Palestine, Travel

Into the West Bank

Restored faith in human kind.

When I sat down to recall our day in the West Bank, it came out in snapshots. I thought I would create two entries, one in prose and one in poetry. But alas, this was not to be the case. What came forth were images wrapped with feelings and I developed an extensive piece of prose poetry. The feeling that came back to me again and again was that for one day, in this place so ridden with conflict, I felt a restored faith in human kind. It was an amazing feeling. I reflect on our day in the sunshine, walking through markets and villages, side streets and main streets, and the thing I most clearly see are the smiles. On every face we met, and on our own. Beautiful. Sunshine from the inside out.

Sketches of Palestine

Blood rides through my veins,
bubbling over bones.
Life exudes from each breath.
My heart beats rapidly,
reminding me of my own mortality.

Checkpoint: Jenin
Set up just for the settlers
invading Palestinian land
as though it is their own.
The checkpoint officer,
young and friendly,
greets us with a smile.
He already assumes
we are going to Jenin
when we say Jamelya.
Says it’s “cool” we have a “friend” to visit there.
He waits for us to return later that evening.
Makes friendly conversation, and
asks nothing about our daily adventure.
We discuss hashish, age
and traveling to far off lands
like India and Nepal.

Into Jenin
Waiting for our service to leave,
we stand in the sunshine
snapping pictures of the world around us.
Taxi drivers organize leaving times
with a certain rhyme and reason
all of their own. Order in chaos.
We find our way to the market,
snapping people and produce
into our memories.
A conversation with a business man
and a world wrestler flexing his pecks
brings warm smiles to our faces,
laughter exploding from our chests.
We climb into the back of our service
and watch the hills roll by,
settlements popping into the horizon.

Checkpoint: Nablus
Walking around the tank
rolling up the hill.
Kicking up dust
“on its way to the tank wash,”
a friend jokes with me when
I relay the scene to her.
More check point officers,
one in the reserves
with his long hair and earrings
hiding beneath the green helmet.
Another with cropped hair
and stripes on his shoulder,
reminds us that we are responsible
for our own safety once we enter.
His long haired friend smiles and nods us thru.
Returning after a gorgeous day,
a new guy checks our bags
interrogating us about our purchases.
The long haired one from earlier
takes my passport and smiles,
“It’s beautiful there, isn’t it?”
Such a human thing to say,
we are reminded that they are not all robots.
We expect these soldiers to be so unpleasant,
always suspicious, defensive, cruel.
But today we are greeted with humanity.

Into Nablus
Service drivers taking us into Nablus.
Children peeking over the seat in curiosity.
Exchanging extended hellos in simple English
with their father.
Palestinian guards, most without guns
talk amongst themselves
at the city center.
Conversations in Arabic
mixed with english greetings.
Invited in for coffee and sweets at local shops.
Smiles on young faces and old.
Toothless men baking pita bread
extending a warm smile and handshake.
Veiled women shopping
for vegetables and shoes.
Uniformed children walking
home from school.
A warmth and feeling of welcome
embraces me more than any
other place we have visited
in Israel-Palestine.

The road back to Jenin
We are stopped by a random checkpoint
that didn’t exist on the way in.
Soldiers hide on the hill off to the left,
while two others slip behind olive trees to the right.
All machine guns point at the vehicles waiting to pass.
The Hummer blocks the road,
surrounded by another half dozen soldiers.
Car drivers and passengers are instructed
to leave their cars and walk up one by one,
baring their stomachs.
Just making sure they are not strapped with bombs
before they approach with their ID cards.
The soldiers decide
whether they drive through.
There is no reason for the check point
this land is occupied territory.
Families are on their way home.
Husbands returning from work.
Children returning from school.
What kind if war is this,
when only one side is armed?

Jenin and the final checkpoint
The streets are quiet.
The service area is empty
aside from one car and a few men.
We are greeted by a man from Nazareth
that recognizes us.
He organizes for us to go
by a special taxi to the checkpoint
which will close in a half hour.
We get through where
the half dozen tanks sleep,
hibernating since their invasion
into Jenin in 2002.
We arrive at the checkpoint
open 24 hours, 7 days a week
just for the settlers
that perch their homes
on top of the mountains
outside Jenin.
Another man arranges a ride
for us to Nazareth.
We sit and have tea,
discuss life and the occupation.
He wishes for a way
out of this country
and asks us if we can help him.
He invites us back to visit his family,
to take us to the college and Camp Jenin.
We hope to return.

Back to Nazareth
We wait with the wife of the driver
who will take us home.
A mother with an Arab Israeli husband —
both children Israeli citizens
while she remains Palestinian.
When she visits her husband,
she cannot leave their home.
She lives in a village outside Jenin
with their children.
We pay her husband 100 shekels
to take us back to Nazareth,
perhaps enabling him a weekend
with his family that may not have been planned
or attainable without our money.

Kara Melissa
5 March 2005
revisited 9 March 2005