Eternal City to Holy Land

"In this gateway onto what has never been before

let our soul breathe hope

for the earth

for the creatures

for the human family.

Let our soul breathe hope."

-John Philip Newell

Well, my journey to the Holy Land has begun and has already been full of surprises--no surprise there.  I made my way to Fiumicino airport to leave the Eternal City this morning, courtesy of Antonio, my delightful taxi driver.  We chatted and laughed in Italian almost the entire way to the terminal, that is, until I reverted to Arabic and Hebrew deciding to give him a mini language lesson just before we pulled up.  We were both very amused.  He made me aware, however, I was lacking in my vocabulary, for I was unable to answer him about how to say, "What a beautiful woman!"  You know, all things important to Italian men.  

After checking my luggage, passing through a four-minute security check (what a dream!), then passport control, I made my way to Turkish Airlines to board my plane.  The plane was in the middle of the tarmac so we took one of those shuttles to board from the outdoors, which is where I found myself behind a woman wearing a t-shirt with these powerful words cascading down her spine, "Hope is the anchor of my soul."  Hope.  That word, that thought, that feeling I keep returning to as I ponder about and pray for the Holy Land, in all its holy distress...

Upon boarding I remembered I had selected a window seat and really preferred an aisle, so I made a little switcheroo after everyone else got on and wound up sitting next to two very sweet Israeli young women and discovered all of us were en route to the Tel Aviv (Ben Gurion) airport!  During our flight I took the opportunity to ask for bar and restaurant suggestions while in Tel Aviv at the end of my travels, since they lived nearby.  I also received much needed help on pronouncing Hebrew words properly as well as garnering phrases not included in my decent, but limited list in my Lonely Planet tour book. 

While meandering through the concourse during our layover I finally mustered up the courage to inquire about what we might have all wanted to avoid, "May I ask you a somewhat difficult question?" I posed.  "You don't have to answer if you don't want to... Do you experience the conflict, or well, occupation, much where you live or not really?"  There was a pause and Katya replied, "All the time."  I responded, "Oh really?  Do you see anything changing much soon?" "No," she answered.  She added, "It's more dangerous maybe in Jerusalem," then quickly followed with, "Not that dangerous," knowing I was heading there and wanting to reassure me I would be fine.  I lightheartedly told her I felt fine there and was not too worried.  We arrived at our gate and didn't go into anything more. 

As we arrived at our gate we had to go through another security and passport check where a very interesting, completely unexpected encounter occurred.  I was profiled by the Turkish airport attendants based on being in the company of my new Jewish Israeli friends.  I realized this because an attendant offhandedly asked me, "Is your passport Israeli?"  I replied, "No".  He added, "Because if it was you'd have a much harder time."  At this, he was given a little jab in the kidney with a pen by the female attendant next to him.  It was true though, my Israeli friends were given a bit of a hard time.  Though, I got the worst of it.  This kind of profiling happens all the time at Ben Gurion airport however it is flipped, Palestinians, other Arabs, and people connected to Palestinians--particularly those actively engaged in efforts working for the freedom and equity of Palestinians--are profiled by Israeli security.  I now realized the profiling goes both ways.  I got questioned in the same interrogating and slightly intimidating way by the Turkish attendant as I previously experienced at Ben Gurion and I was asked multiple times where I was going.  I eventually passed through.  My bags were then searched, but somewhat indifferently.  It was just to make a hassle of things I think, much like in Israel.

So, the tensions have begun to reveal themselves already.  I get the sense many Israeli Jews and Arabs are boiling just below the surface and every once in a while a hot bubble rises and pops--like the side comment made about Israeli passports.  And, their struggles permeate the lives of those around them.  As one of those lives, I find myself seeking how to ever-love and embrace the people found at the center of all this whirling debris of anger, frustration, and fear.  The people more often than not mistaken for personifications of the very debris itself.  At the same time I am seeking to ever be honest.  To ask honest, usually difficult, uncomfortable questions.  Difficult and uncomfortable to deliver as well as to receive, and especially to sit in.  Yet, this is the only path to genuine relationships, real love, and any hope of justice, unity, and, at last, peace.


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