We left Ayn Hawd both in awe of Mohamad's lifetime of work and feeling dismal about the whole situation. We carried his stories with us throughout the rest of the day, which included visiting the city of Akko, touring a mosque there, and walking around the Old City. At the end of the day, our ultimate destination was Jenin, an Area A part of Palestine. This would be our first time in the West Bank! (The designation 'Area A' is used for any part of the West Bank that is fully under the control and governance of the Palestinian Authority. Israeli citizens or military are not allowed to enter places that are Area A. I'll have to explain more about Areas A, B, and C in a later post).
Around 7pm, we approached the checkpoint through which one can pass through from Israel to the West Bank (in this case, Jenin), passports in hand and with a little apprehension about what our first checkpoint experience would be like. We were stopped short by a closed gate--the checkpoint was closed, and apparently had been since early afternoon. There was a group of Palestinian boys who were also stuck on the Israel side of the checkpoint, wanting to get into Jenin. They confirmed for us that the checkpoint was closed, and we were left to brainstorm amongst ourselves as to what to do next.
|The boys stranded outside the gate of the closed checkpoint|
Our trip leader, Will, got out and approached the Israeli military complex that was next to the checkpoint. He stood at the fence, looking for someone, anyone, inside who might be able to help us. Maybe they could let us through? We did have hotel reservations in Jenin, after all. Will also made several phone calls to various contacts in the area to try to get around this roadblock. Eventually, a couple of Israeli soldiers came out to talk to Will (the rest of the group, myself included, observed this from inside the bus). After about 10 minutes of discussion, Will came back to the bus to let us know our options. It would be impossible to cross through this particular checkpoint. There was another checkpoint, the Israeli soldiers said, about 40 minutes down the road, and they assured us that it was open. Our driver, however, said that that location was actually about 2.5 hours away…and one of the people Will talked to on the phone said it was more like 4 hours. Being that we were getting very conflicting information, we decided to go back to Nazareth and spend the night there, leaving for Jenin in the morning when the checkpoint would be open again.
|Will talking to the Israeli soldiers|
The ride back to Nazareth provided ample time to reflect on what had just happened. Frankly, I am glad we couldn't get through the closed checkpoint. Had they for some reason allowed us to pass, I would have been ashamed. Sure, we could have continued on with our day as planned. We could have stayed in the hotel we intended to stay in. We could have started the next day on track. But had I been one of those boys with their backpacks, stranded outside the checkpoint all night, and witnessed such a thing, I would probably hate Americans. For their (our) sense of entitlement; for their (our) expectation for things to always go their (our) way; for their (our) audacity to believe that doors can/should open for them (us) that don't/won't open for others. I am glad we got turned away. I am glad our plans got messed up. I am glad we could know for one instant what it feels like to be a Palestinian who faces these barriers every day.
These thoughts were still running through my mind when we arrived to our hotel in Nazareth. After checking in and putting our stuff in our rooms, most of the group congregated in the hotel lobby (where there was also a dining/bar area and a beautiful outdoor patio). That place was happening! The room was full of the hum of fellow travelers from all over the world talking and laughing together. Marietta and I elected to sit on the outdoor patio, which had a beautiful view of all of the lights of the valley at night.
We talked mostly about the events of the day, which as you can probably gather was not entirely lighthearted. It wasn't long, however, before our conversation was interrupted by blaring Arabic music coming from inside the hotel. Upon poking our heads in the door to investigate, we found a Palestinian folk dance troupe performing for the crowd. Immediately we were mesmerized by the music and their dancing; the smiles on their faces. They were incredible, and it was sort of redeeming to see the joy in these young, smiling faces after what we had just experienced earlier in the day.
"We all dance anyway," Marietta said. Even in the face of sorrow, people everywhere dance. In spite of the things that divide us, all people dance. Every culture, every country--all people dance. No matter what we face--the realities of conflict in the Holy Land, the death of a loved one, an unexpected disappointment--we all go on dancing. After performing three songs, the dancers started pulling up some of the audience to dance--and before you knew it, there was a crowd on the dance floor. Even after the dance troupe left, the other hotel guests kept on dancing. When the DJ played "Gangnam Style," at least half the room knew the dance.
At one point one of our new friends was trying to get us to join in on the Limbo. I had no idea what language he was speaking, but I knew exactly what he was saying.
We all dance anyway.