On one of our first days here, another former student came to visit us at the hotel where we were spending the end of Passover with my family. As the last day of the holiday is one on which Jewish law forbids the use of electricity, we had agreed to meet up sometime in the afternoon. This particular student, not ritually observant, had spent the morning in Bethlehem. The kibbutz where we were staying is at Ramat Rahel, at the southernmost tip of the Green Line near Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority is literally across the street.

As we were out in the afternoon with my kids playing on a playground, I spotted this former student walking up the road to the kibbutz, but on the wrong side of the fence. We tried to figure out a way for her to get in, and after some walking down the length of the fence we found a spot where she could scale the fence and jump over, with my help. Border crossers or rule-breakers, depending on your frame of reference.

Natalie asked me at one point whether I thought one day the separation barrier–of which we saw plenty while driving on roads in or near the West Bank–would be thought of like the Berlin Wall. Yes and no. One hopes that one day two peoples will live peacefully together, and perhaps with time coexistence will become ever more possible. At the same time, the wall/fence/barrier was built at a time when it was needed, and it worked, at least as far as the Israelis are concerned: We rode the buses this week when we never rode them five years ago.

I remember, eleven years ago, traveling to Bethlehem with a friend to tutor Arab university students in English. It was a year of self-discovery for me, when I felt completely liberated to “be as Jewish as I wanted to be,” manifesting all the outward signs of my Jewishness that I had tucked in while living in America. But in traveling to Bethlehem, I tucked them in again: my tzitit in my pants, my kippah in my pocket. We passed through an army checkpoint in both directions, and a soldier came on the bus to check our passports.

At one point, one of the women we were working with asked me if I was Arab. I said no, but didn’t tell her I was Jewish. “You look like you could be an Arab,” she said. I remember on the bus ride back thinking how close these two peoples seemed–literally a few miles apart, so similar in so many aspects of custom and culture. And yet how far apart they were at the same time. I got back to Jerusalem, took out my tzitzit, put on my kippah. And those were in the heady days of Oslo, when peace was “right around the corner.”

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