Before I begin, I need to address something. I realize I am only a young college student. I don’t pretend to know everything, or anything for that matter. The things I say are simply what I have seen and experienced. All I will tell you is solely based on my personal experiences.
I have learned that timing, timing is everything.
Two weeks ago, I decided I would go to the Holy Land over my long weekend. It was an easy decision; It’s cheap to cross the border and I had some friends who wanted to go. We booked our hostel and prepared for the trip. We decided we’d leave a day early, that way we’d have a little longer to see the sights. The only potentially difficult part of our trip would be crossing the border. We just hoped it wouldn’t be a problem – after all, we were just some college students wanting to see the Holy Land.
Tuesday finally came and my friends and I hopped into a taxi headed for the border. Down, down, down we descended to the Dead Sea until we finally reached the check point where we would pay our exit fees and bus over to the Israeli check point. Now you must understand, we’d been told some serious horror stories about this check point.
“Oh, it took us five hours.”
“I got interrogated about why I was learning Arabic.”
“They yelled at me and didn’t want to let me in.”
“Yeah, it took us four hours to get through.”
I was preparing for the worst. As our bus pulled into the check point, I started reciting my response in my head for why I wanted to visit Jerusalem. My friends and I handed off our luggage at the security and walked to the first counter that checked our passport. Counter after counter we walked, never once waiting in line, never once having a difficult time. Before we knew it, we were out. Luggage in hand, we stood on the other side of the check point, grinning at each other. “Easy-peasy,” I said and we got into a bus to head to Jerusalem. Good timing, I guess.
At the city limits, the bus was stopped and an IDF soldier climbed in to check all of our passports. His name was David and he couldn’t have been older than 18. His AK- 47 looked scarier than he did. We didn’t talk, but I don’t think I’m going to forget David. He was my first glimpse into the reality of every news article I had ever read about Israel. Little did I know, the weekend was going to be moment after moment of a reality I never thought I’d know. It’s all about the timing.
When we arrived to the hostel, I learned that it had free wifi. I immediately pulled out my iPhone to check my email and Facebook. (Fast, free internet is a big deal in the Middle East when you’re used to paying for every moment of internet you use.) This was what greeted me when I opened my inbox:
DEMONSTRATIONS IN PROGRESS: SECURITY ALERT
EMERGENCY MESSAGE FOR U.S. CITIZENS
In a few short hours, Amman went from silent and calm to angry and loud. The government had released the information that they were raising the price of fuel by 53% while we were crossing the border. Our program cancelled school for the next day and those who were planning to travel for the weekend by car were no longer allowed to travel outside the city. My friends and I looked at each other – what remarkable timing.
The next day, we began with a guided tour of the Old City and saw some of the sights. Honestly, it didn’t even feel like real life running around the Old City’s quarters and coming upon the Dome of the Rock and then the Western Wall. Everything was so close to everything else. When the tour was over, we went back and revisited the places we had breezed over with the tour. It was then that the glamour of seeing the sights started to wear off. As I waited in line to see a possible tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a Holy Disneyland. Everything around me was so overrun with tourists that I felt completely separated from what I was seeing. While it is amazing to be able to say I have now seen these famous artifacts and locations, I can’t help but feel that they have simply become attractions for the masses. I found myself missing the simplicity of standing on the bank of the Jordan River from the Jordanian side.
When we got back to the hostel that evening, I checked the news for more information about Jordan. While there were updates about Jordan, there was something far more significant and pertinent on the front page of BBC news.
ISRAELI AIR STRIKE KILLS HAMAS MILITARY CHIEF IN GAZA
And so it began. It turned out that while we had been standing in line in the Holy Disneyworld, Israel and Gaza had begun something huge. Something that was going to greatly effect everything. Emails began pouring in saying things like, “US SECURITY ALERT – ISRAEL.” Suddenly our proposed trip to Bethlehem looked out of the question. We headed to bed with a new plan of spending the next day in Tel Aviv where it was sure to be calm. I fell asleep thinking how unbelievable the timing of all this craziness was.
The next day we got a late start, but arrived in Tel Aviv around 1 pm. We proceeded to get lost for a few hours, but eventually ended up on the beach. It was beautiful. The sun was beginning to set and there were only a few people spread out on this long beach. After we had exhausted the sunlight, we headed into Old Jaffa for dinner. Old Jaffa is said to be the port that Jonah set sail from before his fateful experience with the whale. As we walked towards Jaffa, we heard a deep, loud boom. We looked at each other wondering what that had been, but shrugged and walked on. We found an adorable cafe and proceeded to have a fantastic dinner. After dinner, we headed back to Jerusalem. Once we arrived back, we all decided we wanted to find a bar to hang out in. There we met two IDF officers who introduced themselves to us. They were delightful company and I was so glad to put personalities to this faceless force. During the conversation, my friend curiously asked them, “Do you think this fighting with Gaza will escalate much?” The IDF soldiers hesitated a moment and then said, “Oh yes, for sure. I mean, they fired on Tel Aviv tonight after all.” It was our moment to hesitate. “They did what?” “Fired on Tel Aviv.” Under my breath I said, “I knew I heard a boom.” Our timing was impeccable.
GAZA CRISIS: TEL AVIV TARGETED BY MISSILES
The news was everywhere. Tel Aviv had been targeted, one hitting towards the south of the city and another off the shore into the sea. My mum had already sent me an anxious email by the time I got back to the hostel. I quickly responded telling her I was fine and that I was safely in Jerusalem now. No worries anymore, right?
The next morning we headed to Yad Vashem (the holocaust museum in Jerusalem) on the tram. At the stop before we were to reach Yad Vashem, a young Israeli man came over and told us, “We have to leave. This is the last stop. They found an unidentified object ahead so the tram will go no further.” With this new knowledge, we set out on foot the rest of the way to Yad Vashem. Ahead we could see there was police tape marking off the area all around the next tram stop. We skirted the area as we headed down to the museum. Great timing.
A few hours into Yad Vashem, I was ready to head back to finish up sight-seeing in Jerusalem. It was a bit heavy for me to look at for too long. The rest of my group was not ready, so I decided I would head back by myself. I walked back to the tram and took it to the Damascus Gate. When I arrived, the area around the gate was crawling with IDF troops. I could barely get around them to find my way to the gate. As I weaved my way through, I was struck with how many girls I saw. Now, if you know me, you know that I’m not a military person. But watching these girls, I have never wanted to be part of the military more. I felt so weak just looking at them. I realized that living in a nation where women are not considered strong had made me crave the power that I saw in these Israeli girls. I was tired of feeling vulnerable.
Once I was inside the Damascus Gate, I realized that I was in the middle of the Arab quarter. An American girl all alone in the Arab quarter is probably not a very good idea. But fortunately, I was a girl on a mission. I rushed past the men calling out and staring at me. I just kept walking and turning down narrow alleys as I recognized graffiti after graffiti. I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to go, but I loved the feeling of being free. I was walking alone by myself in one of the most ancient cities in the world, in a country seized by war. But I was able to be alone and I wasn’t lost. I felt powerful and in control despite my circumstances. And I loved it. I think I needed that moment – it was good timing.
Later that evening, my friends and I went to the Mount of Olives, and more specifically, the Garden of Gethsemane and Basilica of the Agony. In the Basilica of the Agony, mass was in process. It was beautiful to listen to in the majestic church. As some of my friends sat in the pews listening, I headed back outside. As I left the noise of the ongoing mass, I was greeted and overwhelmed with the sound of the call to prayer. The reality of what I was listening to struck me deeply. The clash of religions, cultures, and people there in Jerusalem is so complicated. As I sat on the stairs leading to the Basilica of the Agony, I was overwhelmed with the agony this clash has brought to the region. You so badly want there to be peace, and there is none to be had. I sat and waited for my friends to come out. It wasn’t more than a minute after they joined me that a foreign noise filled the night sky.
Tourists began to look at their tour guides with panicked faces. People began rushing around. My heart dropped into my stomach. And yet, the Israelis simply walked on. Immediately, I thought back to David, the young man who had looked at my passport as I had entered Jerusalem. Was he going to be in danger? What about our new IDF friends from the bar? What about the girls who had seemed so powerful hours ago? Faced with something as huge and terrifying as rockets, suddenly every single one of them seemed as weak as me. As my friends and I set off to get back to our hostel through the Old City, I realized every people, every culture, every country has their own weaknesses. Jordan is not alone; I am not alone. As we walked back through the streets of the Old City, gun fire played like a chorus in the background.
One particular shop owner came out to greet us as we passed. He was grinning and laughing as he said, “The rockets!! Gaza is firing! Everyone is scared.” I couldn’t understand why he was so happy. This was his home. And then, it hit me. He was proud of Gaza finally making a strong move against Israel, even if it meant the city he was in was at risk. His attitude stated more than anything he could have ever said. I found out later the gunfire was from Palestinians celebrating all throughout Jerusalem. Suddenly I thought about all the Gazans dying less than an hour from me. I thought about the mothers crying for their children. I thought about the hate that saturates the air in this nation. I thought about the reality of a conflict that had driven people to cheer their city getting hit with rockets, the reality that I was suddenly in the middle of. My heart ached and continues to ache.
There is so much pain on both sides. I think too often we get caught up on one side of the conflict. I understand that, I really do. But seeing the faces of both sides makes everything so real. I have noticed in myself that, when I feel very passionately about a subject, I often forget about the credibility of the other side. This trip was very important for me. I saw both sides in a tangible way, and really, it’s devastating. I imagined each of these people growing up. From childhood they are taught a certain way of thinking and living, just like I have been. We, they, just don’t understand each other. And there is much more to learn. No matter what we think about each side, we can agree that this endless violence needs to stop. Needs to stop.
You’ll be glad to learn that on Saturday I arrived back safely across the border. Jordan has calmed down a bit, so getting into the country was not a problem. Although, there are still protests scheduled through out this week. But, to say the least, my weekend was perfectly timed despite terrible timing. I know that doesn’t really make sense, but I really was safe while still being in the thick of it. I feel heavy with the weight of what I have seen and learned, but I know it is crucial to wrestle with this knowledge. We should not be comfortable with what is going on. Our world is so sadly diseased.
While I was in Old Jaffa, I purchased a pocket watch. At the time, I thought it was just a cool accessory to own. But now, I find it so much more significant. It reminds me of this moment in my life where timing was everything. It reminds me every day how time can not be taken for granted. It’s ticking, it’s flying, and it waits for no one. Every second, minute, and hour is a gift. How much time have I wasted on hate and not love? I don’t want to waste another moment. It’s time to start seeing clearly.