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Palestinian family facing years of upside-down politics

Palestinian family facing years of upside-down politicsAfter a long absence, I returned to Israel/Palestine. This June will mark the fortieth anniversary of the Israeli military victory in the Six Day War, and occupation of The Palestinian Territories — in breach of UN Resolution 242.

"You will have to find the visa for him, they can never find it themselves." I hand my passport to a young Israeli soldier with acne who, sure enough, asks me to find the visa. I'm on a bus on the West Bank heading for Jerusalem with a Muslim friend whom I'm visiting for the first time in thirty years. The other commuters, mostly women and kids, lift their identity cards in unison. The drive once took minutes. Now, because of the concrete wall that snakes between Palestinian and Israeli settlements, it is a long ride.

The wall, which has created a series of semi-connected bantustans, and the unpredictable time one can spend negotiating checkpoints, are the real drama of Palestinian life little reported in the West.

Palestinian family facing years of upside-down politicsBuilt to stop Palestinian suicide bombers ravaging everyday Israeli life, the vertical concrete slabs crash through Palestinian communities, partition families in the same street, slow everyday life to a trickle, strangle Palestinian attempts to make a living – and bolster extremists.

A young cleaner from the northern West Bank tells me he rents in Jerusalem because the short trip home could take hours depending on the time of day and the humour of the checkpoint soldiers. He's lucky: If he lived in Nablus or Jericho he would need a special permit to leave home, but wouldn't necessarily get it.

Regulations stray into the Kafkaesque. Last year, the Israeli military added a local staple, salad herb za'atar (hyssop) to its list of protected wild plants, confiscating bunches at checkpoints from astonished Palestinians.

At home the first meal my friend cooks is makloube. It means 'upside down' in Arabic - steaming hot cauliflower, eggplant and meat are upended on a bed of rice and we tuck in. I have been pining for this meal: It's an evocation of this place and my Palestinian family in another time. Makloube is also a pretty good description of how I felt most of the time I was there.

Palestinian family facing years of upside-down politicsGangs of boys hang out on corners and wander the streets with a suspicion of strangers that wasn't there before. They should be in school, technical college, university. If there were jobs for them. A hospital executive tells me eight out of ten Palestinians live under the poverty line and there is sixty percent unemployment.

In the 1970s, at the height of European sympathy for Palestinians, they were called the Jews of the Arab world, highly-educated and exiled. "We will never have a democratic Palestine until the whole Middle East is democratic and free", Palestinian friends told me then.

I don't hear much about democracy now, except in cynical jokes. Many locals have not seen a wage or pension since Hamas convincingly won the Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006 against a corrupt Fatah and foreign donors cut funds to the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian family facing years of upside-down politicsWeeks ago Hamas leader, Ismail Haniya, returned to the West Bank with suitcases full of 'solidarity funds' from Iran and elsewhere. Now Condoleeza Rice says she will request financial support from the US Congress to fund the Palestinian security forces run by Fatah.

In the backyard I play with the gorgeous kids who are the third generation of my Palestinian family – they don't respond at all to overhead helicopter gunships - and it is bitter sweet as I consider the future that awaits them and Israeli children on the other side of the wall.

Refreshingly, unlike many diaspora Jews who robotically defend Israel's every action, Israelis on the other side will discuss and argue anything - especially in their robust media.

Palestinian family facing years of upside-down politicsIsraeli demographics, the cultural revival of Jewish communities in Europe and the US, the resurgence of local Jewish identities, and the shifting international view of Israel will play a part in the future shape of this place.

But not as much as a confident Hamas bolstered by Iran, the strategic reshaping of the Middle East after the war in Lebanon last year and the ramifications for many countries should Iraq implode, especially Syria and particularly Jordan next door.

I fear the third generation of my Palestinian family – and maybe the one after - will be locked in the makloube politics of the so-called Holy Land for innumerable years to come.



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