BETHLEHEM – Today I traveled to Tel Aviv – a very different experience than flying to Chicago or Paris; everyone on the flight seemed edgy, cautiously analyzing each other. I sat next to an Israeli man who was very curious to know why I was traveling to the Middle East, and asked me a plethora of personal questions. Although his style of conversation – or questioning – was a bit uncomfortable, I found him to be interesting. He told me about his family, his job as a Microsoft employee in Israel, and his origins in Paris. Among other things, we discussed ethical questions pertaining to the Microsoft Corporation.
As we exited the plane, I saw an Arab man, who was holding an Egyptian passport, being greeted by three Israeli security personnel, but I did not see what the problem was about. I passed through customs with relative ease, took a taxi from the airport to Jerusalem, and then from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Although in the past, I would have been required to walk across a checkpoint or two to get to Bethlehem, the taxi driver was able to drive through, albeit with a slight detour, without even being stopped by the soldiers when we crossed the checkpoint. The trip, which was only a few miles, took about an hour and 15 minutes because the driver punctured his tire on the poorly paved road, and then made matters worse by attempting to drive away with the car still on the jack!
On the way to Bethlehem, we drove along the West Bank Wall, a barrier comprised of massive concrete partitions in some places and wire fences and ditches in others, which has been erected by the Israeli government for security purposes. Most Palestinians and some Israelis, however, see it as ineffective and a source of severe hardship on the Palestinian population. On the Palestinian side where I passed, the Wall's smooth concrete surface is painted with various murals ranging from depictions of suffering Palestinians and protest slogans to tropical scenes with palm trees and sandy beaches.
When I arrived in Bethlehem that night, I was invited to eat dinner, but by the time the tire was fixed and we had dropped the other passengers off, it was 11:30. I ended up eating a very late but delicious dinner, and then went to bed. The next morning I woke up and ate a large breakfast consisting of homemade falafel and hummus, cucumbers, a tomato-garlic spread, bread, tea, olives, cheese and yogurt dip. Then, I had a rather large lunch: m'jeddera (rice and lentils) with yogurt, salata (tomatoes, parsley, and red and green peppers) and pickles.
But a family friend invited me over to eat just an hour later, and his mom insisted that I needed to gain weight. According to her, if I stayed with her for two months, I would gain a "healthy" 20 pounds. The food was delicious – tender baby goat's meat with rice, and yogurt soup. However, because of what she considered my "starving" appearance, the enormous servings were simply not enough. I was then asked to eat assorted fruits, vegetables, then chocolate, and then more fruit, then more chocolate, ice cream and, finally, fresh Arabic coffee. Needless to say, by the time coffee was served, I could barely move. And the worst part of it was that I insulted the cook by not eating all of my food!