A visit to a West Bank settlement, part 1

A few months ago I recorded a discussion with a Palestinian friend of mine who had recently returned from a trip in the West Bank. Asad is from a well off family, he is UK-born and holds a British passport. He grew up in Nablus in the West Bank, and he has spent more than 10 years in the UK where he went to boarding school (from the age of 15) and university. He currently lives and works in Jordan.

Before continuing, a disclaimer: I am not a journalist, and the text below is not meant to be a fair and balanced depiction of reality, or even a statement of my own views. If you have any objections to anything you read, especially concerning facts, comments to this post are open and (respectful) contributions welcome.

What follows is a verbatim transcription of the discussion. Whenever anyone other than Asad speaks the text is in italics (I remained silent throughout, but other friends - all Europeans - were also taking part). Here goes:

Part I

The West Bank, politically, is Palestinian land - under UN law it is for the Palestinians. Now you get a Jewish guy coming from Russia, and they all have a station car or a four-wheel drive. And he's allowed to go anywhere - you know, it's his country - so he goes at the top of a mountain for example. He camps there, first with a tent. Then a few friends come along. It's just a tent - by law that's all right.

By the way, by the law they are not allowed to build anything; if the soldiers know they are meant to stop them. In the beginning, there will just be tents; then after a while you see a single house has appeared. If you complain about it, nobody shows up to check the house. After a few months, after the house has been there for a while, practically it's his - even though it's your land. The guy has a weapon, you cannot go in, and that's how it starts.

So we went to this settlement that's next to this Palestinian village. My cousin is a distributor for [a big Israeli company], so they've given him identification so he can move around the West Bank, including the settlements.

- So, normally Palestinians are not allowed to visit the settlements? 

No, and not just settlements, there's no way you can move around in the West Bank; you come from this village, you stay in this village; you come from this town, you stay in this town. You get people who haven't left their village or town for ten years now.

-So from Nablus you can't go to, say, Bethlehem.

Man, you get people in Nablus who haven't been outside Nablus in ten years now. Never seen anything outside Nablus for ten years.

- So is the wall covering the whole of Nablus?

Actually, there is no wall next to Nablus, but on the main streets there are three checkpoints. The checkpoints, I'll tell you about them.

We went out of Nablus, and he [an IDF soldier] said please walk, get out of the car. I told him we have the license and stuff, he said no - walk. They are like an international airport these checkpoints, it's not a checkpoint per se; you have a rotating door, and this is for the car, and several guns pointing at you from several directions; I got scared at that point. Why is he asking me to walk when I have the permit to leave?

So I walked out of the car and the guy said, well, he started speaking to me in Hebrew. I tell him no; only speak Arabic or English. One of them then goes, 'hold on, you speak English you said'? And I said yes, I do speak English. And he said - in Arabic - 'how is it to curse?'

And I thought, shit, this is gonna - because you hear stories, of them making fun, taking the piss. The guy is bored at the checkpoint and he wants to insult you basically so he tries to insult you in any way he finds. So I think, fuck, I'm not going down this route, you know.

And he said 'you know, bitch, fuck, how do you curse?' And I said 'I don't know these words man; I just learned English in school, they don't teach us these words'. And then he goes - in Arabic - 'no, you know, sharmuta, manyak - speak some Arabic swear words. I want you to curse'. And I spoke a few swear words in Arabic. And he said 'OK, come with me'.

So I went into that room, and they had a guy, they took out his shirt, put it on top of his head and two guys are kicking him. Apparently, on the check point, after he left, he cursed at them. And they did the whole thing, they made everyone wait for an hour, with so many cars behind you know, and they are beating this guy and waiting for someone to come and tell him that they are beating him because he is cursing on them. And most of the time of course they can speak full arabic. But it's just - you know, setting an example. So, in this case, the whole thing was for me to see what's happening so they can set an example - the guy [the IDF soldier] spoke perfect Arabic, they didn't need me to tell the guy anything. [pause]

At checkpoints, you cannot move unless he [the IDF soldier] tells you to move. And with these guys, you know, it's random; he can tell you 'wait for an hour and after one hour I'll let you guys move'. They don't need a good reason to do that.

- Where was that? 

In Nablus, going out of Nablus.

- How could you go out of Nablus? Because you have a UK passport?

No, because there is the permit which allows you to go. Personally, I had my British passport on me so, I wanted to use it, in case - but also, man, for them it depends on your face and whether they buy your story, it's all judgmental...

- So, the people who haven't been able to go out of Nablus for 10 years, they can't get the permit?

Yeah, some of them can't get the permit. And some of them when they go to the checkpoint - they ask you questions you know, 'where are you going?' - and if he doesn't buy your story, well, OK - go back. So you have to have a good reason [to move]- you go to the checkpoint, he'll ask you for your permit.

- So why can't they apply for the permit?

Well, most of them [Palestinians in the West Bank], they'll either not get it or not try to apply.

- So how come you got one? Was it because of your passport?

No, no, I applied normally - most people can exit and leave. But man, you end up paying £200 for the journey, you know over there some people just can't afford it. And most importantly, there are no guarantees that the town won't be blocked and then you can't come back; you know there's all these logistics. If you are going on holiday and you are not well off, and you know there is this a slight chance that Nablus will get locked for three weeks, I mean, this is not something you risk.

I will be posting parts two and three once I get a chance to transcribe them, hopefully later this week.


  1. YMedad Says:

    Thanks for the insight, Fascinating. I just thought the opening statement needs a bit of thinking, and not only because it sets the framework for his presentation.

    He said: "The West Bank, politically, is Palestinian land - under UN law it is for the Palestinians". Well, the UN really doesn't make law but if it does, I wonder why, back in 1947, when it voted to establish a Jewish state and an Arab state in part of the former territory of Mandated Palestine (I write 'part' because back in 1923, the area of Transjordan was separated from the area set aside for the Jewish national home but was still administratively part of the Mandate rule until 1946) the local indigenous Arabs (a) rejected that and tried to wipe it out through violence and then (b) after they lost the war, they seem too have voted to join up with the Hashemite Kingdom and not establish an Arab Palestine (see here)?

    And the famous 242 Resolution doesn't mention a "Palestine" (see here).

    It seems that only in 2002 did the UN refer to a "vision of two states, Israel and Palestine" (see here).

    So as for being "Palestinian land", I would think this is quite a recent concept whereas already in 1917 (Balfour Declaration) and 1920 (San Remo Conference) and 1923 (the League of Nations) all affirmed that "Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country" (see here), it would seem that politically, there still remains a problem.

  2. Shane Says:

    O dear. This is about experience. Not semantics.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Hello people.

    My name is Adam and I would like to thank the author and agree with Ymedad, the article is indeed fascinating. I will be writing points as a comment and I leave if for the reader to decide:

    I believe this land (middle east) has been conquered and re-conquered throughout history. The israelites presence in the region dates back to 1250BC when they took it from the Cannites, however their rule of the area did not last for long and they were not one country per se and they didn’t have the same political borders as now.

    If the duration of rule is what determines the ownership, then I guess the ottomans, the Greeks, and the Romans stayed there for more time.

    What disgusts me about the situation is the denial issue from the Jews ( the ones who suffered most from abuse around the world) who finally fled to the middle east escaping persecution from Europe and were allowed to work and stay peacefully. Their population still depends on people fleeing economical and political crises (Russia, Argentina, Poland, Ethiopia, and most recently Sudan.)

    Jewish immigrants started coming in the 1800s from Eastern Europe. But by 1903 there were 25000 of them living alongside half a million Palestinians or Arabs as Ymedad likes to call them. According to Britsh census of 1922 The jews made up only 11% of the population. Even today if you count the Palestinians inside the state of Israel, the land of Palestine has more than 50% Palestinian Population.

    Arabs are a group of people who mainly share a cultural linguistic profile due to living adjacent to each others for centuries. Not a race so they are not very different from Jews who only share a religion. In fact many jews are Arabs as in the case of the ones in Yemen and Morocco hence they live at home.

    The British government had a mandate rule over Palestine, not a right to give the land away to a group of immigrants who are kicking the rest of the inhabitants out, using different ways of abuse while they enjoy living in peace by claiming that they are more civilized.

    Violence in the region was erupted by the Israeli Militias who were operating in a style not very different from any barbaric militia. To the conterary the Palestinian militants are nothing more than a reaction to the current situation of injustice that has been going for more than 60 years. While the Israeli Militas are now called Israeli Defence Force, and are recognized as a country by the UN, this should not give legitimacy to the barbaric practices they use.

    The jewish living currently in the state of Israel will have blood on their hands for generations to come knowing that the oppressed in Europe became the oppressors in the middle east.

    Finally, I hope that citizens of the region will be able to live together peacefully since history repeats itself, and the people do not forget.

    Claiming that Palestine is a recent concept is unheard off and inhuman. The british mandate had a Palestinian pound as a currency not an Israeli Pound.

    The majority remains to be Palestinans in the region. And they don’t enjoy 15% of the land, water or even GDP. Any sensible person will not understand how an immigrant can make more money from day one, While the indigenous population (the Palestinians) are getting more indebted and suffering without an external force.

    The mighty Israeli state is launching an unjust war on an armed population in front of the world, drving them out of their houses, demoliting their farms and banning them from basic human rights, is just un acceptable practice for a group who claim to be civilized and democratic.

    Can’t wait for part three, maybe four. Or five

  4. Shane Says:

    Talking about race, nationality and religion (some very latter-day concepts anyway) completely misses the point.

    Pointing out that your ancestors lived somewhere 2000 years ago (even if you could know such a thing) doesn't entitle you to anything.

    What really matters is human rights, today. Some people have them, and some people don't. And people who don't have them are deprived of them by others. And that should stop.

  5. YMedad Says:

    Dear Anon:

    As regards your "to give the land away to a group of immigrants", Jews have been in the Land of Israel in greater or lesser numbers for 3000 years. It was the Arabs who invaded, conquered and occupied a country they called Palestine from the Roman name in 638. Get your facts right.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    my Friend Medad,

    Are you proposing to redraw borders based on 3000 years ago?

    this means 99% of the countries now are only " a recent concept" I was only talking about human rights,

    to make my point clear i'm not saying that the jews should leave, i'm saying that every one should stay. the measures taken now by israel are clear. they want to purify the land from any non jew. and this is the meaning of racism.

    Please note that there are more jews in the states than there are in israel and they arrived there less than a century ago. so how would you feel if they were all kicked out of the USA without any of their wealth, and that the US denied that they ever existed.

  7. YMedad Says:

    no, no. not "redraw borders based on 3000 years ago?". our rights to live in the Land of Israel and to reconstitute our
    historical Jewish Homeland therein is based on 3000 years of history connected with the Land, yes but the borders were firmly established over a period of years in the modern era, less than a century ago.

    we could start with 1919, 90 years ago; or 1923 or 1946 or in-between.

    whatever but the main point is that during the Mandate period, Judea, Samaria and Gaza were always Jewish territory, where Jews lived until ethnically cleansed by marauding Arab terror gangs between 1920 and 1948.