The family my Swiss roommate, Regula, and I rented from welcomed us for my goodbye dinner. They humbly spoke English during the meal, and the father, a woodcarver, asked me what I perceived to be the Palestinian's greatest fault. I replied that the Palestinians are the most hospitable people I had ever met and that I honestly couldn't think of a fault. The father gave me the family's e-mail and phone number with the message: "We wish [you] all the best forever."
After taking photos with the family and exchanging hugs and high-fives with the four children and two parents, Regula and I set off via taxi to my goodbye party at a Bethlehem restaurant. The restaurant's owner had offered to throw a free party for my friend, Ibrahem, because Ibrahem had given him some ideas for his restaurant. Ibrahem insisted that the free party be in my honor.
Thirty Palestinians and internationals, surrounded with food, drink and hookah merrily greeted me. They humbled me with their generosity, asking me to stay longer and thanking me for coming. I felt completely undeserving of their kindness. The Palestinians told me they thought of me as one of them. After laughter, pictures and hugs, I said my final thank you and goodbyes, left, and prepared to travel home after four months on Term in the Middle East and one month in the Holy Land.
At 2 a.m., a friendly Palestinian taxi drove Regula and me to the checkpoint in order to exit Bethlehem. As the taxi driver agreed to wait for Regula until she helped me get through the checkpoint, we hurriedly walked my bags towards the checkpoint. Two Israeli soldiers watched us pass two yards away from their security hut and, after we had walked 40 yards toward the entrance of the checkpoint, started yelling at us in Hebrew. We lugged my luggage back to them. They checked our passports, asked the purpose for my leaving and had me open all of my tightly packed pieces of luggage. After sneering at me for accidentally thanking them in Arabic, they told us we could walk through the gate and skip the checkpoint, to our relief since I was trying to catch a bus to the airport.
After walking 70 yards towards the gate, the soldiers started yelling at us in Hebrew again. They asked us what we were doing and then instructed us that we needed to walk through the checkpoint. Regula and I navigated through airport-like security of the empty checkpoint, which includes metal detectors and hand-print scanners for the Arabs, had our passports checked again by an Israeli soldier, and finally walked out of the checkpoint. The Israeli airport buses refuse to pick up Palestinians -- who cannot use the Israeli airport, nor can other people at checkpoints, so I briskly lugged my luggage down one mile of highway a few minutes before 3 a.m. on the misty night, hoping I would catch the bus.
The warm atmosphere of Palestinian homes and friends starkly contrasted with the cool atmosphere on the bus. Although I was the first passenger, the bus driver barely grunted at me. I did make friends with an American Jew on the ride to the airport who commented on Jews' pride when the bus driver and a passenger shouted at each other after the bus driver stopped to buy a cup of coffee.
When I asked a classroom of eighth-grade Palestinians what they would like me to tell Americans, one boy raised his hand and simply responded, "The truth." Neither Israeli or Palestinians are evil people. Israelis and Palestinians are friends. The U.S. media and government blatantly favor Israel, ignoring that more than four times as many Palestinians than Israeli have died since 2000. In the United States, we recieve a biased perspective that does not relay life in the Holy Land. The Israeli soldiers are taught to treat each Palestinian as a terrorist. The 27-foot high wall isolates Palestinian communities from one another and from Israel. The Israeli occupation of Palestine dehumanizes Israeli and Palestinians.
I am not anti-Israeli or anti-Palestinian. I am pro-peace. I know that any violence in the Holy Land is too much violence. Justice in the Holy Land will improve the lives of Israeli and Palestinians.