In 1998, I visited Israel and the West Bank with my husband on his business trip. We went into the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat, the PA leader at the time. His picture was everywhere, and I mean everywhere, including every single stall in the women’s restroom at a modern gas station. Posting pictures of a dictator is standard practice in a dictatorship.
We entered through the gates that led into the West Bank courtesy of our guide and driver, who held a Canadian passport. Remember, this is 1998. The troublemaker in the spotlight at that time was Libya’s president, Muammar Gaddafi. The PA had issues with him. As a result, U.S. citizens had travel restrictions for destinations to Israel and the PA. However, the State Department lifted these restrictions just weeks before we were to leave. Notably, the PA had no issues with Canada. Luckily, our guide and my husband (born in Canada with papers to prove it) were in the car.
As you might imagine, the Palestinian guards stop each car and ask questions. They may do a search. Our driver skillfully obtained a rental car from an Arab agency, not an Israeli one. Of course, the guards were favorable to Arab rental vehicles.
Our guide rolled down his window. “What is your country?” the guard asked. He peered in, surveyed the back seat, then his eyes shifted to the front. “Canada,” our guide replied. We were instructed not to speak unless spoken to, as we sound quite American. Since the PA guard didn’t ask, we didn’t speak. He waived us on through the gate and into the West Bank.
Lunch with a Palestinian Family
We had lunch arrangements at the home of a Palestinian family. It was this lovely complex out in the ancient ruins. It was like something out of the movie “Lawrence of Arabia.” Their young children brought us ancient coins dug up from the archaeology ruins. The Arab family presented a table fit for royalty and gave us their story.
The father of the family had American roots. He said that current restrictions kept him from earning a better living at his restaurant. This father said he wanted to move his family to America in a couple of years. We all listened courteously and cautiously, yet concerned for the welfare of this beautiful family. Our group of five purchased some articles from his little shop. Then came the extra long ride home that took us through the desert, with one little stop where we could get a coffee and water. (It was a blessing to find this place that seemed to rise up out of nowhere). Why the long way home? There was “activity” (translation: uprising, protests) in the Palestinian capital city of Ramallah, which served as a significant thoroughfare back to Israel.
Today, I find myself thinking of that family, wondering if they ever returned to New York. In all my travels, I find that there are good people and troubled people. Cities and countries have problems, protests, and citizens who want a better life from their government. (I once got a U.S. State Department warning to leave Marseilles, France, for the day because of protest activity there).
A key point I notice is that the people with the privilege of electing their leaders every few years in free and fair elections also have fewer troubles. For one thing, the people have a voice. Where a consistent dictatorship rules people, there is always an undercurrent of unrest that eventually leads to resistance.
An Observation about Israel
Sadly, the current Israel War is one of retribution against a dictatorship with savages who want death, not a solution or peace. Significantly, I never felt more secure than I did in Israel, where Arabs and Israelis worked side by side in peace in Israel’s ancestral homeland. In my experience, Israel’s care for life and the land is significant.
I hope and pray that the innocent Palestinians can escape the horrors of war that have beset them. And I pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship.🇺🇸
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Photo by Haley Black