I had a little time in Jerusalem, so I decided to take a trip to al-Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem on my last day. Checkpoint 300 is much easier to get through than Qalandiya, possibly because Bethlehem is such a big tourist destination. I wandered around the security wall where personal anecdotes had been posted on signs, and browsed the graffiti. The graffiti ranged from inane, to incredible works of art, and as I walked along it, a Palestinian family stopped to talk to me. They were residents of al-Aida, so they offered to take me there with them on their way home. We arrived in the camp and they invited me into their house to talk for a while.
They seemed to be doing better than I had expected, but the father complained of not being able to find work and not being able to enter Jerusalem where he used to do construction. He talked about wanting a better life and an education for his sons and seemed generally optimistic that they would have a better life. He was uniquely also the first person I met who seemed to want a single state with the Israelis. I don’t know if it was from being beat down from living in a camp his whole life and just wanting peace and opportunity or the influence of the UN at the camp, but most Israelis and Palestinians I had talked to previously believed two separate states was the best option.
He offered me food and a bottle of water which I was torn about accepting. I didn’t want to offend him by turning down food and implying that he was , but I didn’t want to accept and take something from him when he clearly less well off. I decided to accept a small amount to be polite and give him some lokum from Hebron and some fruit from Daher’s farm in return. I don’t know if that was the correct response, but I hope he understood that I appreciated his generosity. I had to leave shortly after that to make it to Ben Gurion airport, so I said my goodbyes and wished him luck.
The trip to Ben Gurion didn’t go so well, and I ended walking an hour and a half to get there only to discover that they had changed the terminal my flight was in. After waiting on a bus to the other terminal I made it there barely in time for my delayed flight. Getting through security proved to be a challenge, so I almost missed my flight anyway. Previous experiences with security in Israel had not gone well for me, and this was no exception.
During what had been a cheerful chat with the woman working security, I mentioned that I had traveled to the West Bank, and things to a turn for the Kafkaesque. Her expression suddenly became blank and she began repeating the same sets of questions to me over and over again, presumably to get me to slip up? It was surreal experience, she gave no physical acknowledgement of the repetition, and I briefly had to wander if I was going crazy, and the entire time I was just trying to get to my flight. Finally, I was free to go and rushed through as fast as possible and only barely caught my flight.
I made it to London late at night only to find my bag hadn’t come with me. I wouldn’t receive it for another three weeks, so I had to find some toiletries. London was largely uneventful and a day later I was back in the states.