Borders: Adventures in Israel (Part Two)

I was tired that it hurt. My journey had begun thirty-six hours and 6,746 miles earlier, in Oak Harbor, Washington. After pretty much every form of transportation imaginable, I was very ready for a good night's sleep.

Except that now it was already morning, and I had a whole new place to explore.

After a lovely breakfast of pita and veggies, I headed down to the lobby of Abraham Hostel to see what the day had planned for me.

I had no idea that today would be a game-changer.

Our tour group consisted of a dozen or so young people from pretty much every possible walk of life. There was a Jewish guy from Canada, a young student from Australia, an Iranian-American woman from the Bronx, a doctor from Russia, a backpacker from Scotland, a South Korean MIT student and of couple of flight attendant bloggers, among many others. I was excited to experience today with such a diverse group.

Because today we were going into Palestine.

Our minibus driver drove just outside the city limits of Jerusalem where we made a stop. A young guy with short hair, black-rimmed glasses and a smart button-down shirt jumped on the bus. He grinned and introduced himself. "I'm Tamer, I'm Palestinian and today we're going to do the 'Best of the West Bank Tour'," he grinned. "And who are you?" He asked purposefully, "...and why are you here?"

We went through the group and introduced ourselves shyly. Tamer grinned and joked with us, putting us at ease. The why of our presence was a bit harder to answer. Some of us were here because of curiosity. Some because of political activism. Some because we felt connected to this place, either religiously or ethnically. Some came because they wanted to see the land. And some of us just showed up, a blank slate, having no idea of what to expect.

Our first stop was coffee. I had expected something more shocking, some war torn village or a huddle of refugees. But Tamer insisted that we get properly fueled up first. So, we entered Ramallah, got out of the bus and stepped into a local cafe.

It was nine in the morning. The cafe was bustling with young people on their way to work, business people on cell phones and moms in trendy outfits and scarves. I ordered an Americano and some toast and sat down. Tamer floated between the groups. The young MIT student asked him timidly, "When is the tour going to start?"

Tamer grinned. "It has already begun."

And then it made sense. This is life in Ramallah. This is Palestine. This isn't the West Bank you hear about on the news. This is a weekday morning. This is waking up and having your rituals. This is having that first sip of coffee or tea. This is life. This is human.

The rest of the morning was walking around the market with Tamer, who pointed out his favorite spots in this beautiful city. We drove a little ways and stopped at a checkpoint. "No entry today," the Israeli guard said. "Special security measures."

Tamer smiled and shook his head. "Special security measures," he began, "is a very common phrase for something none of us really understand."

Well put.

Our plans changed, but there was still so much to see. Jericho, for a breathtaking cable car ride up to a monastery. Bethlehem for lunch and a visit to The Church of the Nativity. Little pastries at a cafe outside of Jerusalem. And through it all, we talked with Tamer. We heard his story. His life in Palestine. And we started to understand a little bit, although we had far more questions than answers by the end of the day.

It was dusk by the time we reached the West Bank separation wall, or just "The Wall" as it it known locally. We parked the minibus in an alley and got out, surveying the concrete barrier. And then it hit us hard. This division of people. This physical hurdle, covered in barbed wire and graffiti. Our tour group spread out a bit, each of us having a solitary walk along the wall, lost in contemplation.

The graffiti was poignant and heartbreaking. There were messages of hope from all over the wall. I put my hand up to the wall, near a bit of Banksy graffiti of a little girl sitting above the phrase: West Coast to the West Bank. I felt heavy.

We got back on the minibus and were silent for most of the trip back to our hostel. Outside of the city, we stopped for a moment. I looked to my new friend Tamer and wondered if he wanted to join us for some late night coffee and conversation back in Jerusalem. But then I remembered.

Palestineans cannot enter Jerusalem without a permit.

We dropped Tamer off at a stoplight. He grinned and told us to call him if we were ever back in Palestine. I wondered if the coffee shop in Ramallah would be open late. I wondered if we could meet there again. And talk. And laugh. And just be human beings without permits or walls or borders.


Stay tuned for Part Three of Adventures in Israel, and check out Kara and Celessa's adventures on For ideas on planning your own adventure in Israel, visit and check out


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