I just returned from a trip to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Hebron. It is 11:39 Sunday night and I am exhausted, but I will do my best to describe my experience.
I left Thursday evening with a classmate of mine and two of his friends after my class ended and, after an unusually smooth border crossing, we arrived in Jerusalem around 11. The next day we explored the Old City and other areas of Jerusalem. Abe, my classmate, and one of his friends, Jacob, have already been to Jerusalem before and acted as excellent tour guides.
We first visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I have visited many churches in my lifetime, but I found this one to be particularly interesting and beautiful because of the architecture and artwork, as well as the representation of different denominations. We also visited the Western Wall, where I separated from my group and walked down to the area designated for women only.
After exploring the Old City, we walked to the mount of olives, were we bought some drinks and sat in a park. Abe mentioned previously staying at a guesthouse in the area that was run by an old Palestinian man and suggested we try to find him.
At that moment, the very man happened to come walking towards us in the park and invited us to lunch. We went with him to the guesthouse where we were served a delicious meal, and sat talking with some of the other guests for a couple of hours. In the evening, another friend who happened to be in Jerusalem brought us up to a viewpoint where we could see the whole city.
After seeing Jerusalem from the viewpoint, we had to find our way to Ramallah. It was later than we had anticipated leaving, and we ended up having to make a deal with a young man and his father who offered to drive us partway to Ramallah. We didn’t coordinate very well, and I ended up sitting in the back of the van with one of the teenaged sons, who used the excuse of helping me put on my seatbelt to touch me inappropriately.
I grabbed his hand and pushed him away, after which he sat on the far end of the seat and left me alone. After we got out of the van, I let my companions know what had happened. Unfortunately, it isn’t particularly uncommon for foreign women here to be targets of harassment, but I don’t think this means I should just accept it. We didn’t have a chance to talk about it in depth, but this is a topic I’d like to revisit with my travel companions so that we can figure out a plan of action in case we are in another situation like this again.
After exploring Ramallah a bit the next day, I met up with Lara, a Palestinian virtual exchange student I had been partnered with through a UC Berkeley program. The guys stayed back in Ramallah while I went with her to her home in Sinjil. We ate a delicious lunch her mother had prepared for us and I talked for a while with her father. After sometime, her mother and little sister arrived and we took a drive to some ruins overlooking their olive trees where we climbed around and had drinks and snacks. We also visited around town to see various family members, and my stay ended with Lara insisting that I try on her mother’s wedding dress.
The next day, we were joined by Irene, another friend who is currently interning in Jerusalem. We took a bus to Hebron where we visited the old souk, then we went through a checkpoint to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs. It was surreal to experience the stark difference of environment after we walked through the checkpoint.
I felt like I was back in Jerusalem, and yet just outside the checkpoint was the cacophony of the old market. Walking through the settlement, soldiers checked our passports several times and asked what our religion was, and again I felt the strangeness being asked this question about an idea that had never been important or relevant to me previously.
I wish I could write more about my thoughts on all these experiences, but it’s almost two in the morning and I have six and a half hours of class to prepare for tomorrow, so goodnight for now.