Signposts generally help us find our way ~ but not in occupied Palestine. When traveling through the occupied Palestinian Territory, you cannot depend on signage to help you navigate ~ unless of course you are intending to visit an illegal Israeli settlement or a city or town in Israel ~ on the other side of the wall. Every day I am struck by the absence of signs that would indicate the presence of hundreds of Palestinian villages in our region that are deemed invisible by the occupier.
Mileage markers for illegal Israeli settlements are written in three languages ~ Hebrew, Arabic, and English. But why should Palestinians need a sign in Arabic telling them where Qiryat Arba is ~ any Palestinian in South Hebron Hills who has been detained and interrogated knows this place all too well. The location of Ma’on settlement is not important to the vast majority of the population here, but it might be helpful to know that At Tuwani village is nearby. The settlement of Carmel is literally built on top of the village of Um al Kher, but according to the signs, this village does not exist. Carmel stands alone.
The traveler will find a road sign indicating that Susiya is just down the road, but they will soon find that the sign points the way to Susiya settlement, not the old Palestinian village of the same name. Another sign leads the traveler to the ancient ruins of Susiya ~ an archaeological site which was presumably the reason for the forced eviction of 60 Palestinian families in 1986. Shortly thereafter, however, an illegal settlement outpost, Susiya Synagogue, was established in the same area. Meanwhile, the Palestinian village of Susiya ~ ‘signless’ and forced to move across the road to its agricultural lands ~ is denied basic services and much of the village is under demolition orders by the Israeli government.
And then there is the sign pointing the way to Beersheba. Of course, Palestinians can’t go there because of the wall, even though many of them are refugees from this area, having been evicted in 1948 ~ But signage in the occupied Palestinian Territory is not for the benefit of the 2.7 million Palestinians who live here ~ it is for over half a million illegal settlers who call this land home ~ in contravention of international law.
However, there is one sign you will see that is a clear indicator you are entering a major Palestinian center. It is a huge red sign that tells you in no uncertain terms that you are approaching Palestinian Area A, and that entry is dangerous to your life and forbidden to citizens of Israel! I have lost count of the number of Palestinians who have commented on this sign! A friend said to me recently: “What do they think we are ~ a bunch of wild animals that will eat you if you enter?”
But just because Palestinians are rendered invisible by the occupying power does not mean that they do not exist! Palestinians are some of the most amazing people you will ever meet ~ warm, welcoming, resilient, loyal, kind hearted and loving ~ They want no more than any other human being ~ the right to live on their land and raise their families in peace ~ So, when you travel to Palestine, take a good map. Turn off the main routes. Venture down the dirt roads. And don’t pay attention to the road signs. Definitely ignore the big red one! Take the risk! ~ Your life is not in danger. But your heart could be. It might be broken ~ Ahlan Wasahlan ~ Welcome to Palestine!