“Welcome To Phalesteen”

We got off the bus, and stood a bit nervously in front of the large red sign that read ‘Palestinian Authority Territory’ as three of the border guards, Isreali Defense Force reservists, walked over. They wore giant smiles with their AK-47s. They came over to us speaking in Hebrew at first, and then switching to English when they realized we were Americans. They were happy to see us, welcoming our company at the check point to the West Bank where they spend 5 straight days at a time checking IDs to make sure no Israelis pass the fence. This gate is the first of a series of three stops before reaching the West Bank, which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority and not the Israeli government. We were to go no farther this day, except to stop by the guard post for what turned out to be quite a pleasant time. The guards asked if we wanted a picture and we snapped a few group shots with them in front of the giant red sign. The two other guards waved us over to their post and the 6 of us approached nervously, our genial bus driver leading the charge. The soldiers offered us coffee and asked us where we were from, speaking effortless English, their faces still bright with excitement. One guard continued to wave cars through the gate, while the other four stood with us. My classmates and I exchanged skeptical looks, but the guards were overflowing with hospitality and we couldn’t help but fall in line with their conversation. We asked about their work and what they do when not on guard, and they showed us the tiny tower they are made to sleep in. I was shocked by how willing they were to share the details of their jobs and lives.

photo credit Jessica Hoffen

photo credit Jessica Hoffen

IMG_0405

After our coffee break at the border post, we continued on our field trip of the Arab Sector in Israel. This day was much different than any other day we have spent in Israel as we were interacting with an entirely different population than the one we are used to in Tel Aviv. We visited clinics to talk about the health challenges facing the Arab population of Israel and had a short lecture at the giant security ‘fence’ that divides Israel from the West Bank. Here we were greeted once more with hospitality by a man screaming ‘Welcome to Phalasteen!’ through a loud speaker. It was this trip, standing at the border between PA and Israeli territory, that the enormity of the situation here became visible to me. The problem of drawing borders, dividing populations, integrating cultures, and appeasing peoples with very different interests seems challenging from within the United States, and even more so within the territory itself. So many more dimensions have been revealed to me since I arrived in Israel, and political and ethical concerns are no longer the only angles for me to look at the problem. This country is more complicated than I had previously envisioned, and although reality is frustrating, I feel as though my goal of acquiring a first hand account of the situation here is being realized.