I must confess that I am finding it increasingly difficult to write about my experiences in this place. What I have seen, heard, and felt here is too much–at least at this point–for me to even sum up in my head, much less in writing. There is so much going on here. So many layers of this conflict, of this land, of these people. Seems like the more I learn about it, the more confusing it gets, and the less of it I understand overall. It’s not an uncommon feeling. From what I have heard, plenty of folks around here are confused, especially those who’ve spent their whole lives here. It’s a perplexing place to live in.
With that said, I think I am going to change the format of this blog a bit. Instead of posting a dry account of what exactly we have been doing–who we have been talking to, where we’ve been going–I think it would be more interesting, for you and for me, if I were to post a series of reflections on what I’ve been experiencing. Less emphasis on the who, what, when, and where, and more emphasis on what I’ve been feeling and thinking about all of this. I mean, we’ve been doing a lot every day, and packing a lot into our schedule, so to describe all of it would take up the whole entry. And since I don’t have a lot of time in which to write these things, we’ll really be getting the most bang for our buck if we do things this way. Sound good? Good.
So let’s just go from there.
Yesterday, we visited a checkpoint outside Barta’a, a Palestinian village that has been literally divided by the conflict: the Separation Fence (so called because in this area of Israel, it really is more of a fence than a wall) runs right through the town, thus splitting it into East Barta’a and West Barta’a. To add to the turmoil, a Jewish settlement has been constructed near West Barta’a.
We reach the fairly deserted checkpoint, get out of our tour bus, and, following the lead of our intrepid tour guide, British-born journalist Lydia Aisenberg (look her up!), approach a couple of Palestinian men hanging around outside. Turns out they’re taxi drivers–well, unregistered taxi drivers, who charge 5 shekel a head to drive people from the checkpoint to West Barta’a. Most Palestinians must go through checkpoints on foot, which means walking several miles if they just want to go from East to West Barta’a, and there are many locals who work in one village and live in the other. Add the fact that merely passing through a checkpoint at peak times can take hours, and you’ll see how a taxi service going between the checkpoint and the town is a necessity.
Lydia continues her conversation with the taxi drivers–they speak to her in Hebrew, and she translates to us in English. Despite the fact that they’ve never met any of us before, they’re easygoing and quite willing to share their experiences with us.
I notice that while this exchange is occurring, the white metal gate leading into the checkpoint’s security office opens, and a man appears. He is dressed completely in black, his right hand casually indexing the submachine gun that hangs at his side. He stares at us for a while; then the gate closes again, and he’s gone.
After speaking to the taxi drivers, another Palestinian man is introduced to us. He is more smartly dressed than the others, and can speak English. He tells us that he is an English teacher. In the ensuing conversation, we learn that although he earns a rather pitiful salary working in Barta’a and could easily earn twice as much were he to emigrate to Europe or North America, he never wishes to leave his native Palestine. Why? we ask. It’s simple, he replies: This is his home.
It’s time to go, and we thank the Palestinian men. Just as we’re muttering shukran and turning to go back to our bus, we hear the English teacher speak up. “I would like to shake hands with all of you,” he says. One by one, we oblige. And as I extend my arm towards this man and grasp his hand, I feel something within me shift. With the simple act of touching his hand, of looking into his eyes, I am suddenly connected to this place.
That connection has been growing stronger and stronger since I first set foot on Israeli soil. Already, after only four days here, it has burrowed its way deep into my soul. In all honesty, I can’t see it leaving anytime soon.
It’s thundering mightily here in northern Israel. Maybe it’s the voice of God. Or maybe just weather systems; who can really tell? Anyway, that’s about all I have time for tonight. I hope you enjoyed this little snapshot. With any luck, I’ll be able to provide you with many more in the days to come.
(By the way, please do not think that we are experiencing a one-sided view of things in any way, shape, or form here. Quite to the contrary–it seems like every new person we meet has a different point of view on this whole issue, at times completely contradictory to someone we spoke to elsewhere. Hence all the confusion I have been experiencing.)