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Finding peace

A girl visits a family who live in Jerusalem just after the six day war.

It was a year after the Six Day War and so for the first time Israelis could visit Bethlehem, as well as the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall in Jerusalem as the territory was temporarily under Israeli rule.

Hitch hiking was the accepted form of travel in Israel for young people who were doing their year’s military service. Many young volunteers also took this chance of traveling for free around Israel and there were many tips on where to stand and how to attract attention. I had hitched to see a friend from London who was staying in another kibbutz two hours drive away from Glickson. Unfortunately, the first man to pick me up assumed he owned my body and when I refused opened my door and pushed me out. “Your right in the middle of Palestinian settlement,” he hissed at me.

I decided not to panic and after ten minutes I was given a lift by a Palestinian who agreed that it had not been a good idea to hitch on my own. He took me all the way to Barbara's kibbutz. So this time I had travelled by train from the Mediterranean coast near Hedera, wearing a cotton shirt, a skirt that came an inch above my knees, South East to visit my father’s cousin Rene and her family in Jerusalem. It took me three hours. In her letter Rene had told me to get the number five bus and ask for the Prime Minister’s house. I could not find a number five bus and took another bus to the town centre and spend thirty minutes finding the right bus. I told the driver to tell me when I got to the Prime Minister’s house.

The driver looked round at me, the last passenger on the bus “Here we are,” he said. And I looked out of the window at the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) .

“No, no," I said. 

I got up and walked down the bus towards the door that was still closed. "Can you open the door please," I asked him in basic Hebrew. The driver smirked at me with desire in his eyes.

I held my ground. “Open this door now!” I told him firmly hoping he did not see the fear in my eyes.

He carried on looking at me for another minute and shrugged and pressed the button to open the door. I tried not to sprint away. I wondered around and found another bus that took me back to the centre of Jerusalem. I wish it wasn’t so difficult for an eighteen year old girl to travel on her own. I thought. I found the number five bus and this time I said the name of the street, Ben Gurian.

I finally arrived at the right street; and wandered along carefully looking at the numbers of the mellow yellow stone clad houses.

Finally I looked up and there, on a balcony, I recognised Renee immediately as one of my Dad’s family, with her rosy cheeks and high forehead.

She ran down to open the door for me and gave me a kiss on the cheek.

“How was your journey? I was worried about you, a young girl, travelling around on your own.”

“B’seder," (it was OK) I replied. I did not think it was necessary to tell her about the problems I had faced.

Renee’s husband entered the room as I sat down to drink some tea. He had a lean face with a greying beard and his eyes sparkled with intelligence.

I noticed that my cousin wore a long dress and a wig. I should have remembered that they were very orthodox.

After enjoying Dovid’s dry sense of humour I left the house with Rene to see her eighty year old mother. She had a sallow lined face and a friendly smile. “I’ll write to your parents and tell them how well their beautiful daughter looks,” she told me.

When we returned to Rene’s flat she showed me three rooms that were furnished as ordinary sitting rooms but each one had a divan couch which served as a bed at night.

“This is where my three sons sleep when they come home to visit from the army,” Rene told me proudly.

Then Renee took me for a tour of the ancient city. We walked down David Street which lead to the Jewish Quarter, from the west, and then into the Street of the Chain which lead to the Temple area and the Western Wall through; the Gate of the Chain.. "This is one of the most beautiful main gates." Rene told me. We arrived,  in the late afternoon sun, at the Western wall of the old temple, where Jews from all over the world had gathered to pray. I saw them push pieces of paper with written pleas and prayers into the spaces between the ancient stones. The same feeling of being in the presence of ancient beings flooded through me,just as it did when I visited Stonehenge.

After a few moments of meditation we walked on up the steps to the Jewel Box of Islam; the Dome of the Rock. The Golden roof was breathtaking as it glittered in the sun. Rene was in a hurry so we doubled back and turned halfway down David Street into the triple narrow covered Arab souks where there were smells of spices I she could not name and fresh mint everywhere.

Women wearing long voluminous dresses or skirts their heads covered in scarves, crouched on the ground next to enormous baskets of fruit and vegetables, Men who wore long flowing robes and kefirs on their heads smoked tobacco and other mysterious herbs out of bubble pipes: plied their trade at butchers, textile and jewellery stalls The spice dealers Souk led into the crowded Bab Khan, the largest souk and the busiest thoroughfare in the Old city, with a double line of tiny shops, selling beautiful vividly coloured carpets and sheepskin coats which ran from the Damascus Gate to the precincts of the Holy Sepulchre.

The narrow covered walkways gave a refreshing coolness to the heat of the day. As we ascended some shallow steps, the heel of my shoe came off . Rene paid for an Arab shoemaker to mend it for me. As we sat waiting for the shoe Renee explained that she needed to return home to teach English in the afternoon; so there would be no time to go through the maze of lanes in the Moslem quarter.

“That’s OK I’m going to come for a conference to Jerusalem in December. So I will have more time to explore,” I told her.

After a lunch of salad, cheeses and hummus back in the house, Dovid told me that he wanted to take me to meet a close friend in Bethlehem.

I was to travel ten kilometres south of Jerusalem on the back of his motor bike.

Rene bundled me up in a voluminous Macintosh explaining that wearing a short skirt on a motor bike was inappropriate, especially as I was going to travel into an Arab community.

Then off we roared down the dusty road , from the Damascus Gate of the old city of Jerusalem; from the Mount of Olives, the Dome of the Rock, countless churches and synagogues, and I felt privileged that I could be in a place of so much history and unfortunately so much conflict Muslims, Jews, Christians, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholics all fighting over such a small piece of holy land.

We travelled past rock strewn desert terrain, with Rene’s mac billowing out like a sail behind me.

We arrived at the little town of Bethlehem which overlooked a green valley. Dovid stopped and explained to me “This is Rachel’s tomb. She was buried by Jacob after giving birth to Benjamin. This tomb is holy to Jews, Christians and Moslems.”

Then we travelled on down Manger street to Manger square. On our left was the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born erected over the spot where Jesus was born built by Emperor Constantine. Under the basilica was the grotto of the Nativity.

On our right was the Omar Mosque.

To my surprise Dovid stopped the bike outside the Police Station next to the Mosque. “Wait here next to the bike I’m going in to tell my friend we’ve arrived.”

I screwed up my eyes to protect them from the glaring heat of the sun, and heard the call to prayer “Allah u Akbar, Allah u Akbar” from the Mosque. The pigeons rose in the air and men scurried, their heads protected from the sun by their kafirs, to pray. The square was soon empty of people. 

“He’s coming out in a minute," Dovid told me as he returned to where I was waiting. Ten minutes later a middle aged man came towards us with a broad grin on his face, his arms open ready to greet us. “Salaam Aleichem.”

"Aleichem Salaam,” answered Dovid..

“Diane let me introduce you to my very good friend Abdul the chief of Arab police." 

I smiled shyly and gave thanks that I was wearing the long Macintosh. Overawed, I shook the kindly Arab’s hand And then walked with the two men to a café and sat under the shade of parasols where we drank mint tea.

"Diane did I tell you how we met?" Dovid asked.

I shook my head.

“We sheltered together from cross fire behind a wall during the six day war and found we were kindred spirits.”

Abdul told me, “I was blown back by an explosion behind a wall and a lot of rubble and lost consciousness for a while.”

“I found myself shot in the leg and hobbled to shelter behind a wall and found Abdul there.”

"My wound was bleeding profusely and I only had my shirt to plug up the wound. 

I was losing conscious myself from lack of blood when Abdul woke up.”

“I didn’t know where I was as I had been stunned and saw this young man trying to hold the blood into his body with a soaking shirt. I took my kefir off and held it to the wound. 

Eventually the blood flow was stopped and we started taking note of ourselves." 

Abdul looked into Dovid’s eyes and saw a mirror image of himself. A man who was fighting for survival for his family and his descendants.

“What a place to find ourselves all for the sake of land?”

“When will we ever be able to take a long breath and just go about our everyday lives without being able to fight to be able to survive?”

They had chatted about their families. Showed each other dog eared photos of their children

“If I die please contact my family and tell them that I said a prayer for their safety with my last breath.” Dovid said weeping.

“We’ll get out of this alive”, Abdul told him his eyes portraying the same fear as Dovid.

After a long silence, whilst both of them struggled to breath in the smoky dust filled rubble strewn building.

“If I don't make it will you tell my family that I love them and they should go to my brother in England?”

The two men talked for an hour about their careers and the similarities of their wishes and needs.

Then a medic found them together. Dovid grasped Abdul’s arm and croaked. "This man saved my life. Please take to the hospital as well." 

My heart melted to see these two men the same age, with the same interests but worlds apart because of the differences of their two cultures

Perhaps there will be peace in the middle east one day, I thought.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © 13 August 2011 The Desert; 14 August 2011 Solitude; 15 August 2011 the Gift; 16 August Do not regard me by my age; 17 august 2011 Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night; Hey Diddle Diddle, 17 Aug. 2011; The Dance 16th Aug. 2011; Mother, 19th Aug. 2011; the Mirror, 20th Aug. 2011; whosshing, 22nd Aug.2011; The Blue and White striped Cup, 24th Aug. 2011; The Broken Fall, 30th aug. 2011; Adolescent Blues, 31 Aug. 2011; Taste,The Swan, 08.01.12 09.09.2011;Take Five Oh , 10.09.2011;Chamelian, 11.08.2011;the Coral 13.09.2o11; If only 29.09.2011, Dodging puddles 29.09.11; Mothers Monologue, 3.10.11; Oh, oh, oh, let me weep, 05.10.11, Water, 06.10.11; the flood, 6 Oct.11; Who am I?, 8 Oct. 11; Destiny, 9 Oct.11; Five a.m. Blues, 10.10.11; Three Wishes, 11.10.11; I'm a stone, 14.10.11; Meditation on an Amethyst, 15.10.11; Inheritance,17.10.11; Shorn Child, 20.10.11, Nightmare, 28.10.11; Gathering of the Clan. 27.10.11; That would cause a stir; 26.10.11, At A Crossroads, 28.10.11; Rowan, 29.10.11; My Pumpkin Pie, 31.10.11; A Set back, 14.11.11; Finding peace, 10.11.11; Liquid Lunch, 9.11.11; Out of Body, 8.11.11; Zen 19.11.11;I know why,24.11.11; the Fox, 27.11.11: the Dark, 06.12.11;Be Brave my Love, 9.12.11, The Poet, 17.01.11, New horizons, 11.01.12; New beginnings, 16.01.12; Subconscious Reality,30.01.12; Ruby Lola 03.02.12; Rock a by baby, 09.02.12; Paris, 10.02.12; Valentine chocolate, 13.02.12; the smell of baking bread, 14.02.12; My Father, 15.02.12

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