By Rachael Pittler Orbach Written in 1990
It was a hot day and I had only arrived in Israel that week. I was visiting a family that I had never met, who were friends of a friend of mine. The lived in Beer Sheva, in the southern part of Israel. I had been a bad guest, sleeping when they were awake and awake when they were sleeping. The big excitement in town in the middle of summer was the Bedoun Market near the city. We went there, and saw a shopping mall encamped on the sand. Almost any dry goods that anyone would want to buy, was sold out in the open, clothing, jewelry and full bolts of cloth were all available. If you wanted to buy some wool, you could, as long as you bought the sheep as well. But would it fit on the bus to take it home?
After the outing of the week, I bought a ticket to Jerusalem. My halting Hebrew was enough to buy the ticket without butchering the Holy language too much. I waited at the outside benches sipping water. Soldiers, only young boys and girls just out of high school walked by, machine guns slung on their backs. The buses to other cities, Tel Aviv, Tsfat, and Masada came and went, while I still waited. An old lady was mumbling to herself. A young family, loaded down with two carriages and as many kids was trying to keep the children under control. The bus to Jerusalem was late. Even though it was my second trip to Israel, I was still nervous about seeing the Kotel, the Western Wall. Has it changed? Would it be safe? My trip was after the incident when rocks had been pelted upon the worshippers there.
Finally, a bus came. But it was not the express, it was the local that went through Hebron. I was so anxious to get to the Holy City, that I got on. The old lady said, ”I wouldn’t take that bus! Better wait for the Express!” But I didn’t care, I hopped on the bus, showing my ticket to the driver and taking a seat near the front, put my backpack beside me. The ride was long, hot and dry. I found out why the old lady didn’t want to take this particular bus.. Every now and then, the bus would stop to let people on. No one would get off. There were a few soldiers that were on the bus and they took whole seats and dozed, their guns uneasily on the seats next to them, within arm’s reach.
The scenery was uninteresting. The green hills soon gave way to brown, and the smooth pavement gave way to bumpy uneven blacktop. The road became narrower, and rock quarries dotted the hills, while white rocks dominated the landscape. Great metal spiders hugged the hills breaking huge boulders from their resting places.
I asked one of the soldiers why there was no other traffic on the road. He said to me in Hebrew, “We are in the West Bank.”
I though to my self, “Oh, this is why the bus isn’t too popular. But there was no way the I was going to get off because nothing was going to keep me from reaching Jerusalem,. The road got worse and worse. I began to feel sick as I tried to read my Hebrew Primer, in preparation for the Ulpan that I would be taking upon reaching Hebrew University later that week. It got so bad that I gave up reading and resorted to looking out the window, not that there was anything to see. I saw signs in three languages, Hebrew Arabic and English. Finally I saw it in the distance. The city showed itself by a few warehouses, one story with the doors and windows closed tight, everything looked deserted. As we moved on the soldiers dozed a little lighter opening an eye now and then. One of them was lazily chewing gum. We came to the city itself to find soldiers with guns ready, walking the streets in groups. No one turned around even to acknowledge the bus passing through. It was scary to see the soldiers walking in this way. It was a strike called by the Intifada and all the residents were inside their houses, their businesses closed for the day.
All of a sudden, we heard a loud smack! Everyone on the bus jumped, and the soldiers reached for their guns. We were afraid that rocks had been thrown at the bus. I tried to take cover, using my backpack as a shield toward the window, which already showed signs that a rock had been thrown at it. Then, laughter broke out on the bus. The gum chewing soldier had cracked his gum!
After a while, we regained out composure, and the bus went on. We passed the Tomb of Rachel, on the way to Jerusalem and we waved at the guards, who waved back. By and by we came to the Central Bus station. The long way to Jerusalem was over and I gladly traded the noisy environment of the street over the nervous quiet of the bus from Beer Sheva.