I felt like I was leaving a safe bubble as I departed Beit Sahour, no guns, no searches, no threats. My favourite taxi driver, Osama, picked me up and as we drove through the old part of town heading for the bus stop, he was not his jovial self, no doubt due to some late night partying. I broke the ice asking if he thought there would be another intifada. He thought it had already started, noting it could not get any worse. This really grieved him, while he knew it was a land in conflict he believed that if people speak the truth and critically think about what they do, perhaps peace can come. He came from a muslim family, but became a Christian and it is difficult for him to have a rational conversation with his mother. He thought she didn’t think on her own, only accepted what she was told. He hugged me when I got out of the cab as I promised to pray for him and his family.
Sitting in the bus awaiting departure, I noted the drivers at the taxi stand collecting for the Gaza victims from other taxis passed by. Seeing I took a picture one of them came on to the bus, nicely asking where I was from and asked why I took a photo. I said I wanted to let people know of their generosity. He was satisfied. Fear breeds suspicion.
Heading for Jerusalem on the bus, we stopped at the checkpoint and soldiers got on to check our papers. I was asked to get off to open by luggage. One glance by them and they told me to close it again. Fear breeds suspicion.
Getting off the bus I passed one female soldier, with her automatic weapon, lecturing young girls in soldier uniforms without guns, probably 15-16 years old. Military indoctrination is required for all and begins at age 5. Their training will include a trip to one of the Nazi death camps, where they will hear that “the Arabs want to do this to you as well.” Those who refuse to serve in the military are given a two year prison sentence.
While waiting for my rental car, I chatted with a settler from one of the East Jerusalem settlements. He moved here from Seattle 15 years ago. When I asked if Israel was going to be democratic or Jewish, his answer was that Jews have more babies than Arabs, so the Jews will win. He said the religious extremist Jewish settlers are worse than Hamas. Everyone has opinions here and are always pleased to share!
I drove to the ruins of the town of Emmaus, where Jesus’ post resurrection appearance to two on its road surprised and transformed them. Emmaus was a Roman strategic town and sacked by the Persians. Even after a 3rd C, 5th C and subsequent churches over the site, there is nothing remaining of the town besides church remains and a baptismal font.
I am now up north in Nazareth visiting some friends, who are volunteering at I’bilin, a school for all children, Arab and Jew, that fosters and teaches peace. I feel less comfortable in Israel, however Nazareth is a largest Arab Israeli town and it feels welcoming.