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IDF Soldier Man-Handling Young Child, Hebron

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Settlers moved in above this market street, wire fencing was erected to stop thrown objects from hitting passers-by

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"Zionism is Racism" - Graffiti in Hebron

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Zionist Propaganda in Hebron

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Shuhada Street, Hebron - Closed to accommodate 500 Illegal settlers

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Closed off Street in Hebron

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"Gas The Arabs" Graffiti in Hebron by Jewish Defence League, outside a Palestinian School

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Abandoned Staircase on Shuhada Street, Hebron

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"This is Palestine" - Graffiti in the Old City, Hebron

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Abandoned Shop on Shuhada Street, Hebron 

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Walking through the Old City, Hebron

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Military Outpost - Tel Rumeida, Hebron

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"Free Israel" Graffiti in the Old City, Hebron

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Kuffiyeh Factory, Hebron

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Banksy's 'Flower Thrower', Bethlehem

The Journey to Israel / The Holy Land

As a Muslim woman heading to the Holy Land, I was both nervous and excited. Nervous about how I'd be received in Israel, yet incredibly excited that I was visiting this most holy of places. It turns out I was right to be nervous, as the security services didn't seem to like me very much. I had my passport confiscated and was interrogated four times in the space of four hours. I was asked for my landline number, my phone number and email address amongst other things. I'm convinced they hacked into that, as they kept insisting I must have another email! I suspect that they thought I was an activist, as they kept asking about my thoughts on Palestine and whether I knew anyone in the country.

Thoughts on Jerusalem

Jerusalem is an enchanting city, the Old City it's beating heart. A maze of narrow streets, protecting the treasures that are the Dome of The Rock, Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Al-Aqsa Mosque. In the more modern, western side of the city you could almost be forgiven for forgetting the troubles. Despite the modernity, old building regulations imposed by the British mean that new buildings must be built using brick from a specific source. It makes even the newest building look far older than it is, with the architecture styled to resemble tough desert prisons.

In the Old City, you can feel a little tension brewing beneath the local smiles flashed at the tourists and pilgrims. The souks or shuks serve up a delightful assault on the senses, everywhere you look there are stalls selling freshly squeezed orange, pomegranate and carrot juice, or colourful scarves and abayas, many selling the usual array of souvenirs for tourists but all asking you to come in and take a look around!

The tension was far more noticeable when I arrived back after a day in the West Bank, I'd bought a 'Palestine' bracelet from a child and was wearing it around Jerusalem. Plenty of disapproving looks and in cases abrupt rudeness. On the other hand, the Palestinians living in the city seemed to open up a little more and talk of what life is really like in the Holy Land.

Israel and Palestine: The Conflict. What is it really about

I'm certainly not a hardcore political bod, however I do pay attention to the news. It's an easy trap to fall into, blaming Israel for the troubles here without knowing exactly why it's their fault. I like to look at both sides of a story before forming my own opinions, and being Muslim with Jewish friends it was important to see both sides. From what I experienced, it's clear there are those who'd be happy for the land to be shared but sandwiching them are extremists on both sides who think the land should be purged of the other.

The history of the conflict is both long and confusing, but here's a brief explanation: 

Around 2000 years ago the land was inhabited by Jews, according to the Old Testament God had made a covenant with them promising them the land. The Romans invaded around 70BC, ruling for over 300 years banning Jews from entering Jerusalem. After Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 314 AD, his Byzantine empire took charge. In 636 AD the first Muslims took control of the city, who allowed the Jews back into Jerusalem. Over the next 1400 years both Christian Crusaders and Muslims would win and lose the city in wars. 

From around 1840 AD Jews began to move back to Israel, in 1917 the British won control of Palestine as it was then called. The mass influx of Jews caused tensions amongst the Palestinians, fearing they'd lose their homes and cities. The British were unable to deal with the violenceon both sides and agreed to partition the land through the League of Nations in 1947. Though there were conflicts prior to this, the partition caused it to escalate beyond control. A civil war began between Arabs and Jews which then led to Jordan, Syria and Egypt becoming involved in 1967. Israel wins this war, and takes more of the land for itself leaving the Palestinians with just the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Palestinians who were forced to flee the violence left for their neighbouring countries, Israel has never allowed them to return despite a UN Resolution stating that the right of return must be upheld. From the 60s the fighting has continued, with the Palestinians unhappy at the raw deal they received and Israelis building settlements on land given to Palestinians. Following the 2nd Intifada (uprising) in 2005 Israel decided to build the illegal separation wall, a form of collective punishment of Palestinians in the West Bank. In the process they did not stick to the official borders, claiming extra land that is not theirs to claim.

If you believe everything you see or read, it would seem that Israel is defending itself against 'terrorists' but on the ground it's nowhere near as simple as that. The West Bank is effectively a prison for Palestinians living there, a 30ft high, 700km long, heavily guarded concrete separation wall prevents them from leaving unless given a permit by Israel. Even moving around within these confines is tough, as they are subjected to roadblock after roadblock. Whereas Israelis are free to roam wherever they please, sometimes even having the quickest routes all to themselves. Any resistance from the Palestinian population, peaceful or otherwise, is swiftly and violently repressed.

The situation is particularly unfair in Hebron (or Al Khalil in Arabic), a city of 166,000 Paelstinians, where 500 extreme far-right settlers have taken over 4 plots of land at the centre of the city. What is most unfair is that this land has been designated as illegal under Israeli law for an Israeli to even enter, yet an army of 3,000 Israeli Defence Force soldiers serve to protect them. Hebron itself is a beautiful city, homes clinging to the sides of this hilly region, with great significance to Christians, Jews and Muslims as it is the final resting place for Abraham.

Yet violence has been such a big part of its modern history, both sides culpable. In 1994 a Jewish extremist murdered 29 and injured 125 praying men in the same building that houses Abraham's tomb. Palestinians are held responsible for the murder of 2 settlers, causing the IDF to close down over a thousand shops on the streets surrounding the illegal settlements. Some legal residents, until recently, were unable to use their own front doors, the IDF having welded them shut for the security of the settlers. It's like a ghost town, the most surreal and haunting place I've ever visited.

It was at times terrifying facing IDF-manned checkpoints and watching settlers walk by with machine guns slung over their shoulder as if it were a satchel. That being said, despite all of the hardship the locals face they are very hospitable. I was invited to have lunch with a Palestinian family and whilst walking around the centre, the people I encountered were so warm with the big smiles so often associated with India. Now that I'm back in Britain, it kills me not knowing what the future holds for the people of Palestine. Everytime I hear of yet more violence or trouble I feel helpless and angry. Particularly as all over Jerusalem there are plaques honouring wealthy Jewish families who've donated to Israeli causes, whereas the feeling is that few or no wealthy Arab families do the same for Palestinians.

All I can do is give time and money, make people aware of the situation and encourage people to visit, to see what life is really like under occupation and show the Palestinians that they have not been forgotten. It's such an emotive place. One that I'd recommend anyone visit, it may seem like a scary place but the people, whether Israeli or Palestinian, are warm, welcoming and friendly.

If you're thinking of visiting Israel and Palestine or are interested in the situation over there, please feel free to get in touch. I'll be more than happy to give you some pointers and advice.

 Halima
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