June 3, 2023•589 words
I turn on the news and there's all this talk about riots in East Jerusalem. Right wing extremists fighting with Arabs in the streets of Jerusalem. Arab youth walking up to Orthodox Jews smacking them and uploading the videos to Ticktok. Riot police with nightsticks, shields and water-cannons. Scandalous events. The media having a field day.
From where I ride I don't see any of that. I see little Arab kids waving and smiling at me. Yellow Palestinian cabs slowing down while passing me. Israeli settlers passing me honking tunes of cheers. IDF jeeps honking as they try to pass me up the steep roads.
Far away deep in the West Bank, a beaten up car with Palestinian plates slows down as it passes me, the driver calling out in Arabic. I ignore him as I don't know Arabic but I find myself feeling rude so I pull over. He reverses and is now by my side.
"How are you? Are you a Jew?" in Hebrew now.
"Yes." I respond.
"What are you doing out here?" he asks surprised.
"Riding my bike, taking a few pictures".
"Pictures of the desert? Ah, yes!" he says glowing.
"The desert is special." I state the obvious.
"Yes! You see my son? I should also get him a bike!"
I look behind him and see this little kid with a mouth wide open as a goldfish's mouth. I smile and wave at him but his mouth is stuck and his eyes two wide moons. Next to the man is a smiling fat wife. She might be pregnant but you don't ask about people's wives on this side of the wall.
The man looks at me smiling and I notice two glowing eyes of warm fire. Clearly a kind man. A poor man but a kind man. I let my guard down.
"Where are you from?" he asks.
"Jerusalem, Al-Quds" I say, pointing somewhere to the north.
"Ah! How much do you think a bike will cost? 500 shekels?"
"Yes, for your son, you can get a bike for 500 shekels".
Looking at his face it dawns on me how much 500 shekels is for this man and I'm saddened for a moment. Not feeling sorry for him but appreciating how hard he must work for his son's bike. The wrinkles on his face show the struggle of years.
As I bid farewell and the man and wife give me warm smiles, with their little goldfish behind them I remember that he asked me if I'm a Jew. Why not ask me if I'm Israeli? It probably doesn't mean anything but all the way home I'm thinking about Amichai the Jew and not Amichai the Israeli.
Entering Jerusalem though the Eastern Arab neighborhoods, smiling waving kids, Arab wives thanking me for giving them right of way, the trouble of sirens roars by me. The indication that there's trouble in the Middle East again, but the sirens disappear over the hill and I'm surrounded by the afternoon call of the Mosque. Ramadan banners in Arabic decorate the cobblestone streets until I reach the Jewish neighborhoods marked by Israeli blue and white flags hanging out of apartment windows here and there.
And then it hits me. Israeli is a modern term but Jew is a continuation of the ancient Jewish people. How much do you belong to these barren lands, to the desert? How much do we have in common? Are you also a descendant of Abraham?
I know what you are and let's talk bikes.