Bethlehem, West Bank to Jerusalem, Israel to Masada, Israel

06.30.2010

I woke up bright and early and walked up to Fadi and Abeer’s apartment.  I was going to get a ride with Fadi to the border this morning and walk across to Israel.  Fadi and Abeer also rent out rooms in their house to people volunteering in the West Bank.  Two of their boarders were there having breakfast and I got to play “20 Questions” about couch surfing and my trip.  It took all of my self-control to not express what I really thought about them charging couch surfers to stay there.  Fadi and I left at 7:10a and he dropped me off just a few hundred meters from the border.  The hospital he works at is located next to the border.

The border crossing is very ominous looking and there is HUGE wall unlike anything I have seen before.  It rivals the wall on the U.S./Mexico border in California.  Actually, I think it is worse.  I haven’t been down to Mexico recently, but my recollection of how bad it is pales in comparison to what I experienced crossing from the West Bank to Israel.

First, you come to a fenced area that has an “Exit” sign, an “Entrance” sign and a “Humanitarian Entrance” sign.  Well, I wasn’t on a humanitarian mission, so I went to the regular entrance.  I walked about 30 meters up and got in line with everyone else.  I felt like I was in a cage, and in a sense, I was.  There was an iron fence on both sides, with razor barbed wire above me.  In other words, if everyone decided to go ape-shit, I was gonna be right in the middle of it and had nowhere to go.  It was not a good feeling.

After about twenty minutes, one of the men in front of me turned around and told me I was in the wrong line, I should go back and go through with the tourists.  I explained to him that is not what the sign said, and I’ll just stay here for now.  I didn’t feel comfortable moving through the crowd that was behind me now with my huge backpack.  I also decided to commit an act of solidarity with the hundreds of Palestinians I was standing in line with.

[ON MY SOAPBOX]
Before any of you respond with opinions one way or the other, let me be perfectly clear about something.  I do not support just Israel and I do not support just Palestine.  I think both sides are wrong and both sides are right.  Therefore, I made a conscious effort to get both sides of the story from many different people throughout Israel and Palestine on this visit.  I have concluded that they just need to get along.  Yeah, I know, it’s a simple solution to a complex situation with a lot of history, but that’s just how I feel.  I’m not going to argue it with anyone, either.
[OFF MY SOAPBOX]

We waited almost an hour before the line moved and several of us were able to get through the first part of the checkpoint.  The look on the Israeli soldier’s face when he saw me with all the Palestinian men was priceless and completely indicative of the privilege my U.S. Passport grants me.  It was a mixture of shock and an “oops, sorry” shoulder shrug in my general direction.  Yeah, thanks buddy. 

The group then moved to another checkpoint and proceeded to cram themselves in a line to get through the next set of doors.  Queuing is not something people in Europe or the Middle East have a firm grasp of.  These guys were no different.  There were two Israeli security officers standing above everyone on a gated platform of some sort.  I wish I had taken pictures but I figured that might have gotten me in trouble so I refrained.  I stood back and watched the group. 

I met an Arab American woman from Chicago.  She was so sweet.  She asked, “Where are you from?“  I replied, “The United States”  She said, “Me too!  I am from Chicago.  It is a pleasure to meet you here on this soil.“  I smiled back and said, “Yes, it is.“  We both knew the significance of me being in line with everyone.  Eventually, they let the women and children through, then me, with my huge backpack.  From here, there was a metal detector and x-ray machine.    Following this checkpoint, we had to go through and show our papers or passports.

The Israeli soldiers seemed more concerned with sending text messages and talking on their cell phones than actually doing their job.  They also seemed to take immense pleasure in making the Palestinians jump through as many hoops as possible, making sure they displayed their papers “just right”.  When I showed my passport, they acted like they didn’t even care!  I was barely given a glance.

I went out to where the busses and taxis were.  There was an Arab bus and I asked if they were going to the Arab bus station and they were, so I hopped on.  It’s always interesting the looks and questions I get on the Arab busses.  I was repeatedly asked where I wanted to go and kept replying, “The Arab Bus Station”.  My plan was to walk from there to Jaffa Road and catch the #20 bus to the Central Bus Station to catch a bus to Masada.

I got to the Central Bus Station and cleared security with just one question, “Is that one or two knives in your bag?”  Yeah, they were worried about my two Leatherman’s, one large and one small one.  Ha!  Never mind there are soldiers everywhere with automatic weapons ready to go.

I bought my ticket at waited in “line” (I use that term loosely).  The bus arrived and we all loaded in.  I sat next to a woman from Germany who was traveling around he Middle East for six weeks.  She had just completed her law degree and was taking a much needed break before having to find a job.  She got off the bus at one of the Dead Sea stops to go experience the Dead Sea.  I continued on to Masada. 

The youth hostel at Masada is more like a hotel.  It has a pool, basketball court, a lovely terrace overlooking the Dead Sea, and a cafeteria.  I checked in and met my roommate in the dorm room.  Her name is Tina and she’s from Vancouver, BC, Canada!  We hit it off and talked about our plans for tomorrow and agreed to hike the Snake Trail together around 4:15a.

I spent the afternoon chilling out, had dinner in the cafeteria and then went to bed.