In catching up on the news from back home, I find myself reflecting on the number of people who, on hearing of my plans to spend another summer in Abu Dis, Palestine, worried out loud about my safety. As we all know, the West Bank is a dangerous place. Well, I’m perfectly safe. I just regret I didn’t ask my friends the same question regarding their plans to spend the summer in the United States.
The U.S. State Department “warns” Americans about the risks of traveling in Palestine, imposing a long list of regulations on travel by U.S. government employees stationed here. It’s not an amusing topic, and yet there seems something funny about it: a warning to Americans about the risks of violence in Palestine? Shouldn’t the State Department be warning those of us in Palestine about the risks involved in going home?
Safe Palestinian Home? Perhaps some wrong connotations, but here we go:
Sort of. I was thinking of “Safe Haven Gorazde” in Bosnia (during the Bosnian War). Of course, “Safe Haven Gorazde” wasn’t safe, and neither is Abu Dis. It just seems safer than the US.
That said, I wouldn’t say that things are unproblematic here. Tensions are heating up. My suitemates and I stood on the roof of our building last night (as the power went out in the area for the second time in a few days), watching flares being set over one of the northern neighborhoods of Jerusalem. A few minutes later we saw (from afar) what seemed very much like a firefight of some kind around the same place. Earlier that day, the IDF fired tear gas at some kids trying to sneak into Jerusalem; sometime after that, I watched what seemed like a surveillance balloon floating over town. The night before, military helicopters circled town for hours. I mentioned on Facebook a few weeks ago that I was followed for a few minutes by a low-flying drone, maybe twice the size of a smartphone, in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem. Movement in the area around Hebron remains heavily restricted. And personally, I don’t feel comforted by the sight of people carrying M-16s in the street. Israelis regularly carry such weapons, but I’ve now noticed that there are a handful of armed Palestinian police officers patrolling the neighborhoods (i.e., the fast food establishments) of Eizariyah. From zero police presence, we’ve now gone to a handful of cops patrolling the streets with M-16s.
It’s entirely typical of reporting on this place that little of this will go reported. I don’t just mean the particular incidents I’m mentioning, but incidents of this type. This is what The New York Times is good at reporting on. It just sucks at reporting this. And this.
A postscript to my somewhat flippant comments about increased Palestinian police activity in the area (and also an explanation of it). The article gives a glimpse into the conditions that exist in Area B and in refugee camps, which are (often) unincorporated with municipalities, functioning as anarchies or quasi-anarchies (i.e., approximating Lockean States of Nature). Maybe “functioning” is the wrong word.