Finding Truth in Palestine

This is Part Two of a 4-part series which documents the recent first-hand experiences of American Amanda Blain inhabiting the West Bank of Palestine, Jerusalem, Israel, and The Dead Sea area of the Middle East.

The driver of my taxi slowed to a stop as we reached the edges of East Jerusalem at Checkpoint 300, which divides Israel and Palestine. In a March 2019 Al Jazeera Media report, the checkpoint was cited as “the worst in the West Bank,” by EAPPI (an organization that monitors Israel’s checkpoints).

The article, entitled “Israel’s Checkpoint 300: Suffocation and broken ribs at rush hour” (, tells stories of death, danger, and terror at the checkpoint.

I had not read that article at the time of my arrival to the Middle East in December. Thankfully - for if I had, some scary preconceptions would have convinced me to stay out of Palestine. Instead, a sense of purpose guided me as I exited the taxi. I took a deep breath and assessed the situation.

Flashbacks of repetitive terrorist reports in the media flooded my consciousness, and these words I had heard so many times echoed in my mind: “Arabs hate Americans. They are bred to hate...”

As a petite woman who often travels alone, I am naturally wary of strange men. Just a few years ago, an American aggressor on the streets of Nevada gave me a concussion. From 2013 to 2014, I lived in rural Africa, where I obeyed a strict sundown curfew enforced by the U.S. Peace Corps, “for my safety as a woman.” While I try to let my heart lead me through life, I do so with awareness that we live in a capricious world.

Before making my move through Checkpoint 300 I noticed my heart rate increase. I stood still, slowed my breath, and connected with the feeling of the earth beneath my feet.

Scoping out my surroundings, I noticed loud voices haggling in Arabic and Hebrew. I watched Muslim women wearing abayas (gowns) covering their bodies and hijabs (veil) covering their heads enter a warehouse-like military building to cross into Palestine. I continued to breathe away the intimidation and fear which had been branded into my mind by media, government, and even my close friends. Eventually, I could clearly discern the truth of the present moment: there was no threat here – just common people living an ordinary day.

I walked through the long corridors of the military building at Checkpoint 300 and entered Palestine within a few minutes. There was no questionable activity, no one in a tizzy, no suffocating conditions. In and out. Multiple Arabic taxi drivers neared me – all men - offering to carry my bags and drive me to my destination.

I let them know that I am not an ignorant tourist and demanded a fair local price for the ride. One gentleman acquiesced, and off we went, entering the streets of Bethlehem.

Over the next several days, these streets would lead me to passionate Palestinian artists and activists, hospitable indigenous families, and elderly shop owners who had lived through the worst of the Israeli military occupation, who always looked forward to offering complimentary coffee to the new girl in town.

Later that week, “Baha,” a young Palestinian man, asked me if I felt safe in Palestine.

“Yes, everyone has been so open and helpful,” I said.

Baha looked at me and said, “Please, when you go to America, please tell the truth of what you experienced here. That we are not terrorists.”

“Please, when you go to America, please tell the truth of what you experienced here. That we are not terrorists.”

I promised to share the truth, and this opened the door to a new friendship. Baha made a call on his cell phone and spoke Arabic to the person on the line. When the call ended he said, “My mother has made food for you.”

A few minutes later, I was inside Baha’s family home, hugging his mother and greeting his siblings. His mother, a Muslim woman, did not know English.

I acknowledged her smiling eyes by bringing prayer hands to my heart and bowing my head to express gratitude for her homemade meal.

“We have never had an American in our home before,” Baha said, “This is special.”

I indulged in a plateful of hummus, pita, grape leaves stuffed with rice, and Arabic coffee. Later, we enjoyed herbal shisha, a Middle Eastern tradition which consists of warming steam stones (free of tobacco, chemicals, and intoxicants) over a hydro hookah and inhaling the flavored vapor for relaxation. It is like deep breathing – with a taste.

As a traveler, I have learned the art of bonding over local traditions like this. As long as the tradition is harm-free, I typically oblige. This has initiated countless friendships rooted in mutual respect and trust.

During shisha, I observed the dynamics of Baha’s home life. His family was gathered in their cozy den, the kids on their cell phones and tablets, the mother watching a reality TV show. It was a slice of real life - a glimpse of peace in the Middle East.

I began to wonder how much of what I had heard about the Middle East was true. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank began in June 1967 during the Six-Day War when Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and continues to the present day. This occupation and the resulting Israeli settlements is believed by the international community to be in violation of the Geneva Convention and UN Security Council Resolutions.

Over the past several decades, the Israeli military occupation has resulted in the displacement of thousands of indigenous people. As we have seen throughout history, displacement does not happen without (violent) force, and with unwanted force there is often retaliation. Some retaliate with intelligence and diplomacy, others retaliate with emotion and violence – the noxious characteristics of extremism.

Extremists exist throughout the world. In America we know them as inner-city gangs and the white supremacists and neo-Nazis (the latter, according to the Anti-Defamation League and the Christian Science Monitor, have committed over 70 percent of recent terrorist acts in the U.S.).

While I always felt safe and welcome in Palestine, I also got closer to some harsh realities. Just like in America, directionless young people who feel marginalized by the world are easy targets of recruitment for extremist groups. These groups offer the isolated a sense of belonging and purpose. These groups fill the empty with their poisonous ideals, and the result is devastating to our communities and the world at large.