Palestine. Judea and Samaria. The Palestinian Territories. The home of the occupation. Those are just some of the names for arguably the most contentious piece of land within one of the most contentious regions in human history.
The road to Bethlehem begins with a short 20-minute bus ride to Checkpoint 300, a name that brings to mind another infamous wall in Berlin. This is where you officially leave Israel, walk through what’s been dubbed everything from the Security Fence to an Apartheid Wall, and enter Palestine.
I wanted to do something different. I wanted to look beyond the politics and not simply frame Palestine and Palestinians within the one-dimensional confines of “THE CONFLICT” as the world is so often guilty of. Because like any place, Palestine is more than what you see on breaking news headlines.
You might think tourism is non-existent because of the occupation. But you see, there was this skinny Jewish guy with a ripped core who supposedly came from Bethlehem, so people travel from around the world to visit.
Regrettably, Wisam says most don’t stick around to learn about the people who are living there now.
Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel
In Palestine, the conflict looms in almost every conversation. It’s hard to avoid when you’re living next to this thing, the world’s worst elephant in the room.
Many Israelis see the wall as something ranging from a necessary evil to a godsend. But for Palestinians, the wall is radioactive, spreading an illness the closer you are to it. So why not build a hotel right next to it?
Introducing The Walled Off Hotel, a secret project that opened in 2017 with the involvement of the elusive artist Banksy. Wisam is the hotel manager and has been involved since the beginning.
Touring Aida Refugee Camp
The hotel’s go-to offering is a two-hour tour of the wall and nearby Aida Refugee Camp, which opened in 1948 with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Or as they call it, the Nakba––the catastrophe that saw the forced expulsion and flight of roughly 700,000 Palestinians from the 78 percent of Mandatory Palestine that became Israel.
During our walk through the camp, we meet Mustafa’s parents and daughter, who was born in the refugee camp just like her father. I’ll admit that I was on the fence about visiting a refugee camp. I wondered if it would be under the umbrella of poverty or slum tourism.
But it’s clear from the small museum explaining the Nakba and visitor’s center that they want travelers to come by, hear their story, share it with the people in their country, and recognize their humanity.
That plea that people simply recognize the humanity of the Palestinian people was a frighteningly common refrain in our short 24-hour stay. Whatever your preconceived notions of the conflict are, it’s criminal that any group of people should have to ask for a recognition of their humanity as often as Palestinians do both at home and abroad.
And that, my friends, isn’t taking a position. It’s simply being human.