Israel had a different feel to it. It was much more western, generally much busier, and there I met different people. I met some teenagers from across North America who were touring Israel for ten days on a birthright tour. I met Palestinian shopkeepers in the Old City. I met women at the Western (Wailing) Wall. We crossed paths with a group of trainees for the Israeli army, carrying their big guns, at an archaeological site. We met Naim Ateek with a group from Christian Peacemaker Teams. We met people at the Taba border crossing who couldn’t seem to remember that they had our passports and so kept asking us for them. We met an American priest and teacher from Bethlehem who told us about the education situation in the West Bank. We met people in Bethlehem who opened their shop or their restaurant specifically because we were coming in.
What they said was of a vastly different tone than what we had heard in the Arab countries. My encounters with people in the Arab countries were mostly friendly, sometimes sad or difficult, but almost all hopeful. The conversations with people in Israel/Palestine were also friendly but distinctly less hopeful. Especially where Palestinians are concerned, I would say that hope is one of the few things distinctly not alive right now—and is perhaps exactly what needs reviving if there is ever to be anything close to peace and justice.
We saw the “Apartheid Wall” (as George called it) many times. We saw how it cuts off villages from their fields, how its construction has required the bulldozing of olive trees, how it has guard towers and barbed wire and is 20 feet tall and looks exactly like the concrete walls of an American prison. We heard—from George and from others—what life is like inside, where the population is expanding (inside the limited space) because Arab families have many children, the economy is shattered because agriculture has been left outside the wall and tourism is ended when people can’t get in, the people have no access to hospitals, and the Palestinians on the inside must have special permission to come outside the wall. We saw and heard about a Jerusalem where Palestinians with a West Bank ID aren’t allowed in the Old City and if they are caught inside they can be (and are) imprisoned for up to three months, a system where Palestinians have special stickers on their cars identifying them as Palestinian rather than Israeli.