As I write this, I have a song on repeat that is getting me through this blog, a song called Brother, by The Brilliance. I invite you to listen to this song that has moved me in more ways than one. Even as a blogger and one who loves to write, I find myself bone dry of words. Sometimes, words are just not enough and tears are the only thing filling my pages; tears that eventually flood and wet the bone dry words that eventually come to life. Tears are nothing to be ashamed of, they speak more than words sometimes, and tears for me are what happened after visiting the city of Hebron on my trip to Israel/Palestine.
When I look into the face of my enemy, I see my brothers.The Brilliance
Hebron is a city located in the West Bank and the West Bank is the largest of the Palestinian Territories. To the Palestinian people, and many others, it is a part of the future/current state of Palestine, however, it has been occupied by the State of Israel since the Six Day War of 1967. After the 1993 Oslo Accords, Hebron was divided into two different sectors. Palestinians control the H1 Zone and the Israelis control the H2 zone. Both claim to be victims of a segregated type system where neither side can move freely throughout the city. The Israeli government claims the Palestinian territories are part of Israel and the historic Jewish homeland – this is the heart of the problem of the Israel/Palestine conflict. A history lesson is crucial when diving into this topic. I am no expert. I am not a journalist. I am not here to convince you or claim pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. I am neither. I am here to be a voice for those who have none, I am here to be pro-truth, I am here to be pro-peace, and I am here to share what I saw in Israel/Palestine, starting in Hebron with a teenage boy named Achmed.
Our bus could barely fit through the streets of Hebron, kudos to our incredible driver that passed by cars with inches to spare! I didn’t doubt him, I was just very impressed. I scurried off the bus awaiting another adventure in a new city, this was day 7 of 10 in Israel/Palestine. I adjusted my eyes to the sunny sky and dusty streets of Hebron. It was…quiet, but not for long. I passed by a green door where I saw peeping heads of curious children, I smiled and waved. They started giggling, waving, and screaming, “HIII, HIII, HIII!” One thing I did learn in Hebron, teenagers and children are universal! Tourists don’t travel much to Hebron for reasons I am sure you can imagine, but reasons I ask that you rethink. To me this was a beautiful city with the most beautiful humans I have ever met. The quietness began to disappear with young boys from the ages of 6-16 following us around and trying their best to sell us bracelets and purses. They were persistent I’ll give them that, but they were also full of life and hope. After a few “no thank yous,” there was a boy in a red shirt with braces who was my kind of human being – a teenager.
He was frustrated and sad because we weren’t buying bracelets from him. The common thing for Palestinians to say in justifying why we don’t buy things from them is because they are Palestinians, and if they were Jewish boys, we would have bought something from them. This mindset rocked my world. It made me realize, me, Rachel, white, American, blonde, and blue eyed, was ignorant to the two sided narrative of the Palestinian and the Israeli. Why would he think that? Was he right? His name was Achmed and I wanted to know who he was. As we walked through the small streets of Hebron together, we stopped talking about his bracelets he was trying to sell and I began to immerse myself into his story. Achmed is 16 years old, again, my kind of human being, a teenager. He was full of smiles as he realized he had my full attention. The smiles most likely resulted in him talking to a “beautiful, blonde American” (as he put it, not me), but I didn’t mind I just wanted to see him, something I began to realize I fail to do with any person I interact with. I began to see him as a teenage boy, with dreams and hopes of a future that is not divided by religion and land, a future where he can walk freely, a future where he doesn’t have to walk by other teenage boys holding their finger on the trigger of an AK-47 hesitant of them pulling it.
“Achmed, what do you want to do when you’re older?” I asked him. “I want to marry and live in America,” he non ashamedly said. His friend, Mohammed, joined us at this point, another lovely soul who I had the privilege of meeting. “Why do you want to live in America, Achmed?” I said. “Because you have better life in America, it is not good here, I want better future,” he said shaking his head. I died. I had to fight back the tears that wanted to burst out of me for the first time on my trip. What gives me the right to cry for Achmed? I don’t know what it’s like to live in fear everyday, to run after the few tourists that do come to my city and try and get them to buy bracelets so I can earn some money, and I definitely don’t know what it’s like to be called a terrorist because of being a Palestinian. What I do know is that I could see him, truly see him. A bright, brave, and goofy teenager that wants a friend and wants me to not see him differently than a Jewish boy or an American boy and treat him the same as I would any teenager. I responded to Achmed saying, “I know and I am sorry.” That was the only way I knew how to contend with him. Of course every bit of me wanted to say I’ll take you to America, I will pack you in my suitcase, I will take you away from here. But I can’t and I am not the savior. I am not the American coming into their country trying to save people and tell them about Jesus. I am here to see these people and to immerse myself into their story so that I may give them a voice of hope, a voice of freedom, and a voice of truth. I am hear to listen. Something we are awful at and I refuse to be ignorant to that anymore.
Achmed wanted to walk me to the bus as we made our way back. I delightfully said I would love that. As we made our way up the hill, he looked over and put one of his Palestine bracelets on my wrist. “This is a gift,” he said. “I want you to have it so you remember me and you remember Hebron.” “No Achmed! Please let me give you something or keep this bracelet so you can sell it!” I hysterically said. “NO! You keep!” and he smiled, braces and all. A smile I will never forget. So all I could say was thank you. Then I followed up with a question I would ask any teenager back home, “Do you want to race to the bus?” He smiled and started sprinting, that sneaky kid! I was disappointed in myself because I got a cramp as we were running up the hill and the competitiveness in me was coming out. He won. That’s okay though, I was happy to lose to my new friend. I gave him a big hug and reluctantly ran up the steps on the bus. He ran around the bus trying to find me so he could wave bye. After we were all loaded on the bus, we started moving, and I waved to him until he disappeared into the dusty streets of Hebron.
That’s where I lost it. I silently let the tears fall down my face as I leaned my head up against the window. Why was I crying? It took me a while to figure this out, but I believe I was actually able to see someone for the very first time. I saw Achmed for who he really was and not what the media likes to tell me Palestinians are. Friends, we cannot stop at one narrative. We have to embrace the two narratives. Before Israel/Palestine I thought I knew what that meant, but I didn’t. Don’t starve yourself of knowing two sides of the story and making your mind up about a thing or a person or a place. My prayer is that through these blogs and through these stories of people I met and people I saw, it may open your eyes to the two narratives. Achmed, thank you. You will forever be in my prayers.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.Rumi