Some years ago I arrived in Jerusalem after a short stay and a long bus ride from Tiberias in the northern part of the country. At first I thought I would rent a car to travel a bit around Israel before coming to Jerusalem. Then I thought that I will save some money and be much more in contact with Israelis with whom I can speak Hebrew – one of the main reasons for my trip – if I avail myself of public transportation. Specifically that means Israel’s very good public bus system.
So at 8:10 one morning I boarded a lovely Egged coach at the Tiberias central bus station and began my journey. There were only a few people on the bus so I had two seats to myself – one for me and one for my carry on which was a bit heavy. Most of the other passengers were soldiers so I felt both very comfortable and very safe. My luxury excursion began as we made our way up into the mountains, and I enjoyed some magnificent panoramas of Israel’s breathtaking Galilee region.
After about an hour we arrived in Afula where the driver announced we would have a short rest stop. Many passengers boarded the bus at Afula, so my luxury two-seats-to myself-ride ended abruptly when a young man about twice as tall and twice as wide as I am claimed the seat next to me. Now I was scrunched next to the window with my carry-on on my lap. He looked like a typical young Israeli and we chatted a bit in Hebrew about the kind of innocuous things that strangers on a bus talk about.
When he received a call and began talking rapidly on his cell phone, I could not understand a word that he was saying. Frustrated, I said to myself, “I thought my Hebrew was better than that.”
Then I realized with a shudder that the man was speaking Arabic and that it was clearly his native tongue.
His name is Sameer, and he is a Muslim from Nazareth. He was not subjected to any discriminatory examinations or questions at the station. He boarded the bus just like everyone else.
“That is the way it is in Nazareth and in the north,” he said. “Muslims, Jews and Christians live side by side in harmony.”
“In Jerusalem because of proximity to the territories,” he continued, ” I feel uneasy just as Jews feel uneasy when they venture deep into the old city.”
I took a cab from the Jerusalem bus terminal to my hotel. My driver was a Muslim named Nael. He was pursuing his livelihood just like anyone else. The man who checked me into my hotel is named Muhammad. Same goes for him.
Yet, if you believe the anti Israel propaganda that spews forth from increasing numbers of places, you would think that the Arabs in Israel walk about in chains. Of course Israel must be very conscious of security, and for some Arabs and Palestinians in some parts of the country life is very difficult because of the acts of horrible terror that have been perpetrated against the Jewish State.
My experience convinced me that in order to have credibility every one should visit Israel to see with his or her own eyes what it is like there before commenting about its political situation. It is complicated to be sure, but putting the bulk of the blame on Israel before you see it with your own eyes hardly reflects reality.