Returning to Jerusalem from Bethlehem, I am surrounded by Palestinians making their routine trip to the holy city. At a relatively inexpensive fair of 8 shekels (a little over $2.00) this bus ride not only includes a trip to the holy city, but also has the added bonus of passing through a security check point where 2 armed Israeli soldiers approve the continuation of your journey. When the young machine gun equipped soldiers board the bus they inspect everyone’s identification cards, as not all those residing in the West Bank are allowed to cross into Israel. Mostly they confirm identification, but some are asked questions (like the veil-wearing woman next to me). After checking my passport, the soldier bids me farewell by saying “have a nice trip!” They step off the bus and we resume our journey to Jerusalem. This checkpoint is shared by all who wish to go from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.
The Bethlehem experience proved to be one of shocking realization. For the most part, Bethlehem is similar in appearance to Israel. Residing only around 12 miles from Jerusalem, it is no wonder the biblical Jesus spent so much time in the region. Although they are close neighbors, the attitudes amongst its citizens are quite different.
At first, the people of Bethlehem seemed overly nice. Having just spent some time in Israel’s neighboring country Jordan, I assumed there to be a motive behind the good nature (money). I was partly mistaken. Many of the people were just plain ol’ nice. Trying to find our hostel, my girlfriend and I had many locals pull over in their cars to point us in the right direction. After one particular incident involving a man helping us with directions and then transitioning into the Israel/Palestine conflict, we soon realized that the locals were actively passionate about spreading word of the conflict. Since many cannot leave the territory it is no wonder the people are quick to discuss politics.
One night, after walking around the city looking at graffiti, we decided to smoke hookah at a cafe. While smoking and playing backgammon, the owner of the cafe came over to refresh our coal. Commenting on our backgammon game, he explained how he learned backgammon and fell in love with the game in prison. From there he dove into the Israel/Palestine conflict. Before we knew it, all of his friends were sitting at our table explaining their opinions on the subject. They explained how the situation affected them directly. They shared of loosing their closest friends to Israeli gunfire for seemingly no reason at all. They explained how they were stuck in the West Bank with no freedom to cross its borders. They also explained how their families were forced to move from their homes throughout Israel after living there for centuries, and how Israel has claimed land throughout the country which historically has been Arab. We ended the conversation by agreeing that most people around the world are good people and that their governments tend to be the cause of animosity.
Although they said things I disagree with (anti Jewish propaganda) they did change my notion of the Palestinian. The news tends to portray Palestinians in a certain light. In the past, the image that came to mind was one of the rocket-waving, suicide-bomber preaching death to all Jews. After meeting many Palestinians, I realized that most of them are good people. Only a select few of them believe in an extreme ideology, and the majority are suffering. Because many of them are unable to leave the territory they must be active in their quest to spread word of their plight. Aside from being quick to jump into conversation about the topic, they also utilize many forms of media. One of the more apparent forms is through political graffiti. After the famous Banksy went on his art spree along the security wall, local artists turned street art into propaganda. On every corner there is art explaining personal views on the conflict. At times some of it seems quite extreme, but when compared to the massive fortress-like wall that separates the land (and bears close resemblance to the old Berlin Wall), the extremity of the situation is brought to light.
Their are many negatives to the security wall which divides the people. The most obvious being the freedom that is unjustly taken away from the good Palestinian person. However, an Israeli put it this way: “Look, on one hand the idea of the wall is not right. It’s never right to divide people with a physical barrier. The consequence for the Palestinian people is inconvenience. On the other hand, once the wall was built, virtually all terror attacks that once existed disappeared over night. Don’t Israelis have the right to be safe?”
Reflecting on the experience while looking out of the bus window, we finally arrive at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Having only travelled across town 25-30 minutes, it seems like I’m in a different country. The Palestinians around me leave the bus to run their daily errands and see family that live on this side. At the end of the day they will return back to the other side of the wall and recount their experiences to those who are unable to see Jerusalem with their own eyes. While reliving life as it is on the other side to their loved ones, I will be in bed reminiscing over the freedom I take for granted every day.
By Sky Cutler
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A view into the separation between people in Israel and Palestine