The alarm on my phone started ringing at 5.30. We had to be ready to leave at 6.00. We drove through Ramallah to the checkpoint at Qalandiya. At 7.00 we had already missed the crush of Palestinians trying to get through to work an hour earlier. Maureen nevertheless took a few photos of the pens where people wait to go through the few turnstiles. When she showed her passport to the Israeli soldier beyond the turnstile, she was told to delete all her photos.
We found a bus to take us to the bus station in East Jerusalem. Then we took the light railway to the Central (bus) Station. The last leg of our journey was a bus ride to Efrat, an Israeli settlement just inside the West Bank.
Ardie Geldman met us at the bus stop after we had left the bus. He has lived in the settlement, which was built in 1985, for many years and has discovered his vocation: to tell overseas visitors about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the point of view of a resident of an Israeli settlement. He soon made it very clear that he feels that the term “settler” is an insult. He thinks of himself as a resident of the community of Efrat. “Calling us settlers de-humanises us. … I want you to see me as a human being.”
Ardie grew up in the USA, but felt called to move to Israel, the land promised to the Jews. In the USA the number of Jews is declining as a result of intermarriage with gentiles and a low birth rate. Jews have a right to live anywhere within Israel, including “Judaea” and “Samaria”. But he accepts that the Palestinians in Ramallah aren’t going to go anywhere else. On the other hand the Israelis in Efrat aren’t going anywhere else either.
Ardie gave us a brief history lesson. At a conference of the great powers at San Remo in Italy in 1920 Britain was awarded a mandate over Palestine which included what was then known as Transjordan as well as what is now Israel/Palestine. But in 1921 Transjordan was separated from Palestine and closed to Jewish settlement. There were riots against the Jews in Jaffa in 1920, but the British continued to encourage Jewish immigration until 1929. In August 1929 59 Jews were murdered during a riot in Hebron. On 29 November 1947 the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181 proposing two-states, Israel and Palestine. This was rejected by the Arab states. In the year 2000 Ehud Barak made a peace offer which was rejected by Yasser Arafat.
Ardie was vehemently opposed to the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. Boycott is reminiscent of Nazi Germany. And BDS, if it were effective, which it isn’t in his view, would hurt the Palestinians more than anyone else. I tried to explain to him that the position of Quakers in relation to BDS is not one of blanket support, but that we do advocate that people refuse to buy goods produced in the Israeli settlements. And we support the EU guidelines which bar companies and Israeli government agencies which operate in the settlements from receiving EU funding for research. British Friends have also recently decided to disinvest from certain companies.
Israelis have legitimate concerns about security. The course of the wall or fence is determined partly by security concerns. Ardie would fear for his life, if he were to visit Ramallah, whereas a Palestinian could wander through Efrat without any trouble.
Ardie said: “There can never be a one-state solution.” The current round of negotiations has been made possible by the US putting pressure on the Palestinians. Boundaries are negotiable: the wall/fence could come down. Some Jewish residents may have to leave the West Bank. The refugee camps should be dismantled: the residents could move out into other areas of the West Bank.
I suggested that the residents of settlements who have to leave their homes could be compensated in some way, perhaps financially. And the residents of refugee camps, who wish their right to return (to the homes that they or their parents left in 1948) to be respected, could be compensated in a similar way. Ardie agreed with this suggestion and commented that the international community would have to pass the hat round.
The lively discussion with Ardie gave us all much to think about. On the way back from Jerusalem we had to get off the bus at the checkpoint at Qalandiya, although it was supposed to go straight through to Ramallah. We walked through the checkpoint without any trouble, but as we were looking for a bus on the Palestinian side we saw young Palestinians throwing large stones over the Wall. The Israeli soldiers began firing teargas canisters which, fortunately for us, were empty. We walked away as quickly as we could before the situation became any more dangerous. So we’ve had quite an exciting day!