Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Visiting the West Bank

I just returned from a trip into Israel, visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem. There are so many things to say, so many stories to tell, that I don't know where to start. So I will begin with a letter written by a dear friend. A friend I was traveling with, and who was encountering the Middle East for the first time:
Everybody, friends, as the Arabs would call you even if they just met you,

I am sitting in the guest house of Bethlehem Bible College paying ten shekels an hour for internet (about 3 USD).

And I have something very important to tell you, something that must be shared.

I have received nothing but kindness and welcome from Arabs (mostly Palestinians in Jordan and here in Bethlehem). Complete strangers have had us in for tea and stories. Young women whom I have never met come to the Magnusons' home to visit Karith and me, and they leave telling us to call them anytime we want help around the city. A woman selling plums in Bethlehem would not let us leave her little square of sidewalk (she just sat on the stone) without plums from her trees free of charge. Friends of our guide just randomly gave us peaches as we walked down the street. The silversmith engraved my bracelet (I asked him to inscribe "SALAM") out of kindness, then visited and offered us tea and juice. A family in the refugee camp gave us tea and a place to sit in the home they have rebuilt and beautified (I have never seen stonework done by hand like this) with their bare hands -- three times. Our guide introduced us to two women and translated on his own time, and he too offered his help just a phone call away.

After six hours of being hassled at the Israeli border because we told them we were planning to visit Bethlehem (we got just a taste of what the Palestinians go through day to day), I was standing by the bus to Jerusalem, and a woman in hijab walked up to me. "Where are you going?" she asked. "To Jerusalem," I replied, a bit unsure why she was asking. "We are also going to Jerusalem. You can sit with us on the bus, if you would like. You can ride with us."

And what have all these people told me they want? Peace. Salam.

What do they have? Some could say nothing. But they tell me, "Amel," hope.

Thank you, everybody for listening to my rant.

Ma Salaama (with peace/Arabic "good-bye")

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