We left Bethlehem last Monday morning to go back across the border into Jordan to visit Rob who was in a serious car accident. From Bethlehem to Jerusalem is about 10 miles. From there to the Jordanian border is another 20 miles. (Down the valley and past Jericho). Should take about 45 minutes. But it takes several hours.
Rick and I planned to take a taxi from our hotel either all the way to the border, or into Jerusalem and then get another to the border. Neither worked out. Our hotel informed us that “Today there are no taxis into Jerusalem allowed.” So we walked to the “security fence” (which is a 20 foot high and 6 foot wide concrete wall separating Bethlehem and much of the West Bank from Israel proper). To get through the wall we had to walk through several hundred yards of turnstiles and ziz-zagging fences which lead up to an airport-like security check. My friend Rick and I were the only foreigners – all the others were Palestinians trying to go to Jerusalem to visit family or to their jobs. They do this (both ways) every day.
It was my turn to put my things on the conveyor belt and pass through the metal detector. I buzzed. Oops. A young Israeli girl behind the glass yelled at me in Hebrew. I assumed it meant “go back you beeped” or something to that effect. So I did. I took anything else in my pockets out and placed them on the conveyor belt. I turned and walked back through the beeper thing, now conscious that all eyes were on me and waiting impatiently for their turn at this task. The thing beeped again. This time the yelling was louder with a more-than-annoyed hint in the voice. I looked at the girl with the Uzzi and raised my hands, palms up with an expression of “what do I do now.” She must have recognized the dumb foreigner look as she then said to me in English, “Do you have a passport?” I held up my blue American one and she simply said “Go.”
We then caught a local taxi – a Jerusalem taxi allowed only on that “side” of the wall – and went all the way to the border. Well, actually not ALL the way. He wasn’t allowed to go any closer than about a mile from the actual border, so we got dropped off in the middle of the desert to get another taxi that could take us all the way “in.”
Once through passport control we had to take a bus across the Jordan River and the no-man’s-land to the Jordan side. Rick and I walked out of the passport office and there were two buses waiting there. I asked a guy “Which bus goes first” and he pointed at the one. We noticed as we were getting in that this bus was extremely dirty. Filthy actually. And there was no air conditioning.
As soon as we got on I noticed that they were all Palestinians on this bus. Immediately a lady holding her young son said to us in near-perfect English, “This is the bus for the Palestinians. You need to be on that other bus. It’s for foreigners and tourists.” I responded, “Oh that’s okay, we don’t mind coming with you”. She said, “Well, thank you, but you can’t. You HAVE to go on that bus.”
Slightly embarrassed by the whole thing, we said we’d check and stepped off the bus. The other bus was clean and air conditioned. I asked someone else and they said yes, it was true that this was the bus we had to take. The other bus was only for Palestinians and it went to a “special” check point at the border that would take us hours longer – and anyway, we couldn’t go on that bus even if we wanted to.
I went back to the dirty bus and told the lady with the son – and everyone else – that we were sorry for this. And that we felt with them and yet had to go on the other bus. They all smiled and said “thank you” and “we know.”
I find myself asking more and more, what does God think about this? What does he think about injustice and how we treat foreigners and the least of these? How does he want us to treat the outsiders? The outcasts? The other?
I’m pretty sure I know what he thinks – so what then should I think? And do?