PHIL IN THE BLANK: In a foreign land

The Tower of David Museum on the western side of the walled Old City of Jerusalem, busy with school tour groups. Photo by Phil Custodio

My trip to Israel earlier this month was excellent, a nearly perfect expedition with a superb tour guide, an Arab Palestinian Christian Israeli with encyclopedic knowledge and experience of the area, history, and culture.
It was a pilgrimage trip with a group from my church, St. John’s up in Davison. We visited as many of the churches and holy sites as we could in Jaffa, Galilee, Nazareth, Jericho, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, a profoundly meaningful shared experience for all of us. We also toured the Masada mountain fortress and floated in the Dead Sea – one big water bed.
All the people I met were cordial to friendly, even those not trying to sell us stuff. Most seem to be good people who just want to live their lives the best they can.
I put that to the test when I would go out for morning runs by myself. I have mostly brown skin, especially after a few days under the Israeli sun. Maybe they wouldn’t even know I was American. But as I was running a shop keeper called out, “good morning.”
“Good morning,” I yelled back. I’m not so good at undercover work.
We had a free day before our flight home, which I spent wandering the Old City of Jerusalem by myself. I wanted to walk on the city walls, so I spent a couple hours in the back alleys of the Muslim Quarter of the city looking for a way up, well away from the crowds. I had just a couple interactions with residents.
“Welcome,” said one man.
One of a couple women passing by with their kids asked if I was lost.
“Yes I am,” I said. She gave me directions in Arabic, and I thanked her.
“Money,” she said, asking for a gratuity.
“What,” I responded.
“Shekels,” she suggested.
“Ah, shekels,” I said, getting the hint. She sent her little girl to collect. “Shekels, shekels, shekels,” the girl sang as I dug out a few of the coins for her.
I eventually made it up to the ramparts. Turns out they sell tickets for that at Jaffa Gate. I was also able to tour the nearby Tower of David Museum, along with school tour groups, both Jewish and Muslim, I believe. The kids seemed happy to be there, with lots of “hello,” “shalom,” and other greetings as I passed by.
Of course, the place is still deeply divided religiously, politically, and culturally. People continue to kill and die over those differences.
A week after we left, two Israeli soldiers were killed and two others injured when a Palestinian man rammed them with his car, according to local news.
The soldiers, Ziv Daos, 21, and Netanel Kahalani, 20, were at a military observation post along a highway in the northern West Bank when they were hit, March 16, close to where we visited or at least drove by.
The next morning, a 32-year-old Israeli civilian named Adiel Kolman was stabbed and killed in the Old City itself, right where I was nine days before. The killer, identified as Abd al-Rahman Bani Fade, a 28-year-old Palestinian, was shot and killed by police.
Mr. Kolman worked at the Tower of David Museum, so I might have met him during one of those visits. I still think I was mostly safe. Things are seriously personal there and I was a foreigner and guest.

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