It’s been a year and a half since I left the West Bank after living and working there for 6 months. As I prepare to head back to Bethlehem to work with the Alternative Information Center as an AP peace fellow, my mind pulls images from various scenes of my last visit. Waiting outside my apartment for the Arab-Israeli taxi that will take me through the checkpoint and into Jerusalem, my host family stands around my packed bags as my host mother scurries around trying to fit a few more items into my carry-on: the Arabic coffee I love, some Palestinian pastries, a bag of spices. I hug my friends good-bye and tell them I will see them again. Inshallah, they say. God-willing.
Standing in line at the Ben Gurion airport, an Israeli soldier approaches me for the initial screening questions. She carefully examines my passport, asking me questions about how long I’ve been in Israel and what I’ve been doing. She closes my passport.
“Have you been to the West Bank?”
Images of my host family flash through my head.
“Just to Bethlehem. To visit.”
We stare at each other for a few moments. My heart is thudding in my chest. I have the names and addresses of all of my Israeli friends in my pocket. Just in case. But she hands me my passport, and motions for me to get back in line. They conduct a routine search of my luggage, pulling each item out one by one before I am allowed to retrieve my boarding pass.
As the plane lifts up above Tel Aviv, I look at the lights scattered along the coast and reaching out toward the hills, imagining that I can see Jerusalem and just beyond that– Bethlehem. The desert hills are bathed in moonlight as they exude a peace their inhabitants have rarely known.
Now as I pack my bags to return to Tel Aviv and then onto Bethlehem, I set aside the contact information of my friends in Israel and carefully scan every item of my luggage looking for anything that might trigger the suspicion of an Israeli soldier.
I am eager to be heading back. I am fond of both Israel and the West Bank which sometimes puts me in awkward situations at dinner tables on both sides. Living in the West Bank naturally inspired a certain amount of bias as I lived the occupation day in and day out. The unpleasant encounters I had with ideological settlers and IDF soldiers left a bitter taste in my mouth. Nonetheless I was fortunate enough to work for a joint organization and had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time in Israel. Working with Friends of the Earth Middle East introduced me to many amazing Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians who are working together to protect their environmental resources.
As I spent more and more time in Israel, it became increasingly difficult to take sides. How could I begin to negotiate my way through such a complicated set of extremes? The hatred I experienced from Israeli settlers in Hebron versus the thoughtfulness and selflessness of the many Israelis I knew who were working toward peace. Or when the rocket attacks of Hamas militants stood in stark contrast to the grace, generosity, and patience of my Palestinian friends and colleagues? There is no way to negotiate through this complicated mire of humanity and come out with a neat picture that makes international policy simple and a peace agreement within easy reach. There is no way to paint a picture where violence makes sense and losses are easily assuaged. Grief paints the same face the world over.
In an area of deeply embedded allegiances, I developed even more respect for the Israelis and Palestinians choosing to fight for peace at the risk of being considered a traitor or a coward.
This time around, though I will be again residing in Beit Sahour, I am determined to draw more connections between the Israeli and Palestinian activists. I am looking forward to spending as much time as possible following the revolutionaries and peace activists in Israel. The refuseniks–or conscientious objectors– for example have piqued my interest and I want to know more about the teenagers in this video. Are the numbers of Israeli conscientious objectors increasing or have they stayed the same or decreased even? What is their life like in Israel after they refuse to serve? What did their families and friends say? Do they regret their decision or stand by it just as firmly as before?
There are so many different angles and sides to this conflict, and yet it seems that we only ever see the same stereotyped portrayals again and again and again. The AIC is one organization trying to change that, and I’m excited to be a part of it.
Posted By Nikki Hodgson
Posted May 16th, 2011