Journal Highlights: Roads I Have Traveled ... Excerpt #5 2002

(continued): Israel, West Bank, Ramallah: June 6-14, 2002: There were a few Palestinian police stationed outside the military complex in half-destroyed, forty-foot shipping containers, which they had tried to make into guard shacks. We drove right in as the guards waived us through. 

As I climbed out of the car, I was struck by the awesome thoroughness of the destruction of the entire facility. The preventative security palace had been completed in 2000 with the help of millions of dollars of donations from the other Arab states. It was really the pride of Arafat and the entire Palestinian Authority. It had represented military and intelligence sophistication fitting a new Arab country, even if they were not yet recognized as such.

We walked around the large, four-floored main building. It had been a magnificent facility with fine architectural appointments. Carved marble eagles had been perched on spheres representing the world and adorned the grand glass and marble entrance to the main building. Now, everything was blown to bits. The domed glass roof on the entry atrium was mostly on the marble floor with a few remaining pieces dangling precariously from the original framework overhead.

Israeli tanks had encircled the facility and meticulously aimed their cannons at every strategic inch of the building while attack helicopters fired rockets from above.

We walked through the rubble and broken glass and marble right into the main part of the complex. Desks, office equipment, a newly framed oil painting of Arafat … all lay in ruins on the floors. Nothing in the building had been older than two years. Now everything lay in burned heaps of charred rubble.

We made our way cautiously to the grand marble stairway to the upper floors being careful not to accidentally step on any unexploded rockets or bombs. I reached down and turned over the tail fin of a high-tech “smart bomb” with all the burned wires still dangling.

The main intelligence department had been located in one corner in the upper floor. As we approached that area the texture of the ash and rubble changed. I don’t know what kind of incendiary missiles must have been shot through the thick walls of the building and into the intelligence headquarters. But the heat that was created must have been exceptional. Where the banks of computers and high-tech equipment once sat there was absolutely nothing. On the floor, however, was about six inches of very fine white ash, the only remains of the department’s contents. It was my understanding that the Israeli forces had notified the Palestinians to evacuate the buildings before the strike so that there would not be intentional loss of life.

Outside, and behind the complex, stood the remains of Arafat’s armed security vehicles. They were just like President George Bush’s armored Chevy Suburban SUVs. Bush’s were black, Arafat’s had been white. Systematically, the tanks and helicopters had blown up or totally disabled the fleet of prized vehicles. I would guess that about 100 vehicles had been destroyed. 

It was getting dark on Saturday night as we left the preventative security palace, and Mohamed’s uncle returned us to the old home place of the Jodeh family in Ramallah. It had been an incredible day of learning and emotion. The Middle East tensions and conflicts had gone on for centuries. Today, they remained complex and very serious, perhaps more complex and serious than ever before in history. There was no question that it was a literal life and death struggle.

Sunday, June 9

The Jodeh family had lived at the same location in Ramallah for over 50 years. Mohamed had grown up at the same address and had attended the local Arab schools. In subsequent years, most of the children had moved away. However, just a few years ago three of the sons decided to pay to have the family home enlarged so that they could eventually move back home. On top of the old original structure, which had been constructed of native Holy Land white stone, they built three additional levels. Each level contained a residence for each son. Mohamed’s mother was still alive; one of the single daughters now lived with and assisted her.

On the south side of the old home were two lots about one-third acre each. About fifty years earlier Mohamed’s father had started planting fruit trees and grapes on the two lots. Over the years the trees had matured and enlarged into quite an outstanding orchard and garden.

Before going to bed Saturday night, Mohamed asked me if I would like to get up early Sunday morning and tour the garden. Sunday morning, just as the sun was coming up we were out picking plums, apricots, almonds, figs, lemons and two different kinds of berries, which were growing on trees instead of prickly bushes. The grapes, pomegranates, and apples were not quite ripe but there were plenty of chickpeas to pull up and take to the house.

When we were finished, we sat under the shade of a beautiful lemon tree located on the patio and enjoyed a cool breeze and a cup of hot espresso coffee. It was difficult to believe that I was sitting so peacefully within the heart of one of the most explosive and strife-torn regions of the world.

Our first appointment Sunday morning was at the Red Crescent headquarters building. As we traveled by taxi across Ramallah we once again saw scores of automobiles lining the streets that had been run over by the Israeli tanks. The rules were that if an Arab car was left on the street and impeded the destination of an Israeli tank or tracked personnel carrier, the Army vehicle simply would run over the top of the vehicle. Once destroyed the vehicles were worth nothing, so they were left along the streets or pushed off onto a vacant lot.

Red Crescent’s headquarters were situated in an adequate three-story building, completely surrounded by white ambulances with the organization’s logo, a bright Red Crescent moon, on each side.

The director general, Feyeq Hussein, warmly welcomed us into his office. He had been a schoolmate with Mohamed. I explained that Project C.U.R.E. had worked closely with Red Crescent in Iraq, Senegal, Mauritania, Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon, and other Muslim countries around the world. The director general told me that he was already familiar with the fine work of Project C.U.R.E. and understood that we worked with Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others on a non-political basis. I assured him that our interest was in taking help and hope to the medically needy all over the world.

I went on to explain that in the past I had been disappointed that we had met with difficulty when we tried to deliver donated medical goods into Lebanon, West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

“I sincerely apologize to you for any occasion where your efforts were hampered when trying to deliver needed goods to the Arab communities.”

“Well, Mr. Hussein,” I shared, “I really need your help in order to successfully deliver Project C.U.R.E.’s donated medical goods into West Bank. Will you help me?”

“I will not only help you, I will guarantee that you will no longer have problems even if we have to ship the goods in through ports in Jordan instead of Israel and truck the containers to Ramallah with our own vehicles,” he replied.

We talked about the desperate needs experienced by the small hospitals and clinics in West Bank. I told him that we would like to specifically donate some of the goods to the places where we had already finished the needs assessment studies, but in the future Project C.U.R.E. would also be happy to consider donating medical supplies additionally to Red Crescent. We had tea together, and Mohamed and I left with the assurance that it was now possible for our goods to arrive in Ramallah unhindered.

The rest of the day was filled with more meetings and about 9 p.m. we were driven to the lovely home of Mohamed’s brother-in-law and sister, where we ate an absolutely incredible dinner meal of rack of lamb, rice, cooked vegetables, and desserts. Of course, you will never find any alcohol in the home of a Muslim and when one of the five daily prayer times roll around, you stop doing whatever you were doing while they get out their prayer rugs, face Mecca, and pray with their foreheads on the ground.

Following dinner Mohamed walked with me to a cyber shop where I paid to get on the Internet and send an e-mail home to Anna Marie letting her know that everything seemed very peaceful in Ramallah, West Bank.

My message was premature and way wrong!

Next Week: This isn’t Tbilisi, Georgia 

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

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Journal Highlights: Roads I Have Traveled ... Excerpt #4 June 2002

(continued): Israel, West Bank, Ramallah: June 6-14, 2002: Our next meeting proved to be quite interesting. There were four different officials representing different groups or municipalities needing medical supplies. Dr. Mofleh Nadi of the Palestine Arab Front also represented the Palestinian National Authority’s ministry of local governments. He explained how the regional hospital of Joresh was desperately in need of everything from examination tables to forceps to autoclaves for sterilization. I told him I believed we could help him. He then presented me with a handwritten list of the most urgently needed items for his region.

Ibtisam Zeidan was a middle-aged Arab woman who attended our meeting. Somehow she had been able to obtain an American passport in the past and had spent some time in the Ohio area. She was telling me how she had also learned Hebrew and that by showing the Israeli guards her American passport and speaking the Jewish language, she was able to move about the West Bank quite freely.

Ibtisam represented the Palestinian Women’s Committee. It was really quite interesting to talk to her about what her committee was doing to influence the Arab women in the old occupied areas.

When we left that meeting Mohamed’s uncle drove us straight to Arafat’s Palestinian government headquarters compound. Mohamed’s uncle had been born in Ramallah, and since he knew nearly everyone, we just drove right through all the checkpoints and stopped very close to Arafat’s main residence building.

Just two nights earlier, in retaliation for the suicide bus-bombing incident, the Israeli tanks, attack helicopters, and troops had converged again on Arafat’s compound knowing that he was sleeping there. The devastation that had occurred just two nights earlier was just amazing. This raid wiped out several large buildings on and near the compound that had escaped destruction during the March and April retaliatory raids by the Israelis. 

The landscape looked like an earthquake had hit and leveled the area. There was not a lot of difference between what I was looking at and the flattened and demolished buildings I had viewed just weeks earlier at the epicenter of the super earthquake which had hit northwest India in Gujarat state.

There was still the fresh smell of burned gunpowder and spent explosives. It reminded me of sitting near the firing pit at a July 4th fireworks extravaganza and smelling the residue of the cannon-fired jumbo sparklers.

As we got out of the car I carried my camera in plain view and began snapping pictures. No one bothered me. I strolled right up to where the Palestinian Authority’s uniformed guards were probing around in the rubble. Scores of Palestinian Authority vehicles sat burned out or run over by Israeli tanks. I had definitely entered a war zone.

I continued to be amazed that no one seemed to be concerned that I was taking pictures and freely walking around inside the bombed-out executive compound.

Two of the main buildings were joined at the second level by an enclosed bridge way. From that bridge way there was a great view of the entire compound and of the lower end of Ramallah. That was where Arafat’s formal dining room was located. That was where he hosted the Arab country leaders when they visited. That was where Arafat held most of his interviews with BBC and CNN.

But the tanks had rumbled into the compound and successfully blown huge holes right through the middle of the swank bridge way. Mohamed’s uncle asked if I wanted to try to get an interview with Arafat. He was just inside the landing of the main building, no more than a hundred feet away from me conducting other press interviews. I declined the uncle’s suggestion saying that I did not think it appropriate nor did I feel comfortable with requesting an audience at such a tense time. 

I walked on continuing to take pictures. There were two Palestinian bulldozers trying to push around the rubble and broken buildings and clean up the mess from the previous nights.

I was just in the middle of trying to count the demolished vehicles inside and outside Arafat’s compound when Mohamed reminded me that we were about late for our next appointment.

I had not remembered from my previous visits to the West Bank that Ramallah was as large as it was. Well over 500,000 people lived there. Many of the residents traveled out of the city and out of West Bank to work every day in the Israeli areas. The Palestinians didn’t really have much industry or employment of their own. Their economics were dangerously dependent on the Israeli economy. Likewise, the Jewish economy depended heavily on the Arabs for laborers.

When we finished our other appointments, we stopped by the headquarters of Red Crescent, the Muslims’ counterpart to the West’s Red Cross. There we registered our confirmation for our meeting with the director general for the next morning.

Apparently, my interest in photographing the remains of Arafat’s governmental compound caught the attention of Mohamed’s uncle who was driving us around Ramallah. “How would you like to go look at Arafat’s preventative security palace, which the Israeli army destroyed about 60 days ago? I think I can drive there.”

“Yes,” I answered, “I would very much like to go and see it. Are you sure you can get me in to see it? Isn’t that where the elite Palestinian guards and intelligence forces are stationed?”

“Yes,” Mohamed’s uncle answered, “but no one is even there anymore. It is completely destroyed.”

Next Week: The Arab’s Preventative Security Palace in ashes 

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

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Journal Highlights: Roads I Have Traveled ... Excerpt #3 from June 2002

(continued): Israel, West Bank, Ramallah: June 6-14, 2002: The bus had barely stopped burning when Sharon retaliated by sending in Israeli attack helicopters and tanks into the suicide bomber’s hometown of Jenin and into Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah. Earlier, the Israelis had devastated the headquarters compound of Yasser Arafat, but the soldiers found plenty of new targets to blow up, including shooting high-caliber shells into where Arafat slept and ate. The exercise was not intended to kill or capture Arafat but the message was once again made very clear that if Arafat could not control the violence of his people against Israel then the Israelis would once again come in and capture and punish the terrorist perpetrators.

In fact, just the day before the bus bombing, George Tenet, the head of the US CIA had told Arafat that if he did not prevent attacks, he would stand alone in facing Israeli reprisals, an apparent threat that the United States would give Sharon a freer hand in retaliating.

Well, that was the Ramallah and West Bank into which I entered to do the needs assessment studies on Friday, June 7, 2002.

Our taxi van took Mohamed and me to the front gate of the Jodeh family home. It was a handsome, four-storied structure made of traditional, native, tan, Holy Land stone. The parents had lived on the main floor, and then in subsequent years they built three more floors hoping to accommodate three additional sons and their wives when they retired and moved back to Ramallah.

The Jodeh home was built on a hillside. Directly up the hill and across the street, Arafat had built his Palestinian Authority Hospital. Arafat’s government headquarters compound, the fancy new preventative security palace (housing his elite security forces and new intelligence technology), and the new hospital were the three symbols of pride and joy for the strutting Palestinian authority. They were badges of identity. 

After a fine Arab dinner, it was time to actually lie down and try to sleep after the two straight days and nights of constant travel.

Saturday, June 8

Mohamed had done an excellent job of setting our itinerary for the days of my visit. We would spend Saturday and Sunday in Ramallah. Monday we would travel to Jerusalem and possibly Bethlehem and perform needs assessments and meet key Palestinian health officials. Tuesday we would travel to Nablus in the north. Wednesday would be spent in the hotbed of most recent radicalism, the town of Jenin, then, back to Jerusalem for meetings before taking a taxi from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv for the midnight flight back to Toronto.

Our first meeting Sunday morning was with Friends of Patients Rehabilitation and Therapy Hospital. Steve Socabe, with whom I had worked before in Gaza Strip, West Bank, and the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, was associated with Rehabilitation Hospital in Ramallah. Ninety-four percent of the patients of that facility were there with war-related injuries. They handled a lot of cases of spinal cord injuries resulting from gunshot wounds or shrapnel fragment wounds resulting from the Palestinian-Israeli conflicts. The hospital served as a referral hospital for patients from all over the West Bank. Within just the past 60 days there had been 10,700 wounded Palestinians in the region, resulting in 1,500 patients with permanent disabilities requiring rehabilitation. Forty percent of all injuries happened to kids under age 18. 

Dr. Bitawi Ahmed was the medical director of the facility. He was a very qualified orthopedic surgeon and along with the chairman of the board of the center, gave us a very thorough tour of the institution and helped us with our needs assessment questions.

During the tour of the recovery rooms in the hospital, I was impressed with the number of young boys, in their teens and early 20s, who had been disabled by gunshot wounds or explosions. Many of them were permanently paralyzed either from their neck or waist down. I spent a little time with a tall thirteen-year-old boy and his father who was attending the boy’s bedside. The boy was a sharp, bright-eyed fellow with curly hair and a quick smile. A bomb explosion had severed the spinal cord in his lower back. He would not have use of his lower body for the rest of his life. His father really appreciated my taking an interest in his son. He could hardly believe that an American would travel to Ramallah to try to help them with their medical situation.

Dr. Ahmed shared with me his big dream. As an orthopedic surgeon he was pushing for a new orthopedic operating theater at the facility. At the time of our assessment, he was in the practice of going to another Ramallah hospital to perform patients’ surgeries. They were then moved to the rehabilitation center. The board of directors had already given him permission to extend the size of the main building for the surgical room, but none of them had any idea of how they would get the needed pieces of operating equipment or supplies for the new project. You could only imagine how excited he was when he learned that it might be possible to get Project C.U.R.E. to help in supplying the necessary pieces of medical equipment, surgical supplies, and orthopedic devices.

Before we left the facility, Dr. Ahmed compiled a very extensive list of items needed and presented it to me in hopes that Project C.U.R.E. could be of assistance in the future.

We then traveled across the city of Ramallah for an interesting meeting with an organization called “Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.” Dr. Jihad Mashal, the director general, explained how their organization tried to represent the needs of a large number of facilities within the West Bank and Gaza. Their primary concern was with the rural clinics and small town hospitals where it was extremely difficult to arrange for any medical assistance from the outside. The health ministry was stretched in their capacity to serve the larger hospitals in the major cities of Nablus, Jenin, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Hebron. Most of the secondary hospitals and clinics had to go begging for assistance.

The mayor of one of the smaller towns presented me with a list of desperately needed medical goods for the Qabuan municipality. His hospital and his clinics were trying to do their best but had no way to access basic medical goods to meet the general needs of the people. 

Once more we climbed into the small car driven by Mohamed’s uncle and re-crossed the city of Ramallah to our next appointment. As we drove, I remarked about the many buildings that had been damaged or destroyed by what appeared to be bombs or tank fire. Many of the streets and curbs had been torn up by tracked vehicles traveling through the city of Ramallah.

Mohamed asked, “When we are finished with the next appointment would you like to take a little tour and get a better look at the damage to our city?”

“Yes, of course,” I answered.

Next Week: Personally observing Arafat in his bombed out headquarters and home 

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

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Journal Highlights: Roads I Have Traveled ... Excerpt #2 from June, 2002

(continued): Israel, West Bank, Ramallah: June 6-14, 2002: Peace seemed unattainable and the world opinion seemed to shift to accept the growing fear that Arafat didn’t really want peace at all, that he had more to gain by seeing how close he could come to a final accord then slipping away from the table. It was feared that the other Arab states would continue to financially support the arrangement in place when the Arab refugees were contained in camps rather than being integrated into a new state or into the borders of the other areas of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, etc.

The fear that seemed to startle the outside world was that the Arab and Palestinian forces would never be satisfied with any concession other than the dissolution and disappearance of an Israeli state in the Middle East and a return to a status prior to 1917.

Accompanying the growing fear emerged a new frustration. Arafat didn’t seem capable of controlling the violent acts of terror carried out by his groups of Hamas and other Islamic jihad organizations. World opinion raised the question as to whether Arafat was the one to be at the negotiating table at all.

Prior to our traveling to West Bank the terrorist situation had escalated to an almost unbelievable level. Nearly two years had seen the second round of intifada produce numbers of suicide bombers, where Palestinian individuals with belts or backpacks stuffed with explosives would walk into a crowded establishment where Jews had gathered and trigger a detonator to blow up themselves and everyone else in the crowded area. Young teens and even schoolgirls were being recruited as lethal human bombs. Other Arab countries would even pay the children’s families large sums of money for their “brave acts of martyrdom.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared that if Arafat could not call in the terrorists, then the Israeli military would go back into the West Bank cities and root out the pockets of terrorists. His tanks and helicopter gunships went into Ramallah and completely destroyed Arafat’s newly built and equipped preventative security palace of his elite guard. Following another suicide bombing where many Israelis were killed, Sharon sent his tanks and helicopters right into Arafat’s headquarters compound and destroyed a large percentage of the facility while Arafat was in residence. Then Sharon left his troops there and confined Arafat to the shelled out headquarters for nearly four months. Arafat finally agreed to verbally condemn the suicide bombings and Israel let him go free.

Thursday, June 6

Thursday morning Anna Marie took me to the airport to board Air Canada #582 to Toronto, Canada. My flight would take me to Toronto, and then I had a non-stop flight Air Canada #886 right into Tel Aviv. Mohamed had already flown into Tel Aviv and it was agreed that he would meet me at the airport when I arrived.

Friday, June 7

Per our agreement, Mohamed met me at the Ben Gurion airport. He had hired a van with the correct color of license plate on it to transport us into the West Bank. Our trip from Tel Aviv to Ramallah was not as complicated as it could have been. At the military checkpoints I simply showed my American passport, told them I was a visitor and humanitarian and the Israeli guards waived me through.

The night that I was traveling, Sharon gave orders to the Israeli military to retaliate for the latest suicide bombing. The incident by the Hamas had taken Arab terrorism to a strange new level.

In the early days of intifada the Islamic jihad groups like the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine used cars packed full of explosives. They would park the cars near the targets to be blown up or along the street where the intended victim would be traveling and detonate the car bomb by timer devices or remote control detonators. Those bombs were effective in blowing up the intended targets but also struck fear in the hearts of the Israelis. 

But the car bombs advanced to more lethal and more frightening methods of terror. People who were radically active in the Palestinian cause were recruited to be trained on how to use their bodies to deliver the deadly explosives. The terrorist group of Hamas became very brazen and prolific at selling, especially young people in their teens and early twenties, on the glories of suicide martyrdom. The young suicide bombers were very difficult to detect and quick and eager to take risks. They took on the mission knowing, but probably not fully understanding, that they wouldn’t be coming back to receive accolades after their daring mission.

About 8 a.m. Thursday, as I was in Denver preparing to leave for Israel, the Islamic jihad ratcheted their insidious terrorist methods up one more notch. Never before had they employed the use of a young teenager to drive a small van totally packed with explosives into another moving object. A suicide bomber driving his bomb into a moving bus was unthinkable.

The Israeli bus had left Tel Aviv at 5:50 a.m. full of sleepy passengers headed for Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. Many of the fares were military passengers headed for their assignments. As the bus passed through the town of Megiddo (Hebrew for Armageddon) a sixteen-year-old boy pulled alongside the back portion of the bus and detonated enough explosives to lift the bus and flip it over twice before coming to rest totally engulfed in deadly flames.

At least 17 people died immediately. Thirteen of those incinerated were Israeli soldiers. Many more were taken to the hospital in critical condition. “It was timed to mark the 35th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” said the spokesman of Islamic jihad, which quietly claimed credit for the bombing.

Next Week: Community health needs . . . plus war-related injuries 

© Dr. James W. Jackson   

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Journal Highlights: Roads I Have Traveled ... Excerpt #1 from June 2002

(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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