A Day in Bethlehem

I am a Russian-American-Jewish-Israeli woman. About one year ago, following the war with Gaza, I decided to live the reality that I would like to see in this land. A reality of friendship and a reality without borders. These friendships is what makes life possible for me here. It warms my heart and brings a lot of comfort to my soul. I would like to share some of my adventures, experiences and insights. I feel it's important for people to hear that there is a whole other side to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which you don't hear about much in the media. There are many (but of course not nearly enough) people like me that are engaging and enjoying our friendships with our Palestinian neighbors, while the media is mostly reporting the violence, thereby strengthening it's power.
So... last Saturday I spent an amazing day with a friend in Bethlehem. Yes I know that many of you will think that I’m crazy to go there right now, but I assure you that if you’re with a Palestinian friend, it’s perfectly safe.
We started at the place where they press the olives to make oil (not sure what it’s called), where the Palestinians are bringing hundreds of sacks of olives right now from the olive harvest. Then we went into the city and had coffee with a friend who is a family doctor from my friend's village. He told me how similar we are, our two people, and if only we could find a way to live together, that we would be another super power in the world. That is exactly what the world is trying to prevent from happening, I said. Later we went to buy spices in the center of the city, and a few things for my new apartment. Afterwards we bought some food and had a picnic at the Soloman's Pools. On the way there we almost drove into some clashes, and I saw the army shooting canisters of “tear gas” into the air from something that looked like a cannon. Even though we drove far away right after, when we got out of the car I couldn’t breathe. Tear gas is a very mild description for this poisonous gas that fills the entire city and makes it impossible for the people, including children to breathe. It boggles my mind what our army is doing there in the middle of Bethlehem. So a few teenage boys go out into the middle of the street and burn tires. If the army doesn’t come there, which they have no business doing in the first place, who will the teenage boys throw the rocks at? I just really don’t understand this phenomenon.
After we drove out, we got stopped by some soldiers at the entrance to a village. A very pleasant conversation developed. The soldiers shared how much they wished they didn’t have to be there. In the end my friend shook hands with them and they wished each other that peace will prevail soon. I was so touched that especially during these times of violence, it seems that all we really want deep inside is to be friends. There is nothing stronger than when someone from the other side is willing to see us as a human being and to remove the labels (“Palestinian” or “soldier”) – all of our precious humanity comes pouring out. A little humbleness and willingness to really see the human beings on the other side can go a very long way.
My point is this. All throughout history Jews have prospered along the side of the Arabs. Until the creation of Israel. In the very least we can understand why it was so hard for the Arabs to accept. I can’t begin to describe how safe I feel walking around the Palestinian cities with my Palestinian friends. There is something in the Arab culture that talks about protecting their guests. We all know this. And I wish that we would realize how much we as a nation can prosper with cooperation and friendship with our Palestinian neighbors, instead of wasting our time fighting them and destroying our morality.
Everyone that I have ever met in Palestine wants nothing but peace and to be able to live their daily life with dignity. I know that there are others, so let me save you the trouble of calling me naïve. But when you come with love, you meet only love. When you come with a gun, you will surely find something to shoot at.
Thank you my dear friend Maher for being such an amazing tour guide, for the inspiring talks, for your hospitality in your land, and most of all for your friendship <3