As we journeyed through the checkpoint (which was a non-event in our tour bus) the reality of the landscape was quite different than I expected.
We were scheduled to visit a group of Palestinian Christians in a small village, so our drive took us through a very agrarian area. Rolling green hills were dotted with crops of strawberries and shepherds tending their flocks.
Palestine did seem much simpler, like a step back in time, cut off from many of the modern advances in infrastructure.
The people who greeted us (both planned and those we encountered as we walked through the village) were kind and welcoming. We had to quickly switch gears from the Hebrew words and phrases we were using in Israel to Arabic words and phrases in this area, especially when one of my children had an urgent need for a bathroom.
A local family hosted our entire group of 26 on the porch of their modest home for coffee and conversation about their lives. The women and college students spoke to us about the challenges of being a Christian in Palestine-- they are minorities--making up only 1-2% of the population. Their joy and courage were palpable and left quite an impression upon me.
Our time together concluded with a delicious lunch and a fresh perspective on the subsets of real people behind sweeping headlines and assumptions. One of the challenges our tour guide, Andre, had issued at the beginning of our journey was to experience not just the ancient stones of the Middle East, but the 'living stones' as well. I felt as if this day had been a powerful experience in that regard.
Our next stop was Jacob's Well (within the walls of an Eastern Orthodox monastery). It is believed to be the place where Jesus encountered the Samaritan Woman at the well. (See John 4.)
From here we traveled to Mount Zion, where we would spend the next three nights with a glorious view of Jerusalem.