I come from the controversial island of Taiwan. Of the 195 countries, 193 of them are members of the United Nations. Regardless of its modernity and stout democracy, Taiwan isn’t one of them due to its political strains with China. The other two countries are considered as “Observer States,” including: Vatican City and Palestine. I’m quite familiar with the so-called “grey area” lands, thus visiting Palestine in 2012 wasn’t unaccustomed.
During a family trip in the Middle East, we traversed through West Bank twice. The first time, we crossed over Palestine on our way from Israel to Jordan. The second time, we spent a day visiting Bethlehem, which unbeknownst to many, is situated in the Palestinian territory.
With a private guide and a hired driver leading us through the borders, my first few hours in Palestine was filled with anxiety and angst. I blame it on a Cartier love lock bracelet that I forgot to take off before the trip. The security machines began beeping vehemently as I walked through the Palestinian customs. You’ve GOT to be kidding me, was all I could think of. Soldiers with large guns, stoic women with headscarves swarmed around me. The next thing I knew, I was in queue for a body check. Looking around as I stood there waiting, I realized next to me were only Jewish men wearing with kippahs on their heads. Despite how often I travel, I was intensely nervous. What was going to happen to me? Am I under arrest in Palestine, of all places? Minutes felt like hours, as my family waited for me on the other side of the border. Of course, they all safely passed through while I was singled out, clogging our itinerary, blocked at one of the most controversial territory in the world. Welcome to Palestine, I thought.
Soon, a Palestinian lady led me to a tiny booth. She closed the curtains and scanned my body with a screening bar from head to toe. This woman was stern outside of the booth, but kindly smiled to ease my nerves once we were one-on-one. Behind the curtains, the screening bar beeped around my underwire bra, then signaled again around my love lock. Ta-da. I don’t have explosives! Though I felt like exploding from relief. She nodded her head, opened the curtains then let me through.
I rushed to the other side of the gate, welcomed by the loving arms of my family and released my angst with raised eyebrows. Afraid to voice any opinions, in case I was somehow yanked back to the other side of the border.
As we spent the rest of the day, strolling through the streets of West Bank, I couldn’t help but realize that it wasn’t about me. Yes, it was a distressful moment at the Palestinian border, but its political and religious conflicts with its neighbors have resulted in an unease that is greater than all of us combined. What I gathered from the streets of Palestine by the end of the afternoon is that, I was truly in the Middle East. It is a place where lines are drawn but emotions run high. It’s where beliefs collide but core values of love, life, and family may be akin. In midst of a political and a religious crash, we must ask ourselves, who are the ones truly suffering?
Photos: Wendy Hung