The message about Palestinian farmer shot dead by Israeli soldiers appeared in news yesterday. No big fuss around, just a message that it happened. He was walking toward a forbidden border of Gaza strip. Who drew this border? No one cares.
It is exactly two months since we have visited Israel and Palestine. Just so, cause we were curious. And the tickets have not been so expensive either. We have arrived in Tel Aviv on 29th of December. First person we have talked to, was an officer behind the check of window, asking us some senseless questions. After she welcomed us in Israel, we obtained a little paper card, remaining me of an ID carbon copy. We had not known the value of it yet, however this little paper made us freer than some locals.
We were supposed to spend our first two days in Bethlehem, with a family we found on AIRBNB. There was no information about buses driving there on the airport. I went to the info-office. “How can I help you?” Smiling young man behind the desk seemed to be the right one. “We need to get to Bethlehem. Is there any bus?” My question froze the smile on his face a bit. “I do not know” He admitted. He started to chat with his colleague, in Hebrew of course. Finally, he wrote me some numbers and times on a piece of paper. “These buses go to Jerusalem. There should be something from there.”
It was Friday afternoon. We were hungry, but everything was about to close. “Shabbath starts. Try Arabic quarter.” One black man (definitely not looking like a Jew) advised us while sharing his pancakes in front of a closing restaurant.
There was more life in front of Damascus gate. There were huge groups of Jews, walking toward synagogue fort evening prayer (I suppose, they did not let us in), tourists, trying to take some last photos before the dusk, Christian part looking still so christmassy with all those decorations and arab markets were full of shouting vendors. Quite a cultural shock. Among the salesman’s, we found a fruit juice seller speaking English. He told us about the blue-lined bus, running between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Unfortunately, there was no timetable on the bus stop, only a taxi driver trying to persuade us to give up and drive with him for highly overpriced charge. There will be no bus, he says, it’s Shabbat. Few minutes later, another car stops by us. Driver makes us better price, so we agree. He is no taxi, he is privat taxi. It does not give a sense, but that’s what he said. The white car he drives is barely in condition to drive, mourning arabic song flow from the radio and in every curve my stomach jumps. He uses his hooter more often that is needed. And upon all that, he tries to keep a conversation with us, using his pidgin language. I feel Charlie’s nervousness behind me. We try to contact Aya from AIRBNB. “Do not enter any taxi.” Well nice. We already sit in one. Let’s pass the phone to driver. He may explain where we are. It wasn’t that brilliant idea. The call last quite long and we are truly worried. Both, about the price that will appear in a message from operator and about the conversation which we do not understand. Arabic may sound angry for outrageous observer. He left us at the crossroad with command to wait there. We happened to be in Palestine, in the country no official map tells about.
Aya is a young woman with two little boys around her ankles and a baby girl. Husband’s not home yet, so she shows us the room. Most keen in the conversation are the little ones.
Original plan was a trip to the dead sea. Her husband, Ibrahim thinks that we should see Hebron instead. He’ll go with us. The price is fair, and we do not feel safe going alone. There was nothing to worry about, we found out later. Hebron is divided in two parts, same is the Abraham mosque. One part belongs to locals, other is occupied by Israeli settlers. Those parts are empty, only soldiers walk the streets and protect it from unwanted entry.
“Does anybody live there?”
“No. It used to be our shops. It should be reconstructed for settlers now. They want to take the city because of the Abraham mosque.”
Arabs are vendors. It is simply impossible to walk their streets without buying anything. They shout all at once, offer their goods and free cups of coffee for buyers and bargain with them. Even the small kids are running around the streets with necklaces and little jewellery for sale. Our companion greets them all, as he would know everyone. Just the mesh above our heads looks so gloomy. “What is it?”
“It catches the rubbish from settlers. They throw things from the top floors down.” From time to time, you can see a soldier watching, if you are lucky. They don’t want to be photographed, every time we take out the camera, they disappear.
We met a group of Europeans in one of the shops. Dressed in blue jackets with red label on the shoulder saying TIPH. They were sitting with the locals, drinking coffee. Temporary International Presence in Hebron. “We observe.” Answered one of them my question about their mission here. She gave me a flyer with all the information. They are here to observe and report if one of the fighting sides act against the human rights or agreements.
Whole city is controlled by Israeli checkpoints. We passed few of them on our way. Our little “ID” gained on the airport get us through all the gates without complicities. They check only Palestinians. There are places, where we must on our own. Our companion cannot pass. There are Jews, on their way to synagogue. They are nice to us. One boy offers us with sweets, we are clearly welcomed. The checkpoints and gunmans are just for locals. Who are these locals? Palestinians, Muslims, Christians. Lower “race” for Jewish Israel. What a nonsense? Do they forget what is it like to be a lower race for someone? Or were they inspired?
We leave Hebron, Ibrahim take us back to Bethlehem. There are too many people, cars as well. Kids with trolleys full of oranges and pomegranates cross the road here and there. Hooters jell over crowd, they have lost their function long ago. It is impossible to locate the source when they sound all at once. “They banned to use them in a city.” Says Ibrahim and our transport driver pulls his one as if for demonstration, that it doesn’t work. Upon all this mess a huge wall rear its head. It’s painted with colourful graffiti, calling for peace and freedom. There are many faces draw on the wall as well. We recognise only Donald Trump among them. He kisses the wall on one of the pictures. Another one shows him with a kippah on his head, saying: I’m gonna build you a brother.
„What is behind the wall?“
„Israeli base. Settlers. “
Noone is living in the top floors of the houses either. Climbing on the rooftops is strictly forbidden. People could have been stalking soldiers.
Ibrahim showed us one museum. It is built inside a hotel, called “The Walled of Hotel”. Name speaks for itself. It’s decorated with pictures from the wall. They all have the same author. Banksy. English artist with no face. People call him like that, because no one never seen him. This museum is a museum of occupation. There are stories of people from behind the wall, from behind the border that was drawn by new citizen of this land. This border is pushed constantly toward them and the world just watch. OSN or someone else raises a warning finger from time to time.
One more thing is on the plan that day. We visit Ibrahim’s sister. Hospitality of Palestinians is endless. Eating dinner, drinking tea, coffee and smoking water pipe, we listen to even more stories. Stories of normal people and their lives. Just one of them was ever abroad. The oldest son. He’s approximately our age. He got a chance as a part of a dancing group, host family payed the travel costs for him. He was flying from Jordan. Palestinians are not allowed to fly from Tel Aviv. It is a capital, only for the ones with correct ID.
We leave Palestine the other day. We travel around Israel the rest of the week. It’s less full, less noisy and less dirty. Everything is more expensive though and museums say the story of liberation instead of occupation.