(From my Israel journal, 13 March 2008.
I’m typing this in completely unedited. I wrote it in a mode of complete desperation. To be completely honest with you, I’ve been almost deliberately avoiding re-reading this. I don’t know how to deal with this place. I may not know how to deal with this place ever. But I know I have to deal with this place.)
I still don’t know how I write about what I saw in Jericho.
First, the checkpoint. The space between the Israeli check and the Palestinian check is a half mile of straight wasteland. Once you reach Jericho, you are…
…it’s poverty. I have never known how to deal with poverty. But it’s not just poverty, because if it was, we could propose solutions, and establish order. And we try. You see signs for the Palestinian authority, for the UN, for the European Union, even the good ol’ U-S-of-A, supporting this or that public works project (your foreign aid dollars at work!). But does that even matter if Israel won’t allow industry to grow?
The major industry in Jericho is tourism. The city’s major landmark now is the Intercontinental Hotel that rises over the horizon, presumably for someone to come in and stay and see the sights. (The parking lot is not full.) There are random shops, residences with barren gardens…and I can’t think of anything to complete that list. (I remember seeing the office door of a dentist. It was gated and locked.)
There are hopeful signs of life – the Catholic school, with children pouring out. Many children had parents waiting on them patiently, seeming to know that this was their hope. But Palestinians have been among the best-educated of the Arab peoples since the early 1900’s. Without the opportunity, what then?
We stopped at what was proposed to be the tree that Zacchaeus climbed when Jesus visited Jericho. What appeared to be a Palestinian family, the older men wearing “VENDOR” tags (approved by the Palestinian authority), with young boys in tow, came out of a small building in back, selling souvenirs. You’re always told to beware of children in this type of situation – have they been trained to be pickpockets? – but what do you do if you know that’s all this family might have to depend on?
(I retreated back to the bus quietly. Afraid? Me? You think?)
As to what happened next, Robert Wallace can tell the story better than I can.
(My writing ends here. However, Robert Wallace has taken to keeping his own blog, and at this point, I can quote him.)
In Jericho, several Palestinians said to each of us, “Please tell the people of America we want peace. Please don’t let a few radicals make them think we are all like that.” One man whose words will stay with me for a long time said, “How many fingers do you have?” I replied, “Five.” Showing me his hand, he said, “Same as me. Please tell them we want peace. We need peace.”