The bus came to a slow halt as we neared the Jerusalem border. One by one, the hazy faces of the men and women with guns and bullet-proof vests slowly became visible through the reflective windows of the Arab bus. I felt like an intruder. An intruder invading enemy territory.
As soon as the bus stopped, the Arabs habitually got up and exited the bus, while the few tourists and those with official Israel IDs remained on the bus to be checked. A small man slithered onto the bus with what seemed like a strain of Napoleon Complex, demanding everyone pull out their ID cards.
Not all Arabs exited the bus as some actually hold authentic Israeli ID cards, but people told me that even with their Israeli ID cards, they are still hassled by the border police.
This was evidenced right in front of me as the Israeli soldier began berating the Arab woman and her child in the seat in front of me. Madness ensued as the woman was trying to plead her case…shouting in every direction…the Arab bus driver got involved trying to defend her…the soldiers pushed him aside…and I thought, “Something is going to go down..."
At that point, every breath I took contained a giant gulp of shock mixed with a heart full of trauma. I shakily looked to my left as the European girls were crying at what just transpired. What just happened?
At the end, everyone reached Jerusalem safely and in one piece. As I exited, I asked the bus driver what happened…
“Because this is Israel.”
I try to take a neutral stance wherever I go but when you see unequal treatment of human beings (especially with a child), you can’t help but to take a side. But like the Arab driver said, “because this is Israel.” That’s what makes this place so surreal…to witness the cruel realities of modern day civilization but captivating in the sense that you are visiting one of the oldest and most sacred areas in the world for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. The place where Jesus was supposedly buried. The center of the universe. The ancient city containing the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian quarters. Diversity at its finest.
Issues aside…this place is fascinating. Whether you are a history geek or one who loves to take in the world with the good and the bad.
Take a walk through the Old City - you’ll feel the clock has turned back 1,000 years.
Witness the infamous Wall (and its art work) separating Israel and Palestine – this is your modern day Berlin Wall. Banksy was here.
But oh my budget, Israel is pretty damn expensive. Cheapest hostel I was able to find was $17 a night, and I thought Jordan was expensive...but that meant biscuits for breakfast and chips for lunch. Then I may splurge on dinner with two or three street falafels.
But take some time visiting both Israel and Palestine – you’ll understand firsthand the issues you've always heard about. Talk to the locals. Israelis. Palestinians. Open up your eyes and ears and you may receive the most valuable classroom lesson of all.