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A Day in Area 'A'

Sign for Area A in Ramallah (Photo: flickr/michaelwrose)

While visitors to the Holy Land experience many different sights and scenes, there are some that are foreign and even forbidden. Writing at The Times of Israel, Aviva Klompas tells of her visit in and around Ramallah, an area no Israeli is allowed to go and one to which few visitors venture:

It’s only 22 kilometers between Jerusalem and Ramallah, but the two cities are worlds apart. We depart our Jerusalem hotel early in the morning and drive north. Thirty minutes later, we pass large red signs in Hebrew, Arabic, and English stating, “The entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden. Dangerous to your lives and is against the Israeli law.”

A short while later we arrive at our first destination, the al-Am’ari refugee camp. Our group, a study tour of American academics, descends from the bus into the June heat. Just east of Ramallah, Am’ari is one of 19 refugee camps in the West Bank and is located in Area ‘A,’ under the control of the Palestinian Authority. In reality, the Palestinian government refuses to take responsibility or provide basic services for the camp’s 7,000 residents. As a result, it has become a hotbed of resentment toward Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

We enter the camp under a large archway with a key emblazoned on the sign, a symbol of the Palestinian desire to return to homes they left or were driven from in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The streets are teeming with garbage. Our guide explains that, until a few years ago, sewage ran through the streets. The Palestinian Authority refused to build sewage pipes, so the local counsel raised the money to install the pipes that we see running along the outside of the buildings. Some are noticeably cracked, and we are told that from time to time the pipes explode showering the narrow alleyways with raw sewage.

Our group steps gingerly around the piles of spoiled food and waste as we navigate twisting allies covered in graffiti and walls painted with giant keys. Above us are tattered strings of political pennants hanging between the cinder block buildings. The shutters of shops are papered in posters of “martyrs” killed while perpetrating terror attacks against Israelis.

A boy emerges from a passageway carrying an uncomfortably realistic toy gun. He raises it to eye level and fires a spray of pellets in our direction, hitting one of the women in the group. She rubs at the spot and insists that she is fine. The boy darts between us, retrieving pellets from the ground and proceeds to reload his gun and take aim once again at the group. Walking a bit faster, we continue through the camp’s narrow alleys, passing other boys clutching toy guns. Someone in the group wonders aloud how long it would be until the toy guns in their hands are real guns...

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