Flying to the US, I had a stopover in Amman, and I stayed in a hostel near some of the Roman ruins. I wandered the tourist sites, got dehydrated, watched the preparations for the Iftar meal after a day of fasting, got catcalled, put on a light sweater and got less catcalls, and successfully bought olives while speaking only Arabic (very ethical olive seller, as I confused the words for “four” and “quarter” as I tried to pay.) I bought cashews, and learned the Arabic word for “cashew”- “kashu”.
The hostel offered free breakfast, and I had a morning flight, so at 7 AM I stumbled down and asked if I could have a cup of coffee. There was another young woman stumbling around the breakfast area as I looked at the menu, and when she paused by my table for a second time, I invited her to sit. She ordered tea, and we talked a bit. I told her I was coming from Israel, she was from Canada and on her way to Palestine, and she had been in Israel and Palestine before on a church trip. I mentioned I’d made a few trips to Palestine, both with friends and with PHR’s mobile clinic. She eventually, hesitantly, mentioned she was on her way to work for a non-profit in Ramallah. Yes, I was pretty familiar with the occupation, yes, I’d been to Hevron and it was heartbreaking.
Her words then tumbled out, disorganized, a bit outraged. “How could I, knowing everything Israel is doing, study and live in Israel?”
I was surprised, but also not surprised. This was the first time I’d been asked it, but I had expected this question even before I left for Israel. And my own thoughts came disorganized, and I didn’t want to hedge, I wanted to speak from the heart, and I started to give the only answer I knew, “well, maybe you won’t like my answer, maybe there isn’t any answer you’d like. I knew about BDS before I came, and I respect it. But I’m Jewish, and I wasn’t willing to cut myself off from my people.”
A hundred things were left unsaid: my thoughts on when you try to create change from the inside, rather than the outside, my thoughts on the balance between recognizing complexity while still taking a stand for what is right, my thoughts on BDS as someone who has seen violence; thoughts on the mirror hubris of those (not all) Christian Zionists and Christian anti-Zionists who claim to know God’s will vis-a-vis the Jews, and by “God’s will” I don’t mean “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord“; thoughts on those (not all) international volunteers who bring a childlike sense of good and evil to an old and troubled land.
She sat there for a moment, sipping her tea, and absentmindedly looking at the window. “I think,” she said, “I can understand that.”