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Palestine through a clearer glass

2012 Travel Writing Competition Entry 

Palestine - Through a Clearer Glass
by Iluminada Armas, Spain

During July 2012, my friend Fatima and I visited Palestine for five days to meet some locals and gain perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My personal story had got tangled with the Arab countries long time ago but I always avoided Palestine as I used to believe my heart would break into little pieces if I ever dare to witness all that suffering. Then life took me away for a while teaching me a lesson: to see the whole picture right, you need to get close, far and close again a couple of times. And so we went!

We took a bus from Cairo to Taba where we crossed the border to Eilat arriving on an early Friday afternoon. Their festivity of Sabbath took us by surprise as it starts earlier than we thought. Without any buses running, we decided to hitchhike to Jerusalem. "That might be difficult. People here are not..." someone started saying. "Not impossible!", we interrupted on our way to the main road. Not even half an hour later, we were on a jeep to Tel Aviv with two middle age Jewish men. Conversation got deep enough to realize once more that similarities bringing us together are stronger than differences breaking us apart. That night, we hided ourselves from noisy Tel Aviv as we wanted to save energy in the beginning of our trip.

After having breakfast on the beach we headed to Jerusalem, our stopover to the peaceful Bethlehem. With the main touristic sights in the Holy City all checked, we crossed the suk where the little Arabic we speak was welcome among the sellers who nevertheless would take us inside their shops before speaking openly in their language.

Then Palestine happened as soon as we rode to Bethlehem that afternoon. People started chatting with us, two Spanish girls, as if we had been friends for long time. Our smiles were returned from little boys or from old women and with this nice feeling we didn’t care much about taking the long way to our hostel.

Next morning, Hebron received us offering us new local friends who showed us around the Jewish settlement we almost miss -although it is right in the middle of town- and the fence of separation. “Don’t get too close”, they said, “once a kid touched it and we never saw him again.” That day we were late to catch the bus back but it wasn’t hard to find a driver going to Bethlehem asking us nothing in return but a friendly conversation.

“If you are here, it means you want to understand us. Thank you for supporting us”, a man said to us next day as soon as we arrived in the Syrian look-a-like city of Nablus. Having walked up and down the main street, we stopped by the tourist office in search of information on where to get good coffee and something sweet to eat. We had not finished posing our question when the boy working there had closed the stall mumbling something about konefa. Indeed, he took us to a factory where we ate their unique and tasteful sweet. With cheese!. It didn’t make him upset to hear we wanted to ramble a bit on our own, rather he said happily “you know where to find me!”.

By chance, as the whole of our travel, we discovered the little soap factory that it is also the oldest shop in the market. There Abdullah explained us how to make a good traditional soap and showed us all his books meanwhile shop got busier. The hammans were closed to girls that day but that’s sounded like the perfect excuse to go back. In the afternoon we went for a walk and a tea in the commercial city Ramallah before heading back home for our last night.

This visit helped me on knocking down many walls of my understanding of the conflict. I feel more confident in a future solution being achieved. Such a prepared and committed people don’t deserve any different. Labeling systems keeps Palestinian divided, more than walls or fences, but their willing is strong and know we are all Palestine.