As we wait, I watch the tired crowds move from line to line - old men and women, little children releasing pent-up energy and playing tag. A young woman moves slowly with two hand crutches. Her legs are uneven. It is getting late; I can sense that it is dark outside.
About an hour later, my passport is returned and we get in line to pass through a final Israeli security check. I see a woman approaching us, holding the hand of her teenage daughter. The girl has bandages over her nose and cheeks. Her face is red and swollen and she leans into her mother. Technically, the back of the line is way behind us, but we allow her to cut in front of us. “She broke her nose and we had to go to Jordan for surgery,” the mother explains. “She is in great pain.” And then she grows angry. “Do you know how long we had to wait at the Israeli border? 4 hours! 4 hours, just sitting there in the bus!” Her daughter doesn’t say anything. Tears are pooled in the corners of each eye. “They treat us like animals! We go through this every time!”
When we finally come out on the other side of the Israeli crossing, we find George waiting for us, God bless him! He had sent the rest of the group ahead. They are probably close to Bethlehem by now.
As we enter the last bus to take us to the Palestinian border, we are greeted by a chorus of crying babies and small children whose bedtime has long passed. A young woman with a beautiful smile is sitting across from me. She just gave birth in Jordan and is carrying her newborn son back home. She has an older boy on a leash and is accompanied by a host of older family members whose faces beam with pride.
The Palestinian border is a breeze compared to the other two; a token gesture of control and order. We navigate quickly and I break into laughter as I enter the large waiting room with its rows of old movie theater style seats They are well-worn and stained. But they are beautiful because they are in Palestine, and after 7 hours we are finally home.
We quickly find a sherut and drive through downtown Jericho, which is lit by a neon crescent moon and outdoor string lights that shine over the central plaza where people stroll in the cool night air. Jericho is the “moon city,” said to be the longest continually-inhabited city in the world. Today it is known for its famous dates and the cable carriage ride that one can take to the ancient monastery at the top of the Mount of Temptation.
We pass from Area A, under Palestinian control, to Area C, under Israeli control; the transition is marked by a large red sign behind us, warning Israelis that to enter Jericho is illegal under Israeli law and a danger to their lives.
I settle back into my seat as we begin our upward climb from below sea level to 2,500 feet. It is quiet, as quiet as all deserts are at night, and we will be in Bethlehem soon.