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The checkpoint was packed with people. It was a Friday morning, so crowds of Palestinian Muslims were heading into Jerusalem to worship at the Al-Aqsa mosque. I stood in line behind an elderly man with a long beard and a brilliant white keffiyeh on his head.
At first everyone was in a good mood. Men shook hands with old friends, women chatted together… But as the minutes of waiting turned into hours, peoples’ patience started wearing thin.
The line crawled forward. Every now and then, someone from the back of the line would walk to the front and try sneakily cutting in line. Most times this would cause a chorus of angry shouts and arguments.
It was hot. It was crowded. By the time I finally reached the metal detector and x-ray machine, everyone around me (including myself) was in a pretty sour mood.
The checkpoint metal detector is always a bit chaotic. People going back and forth to get plastic bins, older folks dropping coins, soldiers behind bullet proof glass giving orders… On this day I managed to get through relatively quickly, which is more than can be said for some of the people next to me in line.
Through another turnstile, I entered the document check area. Since the Second Intifada, Palestinians have been required to have permits if they want to enter Israel from the West Bank.
Although I can usually breeze through with my American passport, most Palestinians have to show their permits and submit to a fingerprint scan. Israeli guards stand around holding assault rifles. I watched as one frustrated Israeli soldier argued with a Palestinian man about whether his permit was valid.
Finally, an hour and a half after entering, I made it out of the checkpoint, down a concrete ramp and onto a waiting bus headed for Jerusalem.
I found a seat and I was just about to pop in my headphones and listen to my favorite podcast when a woman in her late 60’s sat next to me. She had a large white bandage over her left eye and looked completely frazzled after getting through the checkpoint.
I put my headphones down and gave her a quick smile.
She gave a half-hearted smile back, but then let out a sigh and put her hand to her head.
“Wow. It was pretty crowded today, huh?” I asked.
“It is terrible. Terrible!” she said. “They treat us like animals.” She took her entry permit and identification card out of her purse and handed them to me. “Look at that. Like animals.”
She went on to explain that she is a Catholic Palestinian who had recently had eye surgery and needed to return to a hospital in Jerusalem for more treatment.
Because of her physical condition, she isn’t able to lean down without help. However, in the checkpoint an Israeli guard made her lean over to take off her shoes. She had tears in her eyes as she told me how humiliating it was.
“I am an old woman! Who am I going to kill?”
Just then the bus started to roll. She slowly shook her head and said, “Someday soon this will all be gone. Someday soon the king will come.” Then she rocked gently back and forth and repeated, “He will be king… He will be king… He will be king…”
I murmured a quiet agreement, a bit stunned to hear hope for the kingdom of God expressed in such a simple, tangible way.
After a few moments, she quieted down. I smiled and began asking about her family. We chatted for a few minutes about her home, but eventually the conversation turned back to the security wall.
“Nobody knows what happens here,” she said. “It’s very painful.”
“That’s actually why I’m here,” I told her. “I’m a writer. I’m trying to write about what life is really like here so that people back home can understand.”
Suddenly she got very serious. She turned, stared straight into my eyes and pointed her finger at me.
“Write this,” she said. “Write this.”
After saying this, she started digging through her purse. She pulled out a small devotional bracelet (cheap wooden beads with pictures of the saints on them) and handed it to me. She didn’t explain why.
I thanked her and looked up. Unfortunately, my stop was next. I apologized that we couldn’t talk more and said a quick goodbye. Then I stood, walked down the aisle and stepped off the bus. As I walked down the street towards the Musalaha office, her words echoed in my head…
A Rallying Cry
Those two words have become a bit of a rallying cry for me throughout this trip. As I have waded into this tense and terrible conflict, I have sought to understand the issues as best I can so that I can turn around and share my experiences with you.
In some ways, I’ve been successful. Several people have told me how helpful these articles have been for their understanding of Israel and Palestine.
But in other ways, I realize that there is so much more that needs to be shared. In my four short weeks in the Holy Land, I have only scratched the surface of both the heartache and hope that exists here.
I may return one day in the not too distant future to pick up where I left off, but for now, I want to leave you with a simple challenge: get involved. Don’t sit on the sidelines anymore. Get in the game.
Well, there are ways to join in the work of Musalaha, our partner organization here. They always need financial and prayer support, but they are also currently looking for volunteers with a gift of writing (email me if you’re interested in learning more).
But beyond such tangible ideas, there are ways to engage your life with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Reserve a portion of your heart for those who have lost loved ones in the conflict. Pray that they would seek forgiveness rather than vengeance. Ask God to continue to build his kingdom in this land.
And finally, be intentional about learning more. Throughout my articles here I have recommended several books and websites you can use for further reading. Take a look! Dig deep! Perhaps you too will have your perspective on the world completely changed.
As I leave the Holy Land, my head is swimming with new ideas, my heart is overflowing with passion, and my feet are yearning to keep the journey going.
In the midst of many new conflicts and injustices, I have been given a new glimpse into the power of the kingdom. Hatred has a whole new meaning for me now. But so does forgiveness.
As I return to “everyday life” in America, I know one thing for sure: my life will never be the same…
- One of the most helpful books I read to prepare me for this trip was The Israelis, by Donna Rosenthal. History, culture, humor… It’s all in there!
- I strongly encourage you to pick up the book Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour. It is a fantastic account of hope and reconciliation in the midst of horrible circumstances.
- Consider supporting the work of Musalaha by helping to cover the cost of an Israeli or Palestinian student going on a “Desert Encounter.” Click here for more information.
- Pray for Israel and Palestine. Pray that the peace process would continue to develop and that all the people involved would learn the value of reconciliation!
About the Author: Barry is the founder and director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.