Are You Barcelona Or Madrid?

Surrounded by the state of Israel, and the Kingdom of Jordan as its eastern neighbour, the West Bank is currently home to approximately 2 million Palestinians. Ever since the Six-­‐Day War in 1967 this territory is occupied and largely controlled by the israeli military. A precise description of this region is hardly possible to give. One will find a manifold place with vast landscapes that could not be more different from one another: the green mountains around Salfit with their seemingly endless olive groves, the dry hills of the Judaean Desert close to Jerusalem, and the prospering lowlands around Jericho.

One will find sleepy little villages in the valleys and peasants cultivating their lands like their ancestors did in yesteryears. When going into the cities, one will automatically participate with the buzz of activity and see how the cities are opening and growing. Next to the traditional markets called suks, new shopping-­‐ malls grow into the sky, and huge advertisement banners show western products. In Ramallah one can meet a family that have made a little wealth with their importation company. When the parents became refugees during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, they emigrated to the USA. Some years ago, their sons returned to the West Bank. When one asks them why they decided to come back, they answer that they did not want to surrender the land to the others, the Israelis.

In Jericho, a young doctor tells his story. When he went to Romania to study medicine, his family at home sent him a better part of their income to finance his studies. He wants to go back to Europe because, like many others, he finds it hard to get a good job in the West Bank and feels he has better chances abroad. Inside houses, postcards hang on the walls: correspondences from relatives who went to the Netherlands or Canada to seek a better life. Jobs are rare in this region. When they come, they are most likely temporary. The perpetual political fragility of the area means that both local and foreign businesses invest very timidly, and have done so for decades.

When one drives through the outskirts of Ramallah, one will notice the housing estates and the growth of the city. Many people work in Ramallah, but few are able to live there. Consequently, a significant number of houses remain empty. The signs on the construction sites identify the investors of these projects: members of the European Union or the United States.

In a bakery at the suk in Nablus, a man talks about foreign aid given by European and North American countries. He is grateful, but points out that as long as the population does not have autonomy over their land, the help given will lead to nothing. He hopes that, one day, the Palestinians will be able to build a life with their own resources, instead of existing only through the help of foreign countries and organizations.

The Jordan Valley, with its temperate climate, fertile soil and large water resources offers these capabilities. The Jordan Valley, however, is a district by the Jordanian border and is therefore declared as a restricted area. As Palestinians are not allowed to enter without permission, Israeli companies use this area to cultivate fruits and vegetables in greenhouses and fields for their local markets and for exportation to Europe.

The beginning of the last bloody uprising against the occupation, the second intifada, dates back more than 10 years.

In some city and village streets in the West Bank, weathered posters reminding its fighters of the cause still hang on the walls. For a youth in Nablus, they are „Freedom Fighters“: the only option to resist against a militarily superior enemy. For others, they are men who committed terrorist attacks on Israelis and, through the choice of violence, discredited the rest of the Palestinian people. An actor in the refugee camp of Jenin says that, in the past, every Palestinian would have liked to become a martyr in the battle for independence; nowadays most of the people here prefer to die old. For the barber in Jericho, the second intifada ruined everything that had been built over the previous years. What changed is, partly, easily recognizable. For instance, there is now a fortified border that divides the West Bank and Israel with the purpose of protecting Israeli citizens from attacks. However, the barrier also runs deep into the West Bank, separating villages from one another, and peasants from their fields. Separation wall, security fence, apartheid wall – the given name depends on the point of view. One who wants to go to Israel must cross the border through one of the several checkpoints. Not everyone gets the necessary permission, young men hardly ever – they are presumed to be potential terrorists and therefore a security risk.

A teacher from Jenin once received permission to visit Israel. He proudly shows images from his visit to Jerusalem where he is standing in front of the Al-­‐Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, Islam‘s third holiest site. People who live in the West Bank are not able to visit it whenever it is convenient for them. Some have never had the chance to go. The desire to go is obviously represented in the form of images and items put in and around the house.

On a table in a living room in Salfit stands a model of the Dome of the Rock. The family‘s youngest son, arrested during the second intifada, built it whilst he was in prison. Many were detained and apparently everyone knows someone who is still in prison. In the collective memory, the conflict is omnipresent. Today, when gazing at the hilltops in the surrounding landscape, one is reminded of the presence of Israeli settlers who leave their tracks on these barren places: well provided for settlements, consisting of containers and trailer houses, where the flag of Israel waves in the air.

The blue star of david on a white background is also flying in Kalandia, currently the biggest checkpoint in the West Bank, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Close to the street, where hundreds of vehicles are waiting in crowded conditions to pass through the border into Israel, a group of children throws stones in the direction of a tin puppet. Some days later, one will see the same place and familiar scenes in the news. This time young men are masked and the stones fly towards Israeli soldiers. It is the same generation of young Palestinians that one can see playing soccer in the streets and backyards, and that goes crazy for the teams in the Spanish soccer league. In these moments, the conflict seems far away. They adore Messi and Ronaldo, and ask which team you prefer. Barcelona or Madrid – and you have to make a choice.

Between remembering the past and holding hope for a different future, it seems to be this generation that moves between existential extremes.

The teacher from Jenin has been married for a short period of time. Together with his father, he is planting garlic in a small garden at front of his house. When one asks which is his favourite soccer team, he shows little interest. He wants to start a family here, something Spain has nothing to do with. Spain, he says, is not his homeland

Are You Barcelona Or Madrid?