Israel and Palestine's game of twos



These are volatile days in Israel and Palestine — from Donald Trump's inflammatory statement on the state of Jerusalem, to the unjust arrest of the Nabi Saleh women, it seems every gesture, every breath, fuels tensions.

Old city of NablusIn Israel and Palestine, division is etched into land and geography — captured by the separation wall, that grey snake cutting through territory. My family lives on one side of that wall; on the other — The Other.

The night before I go to Nablus, I can't sleep. I think of the big red signs at the entrance to Palestinian territory, warning Israeli citizens not to enter, for risk of their life. My friend, who I plan on meeting there, asked me not to come visit on Thursday as he's going to Jordan that day. 'We should just meet in Jordan', I joke. 'It'll be easier for both of us'. Nablus is 30km closer to home, but the distance here isn't measured in kilometres. It's measured in time, in separation, in fear.

As the bus departs the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, I realise how binaries and paradoxes define our reality. Even this very framing — 'Palestine and Israel' — sets up any form of narrative in binary opposition: there are always 'two sides' to the conflict; the solution is of 'two states'. The separation wall slices the country into two. There is the occupier, and occupied. There are two legal systems. There is violence and non-violence, civilian and soldier, freedom fighter and terrorist — this is a game of twos.

The paradox is, of course, that there isn't truly a binary. A story lived by millions cannot have only two sides. To recognise plurality is to move away from dichotomies that merely serve to manufacture division and loyalty. The truth is, our shared reality binds us in more ways than we allow ourselves to recognise — blood, death, and hope — adding complexity to an already volatile landscape.

I identify another paradox on the bus shuttling settlers and soldiers to the West Bank settlement of Ariel — the driver is Palestinian (holding an Israeli ID).

I get off the bus at the entrance to Ariel, and walk down a road to meet the cab that will take me to Nablus — the second biggest Palestinian city in the West Bank. Nothing prepares me for the concrete jungle unfolding before us — waves of white sprawled on a hilly range. The sky — grey and bright — settles into the valley.


"A story lived by millions cannot have only two sides."


From a rooftop, my friends and I look out to the old city of Nablus. They point out places where fighting took place — in this now empty lot, a soap factory was decimated by Israeli fighter jets. Here, soldiers swarmed during the Second Intifada. It terrifies me to hear how my friends identify places according to violence that took place. A week later in Israel, without even realising, I did the same thing — noting landmarks because of the violence that happened: 'Here was a nightclub that was bombed ... Outside this bar was a stabbing.'

In Nablus, we share a plate of hummus. The old city echoes Al Quds (Jerusalem). We exchange words in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. We take in views of the city — I'm struck by a lack of greenery. Israel loves wide green spaces. Palestine doesn't have this luxury; population growth and restrictions on land mean that construction is always underway. While we are in Palestine, the Israeli occupation is ever present. It can be seen in the fields of water tanks atop buildings — despite being under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction, Israel controls Nablus's water (as indeed it controls all the water in the occupied West Bank). Water discrimination is one way the occupation manifests.

All this time, despite what the big red sign might say, I don't feel afraid. I won't feel fear until I return to the main road, where I encounter a group of Israeli soldiers in full combat gear, patrolling bus stops outside the Ariel settlement. I'm not the target, this is clear. Still, I feel afraid. Now when I see the military, rather than feel at peace, my mind goes to my friends in Palestine, and my heart breaks.

Another paradox: being afraid of my own people, and, insofar as I crossed borders, being afraid of what my country would do to me. Such events twist the nationalistic narrative of 'enemy'; a shift of relations and boundaries. Driving out of Nablus, the movement between boundaries extended beyond the allegorical — it became visceral, embodied. As the cab drove down towards the drop-off point, it felt as if we were moving in liquid air, moving from one dimension to another — here the occupied, here the occupier, here my birth country, here the people we restrict in name of security, yet coming home felt so unsafe. The world — thick with rain — rebuilding in front of my eyes.

That day, my trip home was four hours long and a world apart. In addition to the utter privilege I feel, for being a tourist in such a historical city, for breaking bread with friends, for seeing the life beyond the separation wall, I feel exhaustion and sadness. At the end of the journey I'm more fatigued than after the 24-hour trip back to Australia. Palestine is one of the closest places I've ever been to, and yet, I've never travelled anywhere as far.



Na'ama CarlinNa'ama Carlin holds a PhD in Sociology. A dual Israeli-Australian citizen, she writes about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ethics, identity, and violence. Follow her @derridalicious

Main image: Old city of Nablus (Na'ama Carlin)

Topic tags: Na'ama Carlin, Israel, Palestine, Nablus, Donald Trump



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Existing comments

Thank you for this enlightening description of your experience of the paradox of Israel and Palestine. Sadly I wonder when this division cease.
Margaret Campbell | 23 January 2018

A remarkable, no, a magnificent, poetic exploration of true humanity. This is the most incisive and uplifting piece I have read regarding this divided part of the world and indicates that hope does indeed spring eternal. Lets hope it takes the leap towards humanity and union sooner rather than later.
john frawley | 23 January 2018

Thank you for such a human and sensitive piece. What a mess Israel/Palestine is in; history has treated it very unkindly for at least 2000 years. One of the very major paradoxes is that the Palestinians could have had a two-state solution at both the Oslo and Camp David talks, but saw it as surrender and walked away. Now they want it and it won`t happen, ever because they forced the tough men into power in Israel! The only solution they should push for is a one country solution with constitutional guarantees for full civic and religious rights for all; this is something the whole world could come together on as an issue of human rights, and put the sort of pressure on the current right-wing politicians as happened in South Africa. But it is very unlikely to happen and certainly not for a long time, and the horrid status quo will exist until possibly an intense war-fatigue sets in all round.
Eugene | 23 January 2018

Dear Na’ama, Your insightful article reminds me about Wahat-al-Salam –Neve Shalom, in Arabic and Hebrew respectively for Oasis of Peace (WAS-NS). WAS-NS is an extraordinary community in Israel where Palestinians and Jews are living and working together side by side for a peaceful future. Here Jews make rooms for Palestinians: the former give the latter space to co-exist and the latter recognise the rights to exist of the former. The community has established a primary school which enrols an equal number of Jews and Arab pupils. The equal number is extremely important as neither side has ambition to extend, expand or control the other. In order to co-exist, a mutual contraction is solemnly honoured by both sides. The Palestinians are suffering what Thomas Friedman of The New York Times called “a poverty of dignity” whereas the Jewish deserve the right to exist in their own country. There is no lasting solution to this part of the world until when the dignity of every Palestinian is respected and the right to exist of the Jewish state is duly recognised.
Toan Nguyen | 23 January 2018


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