An Unusual Visit to Bethelehem

Nablus became my second home in Palestine. Sam lives on his own but the house is always full by his younger brothers and his friends who come to eat, to work, to talk, to hang out. There is not much Palestinian boys can actually do to have fun. They smoke Shisha, play football, play cards, talk. They do not go out dancing, or meet girls, or do much of the things we do in the west. As a result of a combination of factors I ended up spending a lot of time with these boys. They are a gate into a secret world to me as they do not hesitate on answering anything I ask them about. They do not try to impress me they seem to say whatever comes to mind even if it might be something that I might find absurd. They take care of me. So when I decided to leave and  come to Bethlehem Sam told me I could take a ride with Yahya his brother ( the one I had the sex conversation with), and his friend Jaafar and Sami.

 

They came to pick me up the following morning, I thought they would give me a ride to the bus station. No they explained they would give me a ride to Bethlehem. I asked if they were already going there and they said yes. So I thanked them for the ride and started what turned out to be probably the most emotional day in my trip so far.

 

We drove through the beautiful mountains of Palestine. I did not know Sami and Jaafar yet so we talked a lot. Eventually we reached our first check point. An Israeli soldier stood outside with a weapon and asked us for papers. We gave our passports, he was surprised at seeing me there. Asked me what I was doing, I told him I was travelling, he asked me whether I was enjoying my trip, I told him I was. He smiled and wished me a safe journey. He was not abusive at all. I don’t know if it was as a result of me being there. I asked the boys. They said when you are in a car is easier then when you are in a bus.

 

We kept driving had to show our passport in a few other occasions. Suddenly they entered a place. A supermarket. I asked why we had to show passports to drive into the supermarket and they explained to me it was because the people there were Jewish. I looked at them a little puzzled  “are we in a settlement supermarket ?” we were.  I asked them how they felt about it and they explained to me they did not dislike Jews, they disliked the soldiers.  I asked them about the Bedouins and the Druzes. And they explained to me the Druzes were the worse people there was. °The Israelis when we volunteer in hospital boss us around, but the Druze kick us. THey are mother fuckers. They always kick us.”

 

We came outside and entered a completely full supermarket where Jews were shopping for Passover. It was crowded beyond belief. We walked around and when it was time to pay I thought we would have to stay h ours. I had few things on my hand and very soon a lady offered to let me go before her. It was strange. I did not feel any antagonism from the people. When we needed an info and I asked a soldier, the boys with me talked to them friendly.

 

We kept driving. And as I noticed they had no idea how to drive to Bethlehem I discovered they did actually not have to go. They were driving me there! I asked them and they said “no, we were travelling there nonetheless”.  I knew it was a lie to make me feel better, I felt thankful once again. Once we got here, and I called my Italian friend they asked me if they could hang out with us. I said that of course they could and so we started our tourist day. We had coffee, went into the nativity church. Lorenzo, who is from Italy and was baptised by John Pope the II himself kept making jokes. As someone who is an atheist and despises religion he joked around. I asked him not to do so. I do not particularly care for the church, but I do for the people in it.  My friends who were Muslims,  were respectful of the Church and the people inside. They showed me every corner, took pictures of me, of them, of the Church.

 

We left and wandered the streets. Lorenzo suggested seeing the wall. The wall that separates Israel from Palestine. We drove there. We parked and I was first happy to recognise the posters that JR the last TED talk prize winner had put in there (http://www.ted.com/talks/jr_s_ted_prize_wish_use_art_to_turn_the_world_inside_out.html ). JR printed pictures of Palestinians and Jewish doing the same jobs. Made enormous posters and glued them on the wall. Who is Who kind of thing. Two years later after the pictures remained there. We walked along the wall. The wall that separated us from Israel. My friend here from my friends there. As I walked and looked at drawings that ranged from messages of hope to messages of anger I felt dead silent inside of me. I suddenly could not take it. All came together in that moment in that wall. I walked in silence my eyes filled with tears. My Palestinian friends walked in silence. Lorenzo kept talking as if it was a tour. I did not know how my friends felt. I did not want to be the one crying. I could not stop myself. Tears ran through my face. I could not even think exactly why. we walked and walked till we reached the check point.

 

Lorenzo said he wanted me to see it. I refused it was enough. I had seen enough. He said it was important. So we walked inside of a corridor or Iron bars, feeling like in a cage, next to my friends. I asked over and over. Do you guys want to do that ? they said it was ok. I knew it was not. I did not want to take this tour. I was mad at the insensibility of Lorenzo. This is not just a tour! But we kept walking tears streaming down my face. we reached the end, saw where passports are shown. Where everyday Palestinians go at 3 am to wait for 3 hours to have the right to cross to the other side to work in construction work. Only to return the same day.

 

We made our way back through the cage. I cried in total silence. My friends contorted me. Jules it is ok. It is our life. I asked each one of them how they felt. Yahyah had never seen the wall. He was just as shaken as me. ” I feel bad. Not for the wall, but because we cant resolve this”. Jaafar told me ” We are the same people some day we will live together. I just don’t understand some people in both sides don’t want that”. I cried even more. Knowing fully well that I loved my friends in both side of the wall. Knowing they are good people. Good people who sometimes misunderstand each other. Knowing that Kosta could be Jaafar s friend in another world. They really would. They have the same gentle soul. They work in the same field. They took care of me to the same extent.

 

I looked at JR pictures thinking I could not separate one from the other. Just as I cant with my friends. And I hated the wall. I really did. I hated all that allows us from believing people are different as a result of culture. We are not. We say different things. We represent the world somehow differently. But even these dissipate at a closer look.

 

I did not know what to do. What could we do now? I suggested Ice Cream. Just because I had not idea what to say. They all took on to the idea. So we drove to the  Italian ice cream shop in Bethlehem. We asked colourful ice creams and sat under the sun. We sat for long enough to let go.

 

And so we decided to go back to the centre. In the centre we were invited by some activist to seat in the memorial of Victorio the Italian who had been killed in Gaza.  I thought that maybe my friends would not want to do that. It was too much. First to have an Italian make them walk inside the fenced corridor, the symbol of the oppression. Then to seat for an Italian who might or not have been killed by Islamists. I did not want to do the ” us x them” thing. But in their enormous generosity they said “Jules lets seat at least for 5 minutes”. I agreed. “Let s seat for peace”. So we did. We sat on a circle in memory of an activist who was supposedly killed by Islamists in Gaza. We sat, foreigners and Palestinians in a circle. In front of the Nativity church where supposedly was born the man that preached love to everyone.

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