(Note: There are so many more episodes to be shared from the saga of North Korea and my many trips into the unique country. Perhaps we can return to more journal excerpts in the near future. Please be assured that all of my field journals for over the past nearly twenty-five years will be included in the multi-volume Roads I Have Traveled . . . Delivering Help and Hope series soon to be published by Winston-Crown Publishing House. But now, I want to share a bit of excitement surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Project C.U.R.E.’s unique involvement.)
Israel, West Bank, Ramallah: June 6-14, 2002: It seemed like the right thing to do. The dates of June 6-14 opened nearly miraculously, allowing me to commit to traveling to the Middle East. I had planned to be in Republic of Guinea in West Africa on those dates with Seko Diallo. He had even traveled to Colorado and viewed all our facilities. He was so impressed that Project C.U.R.E. could make such a huge difference in the healthcare system of Republic of Guinea. All his paperwork was filed with our office and our flight plans had been made.
Then, on May 15, Seko Diallo called me. He was in a panic. He had just been informed by the US immigration department that he would be allowed to leave the US to host me on the trip to Republic of Guinea but that he would not be allowed to re-enter our country. He could stay here but not go out and then back in on the visa he held. He was beside himself. (I think that’s OK, being “beside himself,” at least he knew his own location).
In his call he begged me, “Dr. Jackson, could we please delay our trip until my attorney can plead my case to the government? I really want to go with you to my country.”
On the very next day, May 16, I received a phone call and eventually met with Mohamed Jodeh, Denver’s main Islamic leader and head of the Islamic mosque.
“Dr. Jackson, the Muslims of Colorado and the Jews of Colorado under the leadership of Rabbi Steve Foster want to do something special together to ease the suffering of the people in the West Bank and Gaza. We need Project C.U.R.E. to join our efforts by donating a considerable amount of emergency medical goods and by being the neutral catalyst for our coalition. Can you help?” I reminded Mohamed of our policy to perform a needs assessment of the institutions prior to our sending any medical goods, but that Project C.U.R.E. would be happy to join the efforts if the details could be worked out.
“Okay,” Mohamed replied, “how about going with me to the Holy Land on the dates, June 6-14?”
I stuttered a little and said, “That’s interesting that you called and more interesting that you would pick those dates. Had you called two days ago my answer would have been ‘no,’ but as of today I can commit those dates to you.”
I had visited Gaza and also the West Bank towns of Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah, and Bethlehem before. I had also visited Beirut, Lebanon, and all the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon on previous trips. It had not been safe at all to visit even then. But, now, the classification had moved from “not safe at all” to “downright dangerous.” The political situation had grown a great deal more complicated and hundreds of people, both Israeli and Palestinian, had been murdered.
The West Bank was situated west of the Jordan River between the state of Israel and the country of Jordan, and also bordered the Dead Sea. I knew the twelve disciples wouldn’t like me to say this, but it’s really quite ugly in the West Bank as compared even to North Korea. The temperatures can easily exceed 100 degrees in the summer; it’s rocky and dry and doesn’t have a lot in the way of natural resources.
The Romans were the ones who gave the area the name of “Palestine.” But before that even the West Bank was part of the Hebrew kingdom established and ruled by King David and his descendants. Following conquests by the Babylonians, Assyrians, later the Persians, and finally the Greeks and Romans, Palestine was taken over by the Arabs in about 600 AD. In the 1500s the Ottoman Turks ruled until after the First World War when Palestine was declared a British mandate. During that time the Balfour Declaration of 1917 pledged British support, setting up a national home for the Jews in Palestine, but oddly enough it also insisted that the civil and religious rights of the non-Jews be protected in the area. That represented the same fuzzyheaded thinking that the Brits displayed in partitioning India and Pakistan and leaving Kashmir dangling for folks to later sort out.
In 1949 the newly formed United Nations voted to partition the area into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, with Jerusalem maintaining an even different status of its own. When Israel actually became an independent nation in 1948, the Arab states that chose to oppose the UN action declared war on Israel, which they did again in 1956, 1967, and 1973. Israel’s victory in 1967 was so decisive that it moved to occupy the West Bank (which had belonged to Jordan), Syria’s Golan Heights and Egypt’s Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula. East Jerusalem was also taken over and occupied by Israel.
At the 1979 Camp David Accords, the Sinai Peninsula was given back to Egypt and the status of West Bank and Gaza was placed on the table for later negotiations. But peace negotiations during the 1980s really went nowhere, which led a frustrated Arab side to declare an independent state of Palestine in 1987. The uprisings known or referred to as “intifada” became clashes of greater and greater severity. The West Bank and Gaza became flash points of violence between the Arabs and the Israeli forces of occupation.
A peace conference between Palestine and Israel took place in 1991 and finally resulted in the Oslo, Norway, agreements of 1994. The agreements called for an end of the 17 years of occupation by the Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza. It also allowed for eventual self-rule in Gaza and the city of Jericho in the West Bank.
As the Israeli soldiers withdrew, the Palestinians had to replace them with their own policeman. In 1994 Yasser Arafat, chairman of the activist Palestine Liberation Organization (P.L.O.), was elected head of the Palestine National Authority. Additionally, an 88-member Palestinian council was elected.
Expectations were high on both sides, and the West Bank and Gaza economics started to sputter into a higher gear and Arabs from around the world started to build homes and businesses in the West Bank and Gaza.
However, Israelis started their own expansion program of building settlements throughout the West Bank. The hopes of accord fostered by the Oslo agreements soon soured and violent terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and even previously unaffected areas like Netanya, escalated the feelings of betrayal and distrust. Peace seemed a long way away.
In 1999, Israeli Prime Minister Ehad Barak went further than any Israeli leader before him in offering concessions to the Palestinians in order to reach peace. The outside world was surprised at the extent to which Barak had gone with his offer. Surely the Arabs would all agree to practically returning to the borders prior to 1967, where 94% of Gaza and West Bank would become the basis for a new separate Palestinian state, along with a joint rule agreement for jurisdiction over Jerusalem.
But, the world was to be even more surprised at Arafat’s flat refusal of the proposition. What in the world was Arafat thinking?
Next Week: Arafat unable to control Islamic Jihad terrorist organizations.
© Dr. James W. Jackson
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