The West Bank Story

You can check the map of the West Bank and find out the distances from north to south and east to west. But to give you an idea of the total area of the West Bank, Switzerland is more than 7 times bigger than the West Bank!

For Jews, this area was called Judea and Samaria more than 2,000 years ago, part of the ancient land of the Israelites that Jews believe had been promised to them by God.  For Palestinians, this is where many fled after the creation of Israel and the war that broke out between Israel and neighboring Arab countries in 1948. The West Bank became part of Jordan, but when Egypt and Jordan attacked Israel in 1967, Israel got control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Although still occupied by the Israeli military, in the 1990’s, Israel allowed most of the West Bank to be governed by Palestinian authorities. After a second Palestinian uprising (called the ‘Intifada’) took place in the year 2000, the Israeli government soon began to construct a barrier of fences and walls in an attempt to restrict, or cut back, the movement of Palestinians who might plan acts of violence against Israeli civilians and soldiers.

One main dilemma for Israel in deciding what to do about the West Bank is all about demographics, in this case, the population profile of the people living in the West Bank. Right now the population of the West Bank is about 2,500,000.  Of this number, about 75% are Palestinian Arabs, mostly Sunni Muslims.  About 17% of the West Bank population is made up of Israeli Jews.

If Israel remains in control of the West Bank, or if Israel decides that the West Bank is officially part of Israel, you can see that a large percent of Israel’s population would be non-Jewish. This problem for Israel is especially highlighted when considering the fact that an estimated 24% of Israel’s population of about 7 million is Arab.  Thus, the idea of Israel as a Jewish nation would be definitely challenged simply by the reality of demographics.

One other factor that complicates the situation in the West Bank is the growing number of Jewish ‘settlers,’ now about 190,000.  The settlers moved into the West Bank from areas of Israel as well as from other countries such as the U.S.  These Jewish settlers believe that it is important for them to live in the mostly-Arab territory because the settlers believe the West Bank is part of the land that God promised to the Jewish people.

Here is a video clip from an American TV network (ABC) about Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Although the story is from 1999, the issue is still relevant to what is happening today. What do you think the reporter meant when he said that for Palestinians, the Jewish settlements in the West Bank were a  ‘provocation’? (video is also available in Mr. Kenney’s StuShare folder.)

To show you how relevant that 1999 news story is, here’s a recent photo in Time magazine of May 2009!  Israeli soldiers are trying to remove some Jewish settlers in the West Bank. (Click on the image and you get a clearer view of the text.)  Why do you think this action may have taken place just after the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, visited the U.S. for talks with President Obama?

Another major issue that is part of the West Bank news story is the barrier that Israel started constructing in the West Bank in 2002.  The barrier consists mostly of fences and 60-meter exclusion zones but also concrete walls up to 8 meters high. Here’s a map that shows the boundaries of the Israeli barrier. (The Israeli government said that the barrier was about 60% complete in 2007.) The map also indicates the locations of Jewish settlements, which were mentioned earlier in this post.

Even the name for the barrier is controversial. The Israeli government refers to it as the ‘separation fence,’ ‘anti-terrorist fence,’ or ‘security fence.’  On the other hand, Palestinians refer to the barrier as the ‘racial segregation wall,’ and some people who are against the barrier call it the ‘Apartheid Wall.’

Here are three political cartoons that reflect varying opinions about the barrier. Which do you think Palestinians would most relate to and which would the Israeli government say reflects their opinion?

The Gaza Strip – ‘Closed Zone’

Dr. Everett recently shared the following short animation created by an Israeli director, Yoni Goodman. ‘Closed Zone’ was created in April of this year. It depicts a problem that people have been facing in the Gaza Strip, especially since the 3-week war back in December of 2008. See what you think (video also available in Mr. Kenney’s StuShare folder):

(You may have seen similarities in ‘Closed Zone’ with the animation of the previous post, ‘Waltz with Bashir.’ That’s because Yoni Goodman, the animation director of ‘Closed Zone,’ invented the style used in ‘Waltz with Bashir’ and he was the animation director of ‘Waltz with Bashir’ as well!)

The following video clip is a behind-the-scenes look at ‘Closed Zone.’ Yoni Goodman received a grant to make the animation from an Israeli human rights organization called Gisha. What does the Gisha official mean when she says that a main issue the animation addresses is ‘collective punishment’? Perhaps surprisingly, Yoni Goodman says that the character in the animation is depicted as ‘a bit Arab and a bit Jewish.’ What do you think he means by this? (video also available in Mr. Kenney’s StuShare folder)

For further knowledge about the Gaza Strip, you might want to check out this page from International Herald Tribune (the international edition of The New York Times). It has background information about the Gaza Strip and several interesting news reports, including timelines, photo slideshows and videos.
Gaza Strip Connections

After learning about the issues and events related to the Gaza Strip, you should be able to interpret this political cartoon.

An Israeli Soldier’s Memory of War in Lebanon

Ari Folman, the director of this animated movie, was a 19-year-old Israeli soldier in 1982. The Israeli army had invaded Lebanon in order to stop attacks by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1982, the Israelis sent 170,000 soldiers into Lebanon, destroying PLO forces in the south and eventually surrounding Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city.

In 2006, Folman meets with a friend from his army service period, who tells him of the nightmares connected to his experiences from the Lebanon War. Folman is surprised to find that he does not remember a thing from that period.

Later that night Ari Folman has a vision from the night of the massacre that took place at two refugee camps for Palestinian civilians (Sabra and Shantila), the reality of which he is unable to tell.

The massacres resulted when the Lebanese president, Bashir Gemayel was assassinated.  Lebanon is a country of Muslims and Christians.  Gemayel was Christian, and right after his death, the Lebanese army, made up of mostly Christians, entered the two refugee camps and started a bloody revenge against the Muslim Palestinians.

Protests erupted both internationally and in Israel, because although it was the Christian soldiers of the Lebanese army that committed the killings, Israeli forces were in control of the refugee camps at the time of the massacre. Some commentators, and even an Israeli government investigation, said that the Israeli military may have been involved in the incident to a certain extent.

Meanwhile in Ari Folman’s memory of 1982, he and his soldier friends are bathing at night by the seaside in Beirut under the light of flares descending over the capital city of Lebanon. Folman rushes off to meet another friend from his army service, who advises him to discuss it with other people who were in Beirut at the same time in order to understand what happened there and to relive his own memory – and thus, the idea for this movie.

Ari Folman’s animation movie, ‘Waltz with Bashir,’ which took 4 years to create, was released in 2008.  It has won many awards, and even though it covers a controversial subject of how Israeli forces acted in Lebanon, a recent survey poll in Israel showed that ‘Waltz with Bashir’ is the third most-favorite Israeli movie of all time.

Here is the movie trailer for ‘Waltz with Bashir.’ (also available in Mr. Kenney’s StuShare folder)

In this interview with French television, Ari Folman talks about his movie when he presented it for the Cannes Film Festival. What does Folman say is the reason he did his story in animation rather than a historical-fiction drama? And, what does he want young teenagers, especially boys, to get out of his movie? (also available in Mr. Kenney’s StuShare folder)

The film takes its title from a scene in which the commander of Folman’s infantry unit at the time of the film’s events, grabs a light machine gun and “dances an insane waltz” amid heavy enemy fire on a Beirut street festooned with huge posters of Bashir Gemayel, the president-elect of Lebanon in 1982. This is a scene from the movie depicting Folman’s memory and the interview he had with his infantry commander. (also available in Mr. Kenney’s StuShare folder)

Like all Israeli movies, ‘Waltz with Bashir’ has been banned in most Arab nations. However, people are watching the movie, and you might want to find out their opinions, especially those in Lebanon. Here’s a description of the movie from the Arab TV channel, Al Jazeera, which considers itself the only independent news network in the Middle East. What do you note is the difference between Al Jazeera’s description of the movie and the information that came out in the interview on French TV? (also available in Mr. Kenney’s StuShare folder)

The information in this post was excerpted from our booklet, War & Peace in the Middle East (‘War in Lebanon,’ pages 34 – 35), and from Wikipedia. Lots of possible research available with this topic.

Interview with a Commander of Suicide Bombers

Hassan Salameh, pictured above, is a Palestinian from Gaza.  He was a former military commander of Hamas, the Islamic military organization that has been involved in attacks against Israel (and which is now in political/military control of the Gaza Strip).  Fortunately, Salameh is in an Israeli security prison, sentenced to a 1,170-year term in solitary confinement!  The interview (from ’60 Minutes,’ the longest running news program in the U.S.) is worth watching because Salameh is described as someone who knows the most about suicide bombings, and he was the ‘mastermind’ of the deadliest campaign of bombings in Israel.  Although the news report is from 12 years ago, the interview with Hassan Salameh is still very relevant in trying to understand the violence behind suicide bombings in the present as well as past.

In Part 1 of the interview (6 minutes), find out what first motivated the ‘affable’ Hassan Salameh to become involved in terrorism against Israel. (video also available in Mr. Kenney’s StuShare folder)

In Part 2 of the interview, learn more about Salameh’s recruiter (photo here),…

a Palestinian college student of psychology and the person who chose the suicide bombers.  The recruiter had a lot of young men in a Palestinian refugee camp to choose from, but he explains why, for one particular mission, he shockingly chose his first cousin to be a suicide bomber! (photo here)

Find out what the news reporter means when he says this chosen suicide bomber, a 19-year-old boy, was not a zealot or psychopath but rather ‘quite simply, the boy next door.’ What is the reaction of the suicide bomber’s mother? And, what kind of ‘promises’ did the recruiter make that enticed the boy to strap bombs on his body and blow up a bus in Jerusalem? (video also available in Mr. Kenney’s StuShare folder)


Here’s Part 2 of the TV interview (6 minutes).

Who do you think is most to blame for the attack that was described in the TV report: the commander, the recruiter, the bomber, or the bomber’s mother? Why?

Women’s Activist from Saudi Arabia – Maha Fitaihi

We have heard that Saudi women do not have the right to drive a car.  Well-known women’s activist, Maha Fitahi actually predicted that Saudi women would get the right to drive within a few months from the time CNN broadcast a report about her in March of 2003.  Maha was off on her prediction, but watch the TV report below and find out what Maha wants even more than the right to drive a car. You might want to find out more about this incredible woman, Maha Fitahi.  In the TV report, she was walking in the market of Jeddah with CNN reporter Nic Robertson, knowing that she could get in trouble big-time with the ‘religious police’ for being in public with an unrelated man!

A ‘reform’ is the reorganization and improvement in government policy that is considered to be faulty, ineffective or unjust.  How does the political cartoon below reflect the situation the Saudi government faces with voices of change such as Maha Fitahi?

For a younger person’s perspective on the status of young women in Saudi Arabia, the link below is to an article from The New York Times that also includes related articles, a slide show and blogs from Saudi Arabia. Here’s a photo that goes with the article.

The caption to the photo of the 18-year-old Saudi girl in the car reads:

“More young men in cars are chasing other cars they believe to contain young women, to try to give the women their phone numbers via Bluetooth.”  So, do you think it will be technology that changes the role and status of women in Saudi Arabia?

The New York Times article –

‘Love on the Girls’ Side of the Saudi Divide’

Representing Israel in a Song Contest!

What’s so special about these two singers who will be representing Israel in this year’s Eurovision Song contest?  Well, the singer on the left is Mira Awad, and she will be the first Arab to represent Israel in the annual contest.  Mira identifies herself as both Palestinian and Israeli.  The singer in the photo on the right is the well-known Israeli singer, Noa, who is so famous that she goes by that single name. Noa is Jewish; her family originally came from Yemen. Mira and Noa have been singing together for about 5 years. At the contest, they’ll be singing, ‘There Must Be a Better Way.’ What do you think is the reaction of Palestinians to Mira representing Israel and the reaction of Israeli Jews of Noa singing with an Arab? Here’s a video of Mira and Noa singing a song by the Beatles, ‘We Can Work It Out.’ In the video, Mira and Noa also talk about the problems and possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  What does Noa say are the three things both sides must do? (video also available in Mr. Kenney’s StuShare folder)

And here’s the song that Mira and Noa will be singing at the Eurovision song contest – ‘There Must Be a Another Way’ – in Arabic, Hebrew and English! (video also available in Mr. Kenney’s StuShare folder)

Roxana Saberi Freed from Prison in Iran!

Roxana Saberi is an American journalist who has lived in Iran since 2003.  In January of this year, she was arrested in Iran, first accused of buying a bottle of wine and then sentenced to 8 years in jail for being an American spy!  Roxana was born and raised in North Dakota, U.S.  Roxana’s work in journalism is well-respected; she has been working for National Public Radio as well as other news media.  Many people were worried that once in prison, Roxana would be tortured, as is often the case in Iran. More than 10,000 people signed a petititon to the Iranian government, demanding her release. The Japanese government also put pressure on Iran because Roxana’s mother is from Japan (her dad was born in Iran). Roxana’s release on Monday, May 11 is great news. Do you think this will preview better relations between Iran and the U.S.?  Will it even be a sign that Iran will stop threatening to destroy Israel?

Heavy Metal Refugees from Iraq

Their band name, Acrassicauda, which means ‘black scorpion,’ may be hard to pronounce, but these heavy metal musicians from Baghdad have had incredible journeys. They made it through the times of Iraq’s dictator Sadaam Hussein, who made them play a heavy metal song in honor of him – or else be killed!  And they were in Baghdad during the American invasion of 2003, having rehearsals cut short due to missile attacks. Because they were associated with Western music, they were threatened by both Sunni and Shia extremists, eventually forced to flee their home country, live as refugees in Jordan and Turkey, and now find themselves in the U.S.  They might have every reason to hate America, yet they feel ecstatic that they are still together playing their music and even meeting some of their heroes of heavy metal!  Even if you hate this kind of music, you have to admire the members of Acrassicauda for their determination to follow their passion.

A Canadian movie director, Suroosh Alvi, heard about the band while they were still in Baghdad, tracked them down, and created a documentary of their musical odyssey.

The video clip is from the movie trailer of the award-winning documentary, ‘Heavy Metal in Baghdad.’ Pardon the reference to violence in the video clip, but considering the experiences these guys went through in Iraq, such language is understandable in the context of being in a hellish war zone. Can you see why strangely enough Baghdad turned out to be the right setting for a heavy metal band and its message of rage? (video also available in Mr. Kenney’s StuShare folder)

Meet A Visionary from Israel – Shai Agassi

Shai Agassi is not a visionary of a particular religion, but rather an Israeli visionary who is explaining how you will be driving cars in the not-too-distant future.  He is on a mission to convert the world to electric cars, both for moral and economic reasons.  He has already convinced the Israeli government, and he has his plan of electric-battery exchanging in Australia, some countries in Europe and on the island of Hawaii. Here’s a link to a recent interview with Shai Agassi, including a video clip of Shai doing one of the famous TED talks.’

‘Agassi’s Better Place – Brilliant or Nuts?’