A Trip To Jericho With IPCRI
The story of Joshua breaking through the walls surrounding Jericho makes for a catchy song. However, there is a debate among archeologists regarding the authenticity of the events as told in the Bible. According to some, the destruction of the walls pre-date the Israelite entry into the region. In any case, on Saturday, January 18, 2014, I joined a group of Israelis and internationals, the former mostly seniors (like me) and the latter mostly university students, for a tour of Jericho.
The trip was organized by IPCRI, an organization working toward the promotion of cooperation among Israelis and Palestinians. The stated purpose of the trip was to break down the psychological walls that separate our two peoples – the Israelis and the Palestinians. Would this be a fiercely political trip geared toward showing the horrors of Israeli occupation? I was a bit concerned that it might be just that, but determined to keep my mouth shut and listen and learn.
The Road to Jericho
I didn’t pay attention to the time, but it seems that once you leave Jerusalem, are in Jericho in almost no time at all. Very quickly the desert comes up and surrounds you. You find yourself in terrain that is home to the Bedouin, sands and hills that tell the Bedouin their stories, but which I cannot read.
In the photo below, you can see the path of the 2-meter deep trench Israel built around Jericho during the Second Intifada in 2001 to prevent free movement of traffic into and out of Jericho. I marked it with black arrows. The city skyline is just barely visible in the distance.
As you approach the city, you begin to see agricultural fields. Jericho is the site for growing bananas, dates, oranges and a whole variety of vegetables. One of our guides proudly told us of the Jericho orange that is apparently renowned for its special taste. I say “apparently” because he was not able to help me distinguish between the Jericho orange and other varieties in the market so I was not able to taste one for myself.
Our first stop on our trip was just before the check-point at the entrance to the city. One guide, Husam Jubran, from East Jerusalem, took the time to explain the inherent insult in the red warning sign before entering Area A (under total Palestinian Authority (PA) control). The sign reads, in Hebrew, Arabic and English, that Israeli citizens are forbidden by law from entering that area. There is no problem with that part of the statement – the law is the law. However, the part that says that entering this area puts your life at risk, is insulting.
Insulting? With all the terrorism? I find it funny that Palestinian Arabs find that “insulting”, given that Israeli Jews are considered fair game for incitement and murder. But I guess for foreigners that is a good line to take. After all, we know that Muslims around the world are so easily insulted and here they can lay claim to public “shaming” of the Palestinian Arabs by the Zionist entity.
One could simply say that this sign serves as a general warning during a situation of ongoing conflict where the purpose of the government is to protect its citizens. In fact, before we could go on this trip we had to sign a waiver, acknowledging that we knew we were entering a conflict-zone and releasing IPCRI of responsibility if something were to happen to any of us. Insulting it may be, to seem to paint each and every Palestinian Arab with the terrorist
brush, but prudent to be careful where not everyone (to put it mildly) adheres to a code of nonviolence.
At the official border to the city, there is a check-post that is only sometimes manned by PA security officers. On this day, we simply drove past the barrier with nobody to stop and question us.
Entering the City of Jericho
Just inside the city we find one of the refugee camps. There are two in the area. It appears that there were over 20,000 refugees in each of these camps between 1948 and 1967, but during the 6-Day War in 1967, thousands fled from Jericho into neighboring Jordan as the Israeli army approached. Currently there are only a fraction of the refugees remaining in the camps, something that has alleviated the pressure of crowding in Jericho. This big key represents the keys to the homes the Arabs left in 1948.
To me, it is shameful that such a huge population is kept in limbo, pawns in a political game that we Israelis have no intention of losing. Instead of building new lives for themselves in the places in which they are now living, they are, in a manner of speaking, sitting on their luggage. Wasted lives.
Husam told us that there were 3 reasons why Arabs left their homes in 1948 when war broke out, the war that became Israel’s War of Independence and the Arab Nakba (Catastrophe):
- Because other Arab states and the Arab leadership told people to leave the area in order to let them push the Jews into the sea, after which time they will return to their homes. [I was glad to hear that he included this as one of the reasons.]
- During the organized exodus of Arabs from the towns of Lod and Ramla on orders from Ben Gurion; and
- Many fled out of fear after the massacre at Deir Yassin (where about 100 out of 600 residents of this town were killed by an Israeli paramilitary group). [There is a debate about this event.]
The refugees left behind all their belongings, taking only the keys to their homes to which they anticipated returning within a few weeks.
These few weeks have turned into over 60 years. The great majority of refugees have acquired citizenship in other countries, whether these are other Arab countries or in Europe or the Americas; but, according to Husam, those in the Palestinian Authority carry only their UN refugee identity cards to this day. It is my understanding that many have Jordanian passports.
At this point of our trip, we were joined by Osama Elewat, a resident of Jericho. He co-led the group with Husam from this point on.
The Ibrahim Yagi Mosque, pictured above, was built with private donations to serve the refugee camp, Aqbat Jaber.
After entering town, our bus drove to a remote part of Jericho. They told us we were going to see house demolitions committed by the Israeli government. We were told that there was one part of town that was, surprisingly, under Israeli control rather than Palestinian control. Therefore, building permits had to be obtained from Israel and not the local authorities, permits that are probably hard to get, if at all.
Lacking permits did not prevent people from building houses. Interestingly, the illegal house in the
photo will NOT be demolished since it conforms to the old Ottoman law that the British accepted and that remains on the Israeli law books, whereby a building without a cement roof is considered a temporary construction and not liable for being torn down. (Wood is not used in construction in this part of the world.)
Incursion of Israeli Control Into Jericho
When I got home, I had to check what was said about Israeli control in a section of the City of Jericho. It did not make sense to me, and if a piece of the city was chewed off and kept under Israeli rule, well, I was quite upset by this possibility. From what Husam and Osama had said, I was expecting to see a little bubble totally enclosed within the city limits with a big letter “C” written on it.
The West Bank is divided into three areas: “A”, under total Palestinian control, “B” under shared Palestinian and Israeli control and “C” under total Israeli control. This division was part of the Oslo Accords of 1995, whereby Israel released control to the newly formed Palestinian Authority over some of the West Bank (and Gaza). What did that mean for Jericho?
I found a UN map on the Internet, and in seeking permission to use the map from the UN office in Israel, I was sent the updated map you see here, with permission to include it in this article.
On the map, the grayish area is Area C, the yellow is Area A and the brownish colour shows Area B. The brownish areas are occupied by Israeli settlements. I’ve marked out Jericho with a black border and our route from Jerusalem is the blue arrow.
I must say that this map thoroughly upset me. I have heard talk of how difficult it will be to separate our two nations but it hadn’t sunk in until being there and then seeing this map – the City of Jericho is an island, surrounded by land under Israeli control, some with Jewish communities and much of it undeveloped. I think what made me understand the map at such a visceral level now is the fact that I walked in that place, talked with people there, saw their homes, their shops, their roads, their schools.
Undeveloped land under Israeli control can be easily turned over to Palestinian Arab control, but how can one untangle the intermingling of peoples that taken place in some spots since 1967? I am not placing blame here – just stating an obvious painful truth. We also have to remember that throughout history, Jews lived in all of Judea & Samaria.
The contemporary situation reminds me of clearing my garden, something my gardener did today as I am writing these words – I moved here a year ago and nobody had touched the yard for years. Trees and vines had grown into each other, suffocating each other, none able to do well. The only hope was to cut it all back drastically, and wait for new growth to appear and from now on make sure to take care to trim the trees and vines regularly, maintaining order, space and sunshine for all.
It is going to take some serious work to bring order, space and sunshine for both Palestinian Arabs and Israelis so we don’t all suffocate in our entanglement.
Regarding Jericho and my reason for looking for this map – it is easy to understand now how parts of the city reach out into bordering Israeli-controlled territory. There is no bubble within the city proper.
Some say the next war will be over water
We next went to visit the enclosed water channel, called Ein El Sultan. While it appears on lists of tourist attractions, I am not sure why tourists, other than those who are politically oriented, would be interested in it.
Osama and Husam told us that the once abundant agriculture of Jericho was well supplied with water and now, with the water being controlled by Israel, much of it is diverted to Israeli settlements. Therefore, Jericho’s farmers are not able to produce what their land once yielded. In fact, they claimed, some of the lucky Palestinians who are able to find work, work in the settlements. This sounds so unjust.
However, what they failed to mention is that Palestinian Arabs are stealing water from the pipeline, wasting water, that the Palestinian Authority has refused to build the infrastructure they agreed to do according to the Oslo Accords and for which they were given funds by the EU, and that they are illegally disposing of sewage in ways that pollute the environment. Making up lies is great for propaganda when there is nobody around to challenge you. I wish I had read this article before going on that trip so I could have asked challenging questions. I would be very interested to hear how they would have responded.
Political Jericho Over – Now We Do Some Sightseeing
We rode a cable-car to a restaurant on the Mount of Temptation. The view was terrific and some energetic participants climbed the 200 stairs to the monastery built in the caves where Jesus is believed to have fasted for 40 days after his baptism at a spot outside Jericho, called Qasr al-Yahud. This spot is also believed to be where the Israelites crossed the Jordan into Canaan after the Exodus.
On the way up, we could see below us the excavations of the oldest section of the city and the remains of the sugar mill. The city is believed to be over 10,000 years old, the oldest city in the world. We did not have time to tour either of these two sites.
Lunch was nothing special, and I think the time could have been more profitably spent if we had had a Jericho resident sit at each table and chat with us casually over the meal. No need to have an in-depth encounter group session, just light chatter to further help break down the walls between people that the tour sets as its goal.
Have you ever seen the bottles of colored sand that are popular souvenirs from Israel and Palestine? Have you ever wondered how they are done? Here are two photos of an artisan at work just outside the restaurant, putting sand into the small bottle and moving it around to draw a picture.
View of the Monastery on the Mount of Temptations
I took this photograph from the cable car as we were back on our way down from the Mount to Jericho.
This remarkable site has not yet been sufficiently excavated and studied to determine its exact history. However, it appears that it was built by Hisham, the Umayyad Caliph who ruled the area stretching between France and India during the years 724-743 AD. The complex is huge, including baths, prayer rooms, two towers, an ornamental pool, a huge courtyard and a smaller courtyard and several rooms on two floors. The architecture is Persian and previously unseen in this part of the world.
One of the baths has a mosaic that is a major attraction and the large courtyard is tiled with high quality mosaics. The tiles have been recovered with a layer of sand to protect them from the sun and movement of people over the surface until the resources will be found to find a better solution. A multitude of columns in this courtyard held up the ancient roof.
My Impressions of the Trip
Our guides complemented each other well – Husam was the more cognitively oriented and Osama more emotional. I was impressed with Osama’s ability to let himself show his pain that never, with us, turned into anger.
I was also impressed, at the beginning, with their knowledge and ability to express themselves. One of our group tried to challenge Husam at the outset of the trip and he presented his ideas in a balanced way – willing to admit to Palestinian error as well as voice criticism of Israel. However, later in the trip they were no longer put on the spot by me or any of the other participants, probably because we did not have enough background ourselves to be able to continue to ask challenging questions, such as regarding the water issue.
I am now more aware of what it must mean to have your freedom of movement restricted because of the complex set-up whereby Area C lands separate blocks of Areas A and B lands. It makes if easier for me to appreciate Bennett’s proposal for Annexing Area C while changing the map so that there will be territorial continguity for Areas A and B, eliminating the need for internal check-points.
Postcards Made With My Photographs
These postcards sell on Zazzle, a site on which I design some products with my own photographs, and sometimes designs using public domain images.
Other Touristy Sites In The Jericho Region
This is an amazing region, full of history ranging from the ancient 10,000-year-old city through Biblical times and repeated conquests coming from a variety of directions (Persia, Syria, Turkey, Rome, Greece) and the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are other sites to see, such as the ancient synagogue, the Baptismal spot where there is also a Greek Orthodox monastery Qasr al-Yehud, Deir Hajla – the Monastery of Saint Gerasimus, who tamed a lion by removing a thorn from its paw, and more.