Friendships across Borders
Recently, a few of my friends from Jerusalem invited me and my kids to join them and their children for a picnic on a spring day. Due to logistics, we planned it a few weeks before to make sure everyone had the afternoon off of work, that our children would be home from school, and most notably, that it would be during the Easter permit period when Christians have permission to enter Israel. When they first extended the invitation, I had mixed feelings. Of course, I wanted to go and spend time with them, but I have three children between the ages of two and seven, and I was not sure how I could carry a picnic lunch, diaper bag, stroller, purse and toys for the kids across the checkpoint.
My friends quickly solved this problem for me by offering to come to Palestine and pick me up close to my home, so I could avoid the hassle of carrying all these supplies, children in tow through the main checkpoint to Jerusalem. They arranged for temporary child care for their kids so between the two of them, they could fit the four of us in their two vehicles, and bring us to the other side.
The picnic was relaxing. The children enjoyed kicking balls in a grassy park with a beautiful view of olive trees, greenery and in the distance, the Old City. It was a beautiful picture of what should be - Israeli and Palestinian children, speaking Hebrew and Arabic (and some English) - playing together on a grassy hill overlooking sites deeply important for us all.
A few weeks later, while I still had a permit, my friends invited me and a few other Palestinian friends out to dinner. Generally, when Palestinians have permits to come to Israel, we go to the sites we know - the mall (for shopping), Jaffa street (for shopping), Mamilla (for shopping), and the Old City. Since we cannot drive in Israel, we are entirely dependent on buses (which stop running at 7:00pm most week nights) or more expensive taxis. As a result, we do not often venture to new locations, and we rarely come to visit Israel at night. This night, we went out for a lovely dinner at a new restaurant, enjoying different culinary options generally unavailable in the Bethlehem area (like sushi!).
After dinner, my friend stopped to show us some old neighborhoods in Jerusalem that have beautiful views of the Old City, cobbled paths, large fountains, and tall stone statues and structures. Another Palestinian friend with us commented that we would never see this in Palestine, three ladies strolling around after 10:00pm, one baby in a stroller, just enjoying themselves, the quiet of the city, and the refreshing coolness of the air. I’ve come to Jerusalem many times, but I’ve never entered these places that we pass by regularly.
When I returned home, I wanted to share with friends and family how much I enjoyed this picnic and evening out, but I could not. I could only share with a few of those closest to me who could share in my joy. Why was I so blessed to have friends who would take me (and my children) out of Palestine, when 99% of mothers in Palestine cannot partake in this because they have no friends in Jerusalem?
To me, these brief moments of togetherness represent what could be, what can be, and what I believe will be. In order to arrive there, we have to keep reaching across walls, breaking stereotypes, and cultivating relationships. This will make a huge difference for all of us. It certainly does for me.