On 7 October 2023, towards the end of a delegation I was leading with Community Peacemaker Teams – Palestine, I woke up in the West Bank city of Hebron to news that Hamas had launched the “Al Aqsa Flood” against Israel, on land, sea and air. The CPT team, made up of local Palestinians, told me to get my delegation ready to leave the city immediately, before the Israeli Occupying Forces closed the city.
The delegation packed swiftly, while I made plans for our next steps. We would try to get through West Bank checkpoints towards Jerusalem so we could be closer to the airport.
The team of Palestinians escorted our small group of Americans through the old city, arguing with soldiers to let our group move through empty streets. They brought us to the city square, arranged transport for us to Bethlehem, and with worry on their faces, they released us on our journey.
Each CPT team member reached out to me repeatedly on our journey, asking, “Where are you? and, “Are you safe?”
We arrived in Bethlehem two hours later, and learned that the checkpoints had been closed. So, we went to the hostel where our delegations usually stay, and asked if there was room for us. We were warmly welcomed, and offered tea and expressions of gratitude that we were safe.
We stayed in Bethlehem for two days, all while calling the embassy, rebooking flights, watching the news and listening to Israeli jets flying overhead towards Gaza.
On Monday, our hostel hosts told us, “You have to get out of the West Bank. And we have a plan.” They tried to attach us to a Christian tourist group to get us, with military coordination, out of the area. But, the bus driver didn’t want more tourists than he had told the military were on the bus.
So our Palestinian hosts devised another plan. They heard that checkpoints were open to foreigners, so they started bringing us to the area crossings, to see if we could get through. At checkpoint 300, the major crossing for Palestinans in Bethlehem, the gates and turnstiles were shut tight. So our host drove us to another crossing, while arranging for a taxi on the other side.
We arrived at the second crossing, and saw soldiers’ guns poking over the piles of dirt and concrete that had been piled there, creating a makeshift barrier. With another delegate, she and I walked toward the soldiers, holding up our coveted blue passports, and demanded to be let out of the West Bank.
The disinterested soldiers only asked a few obligatory questions. They didn’t even inspect our passports closely. They let us pass.
All the way to Jerusalem, I felt waves of conflicted feelings. I was happy to be out of the West Bank, and just a little bit closer to the airport, even though I had no idea how long it would take to get a flight home. I was amazed by the network of Palestinian friends and strangers that devoted themselves to getting us out of the West Bank, who were concerned for our welfare, who were willing to help us, even though my home nation was throwing more resources into killing their people. And I was also so sad to leave my friends behind. Because I carry a US passport, I can climb over rubble and demand to be let out of the West Bank. But my friends would be shot if they tried the same thing.
The delegation is sheltering in the Old City of Jerusalem. A few shops are open today, but it’s eerily quiet. Border control is tight at the entrance to the Damascus Gate, and young Palestinian men are not allowed to enter the city.
The delegation and I are watching our flights, hoping to get home soon. I am watching the news, checking in on friends that saw our safe passage to Jerusalem, and feeling very unsettled by my own passport privilege in this place.