Looking down at my feet, my formerly white sneakers had adjusted to their surroundings. Matching the high walls of sandy mountain rock, my well worn shoes guided me through crevices on a hiking trail just outside of an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Sizable pebbles slipped beneath my soles, causing me to question my balance and my decision to voluntarily participate in a two-hour hike. I am not a hiker. I had to purchase a pair of sneakers before traveling to Israel because I had not owned a pair since my feet stopped growing.
Yet on this Saturday morning, I discovered my own bravery, borne out of the nonstop adrenaline I felt from traveling internationally for the first time.
As American Jews traveling through the West Bank, my group was warned of the dangers that local settlements could pose; yet, I drifted with a couple friends along the path briefly ahead of our tour guide. Had we matched their pace, I still would have noticed the herd of goats chewing on a meager supply of desert foliage. However, I might have missed the chance to interview the Arab boy who sat on a rock beside the animals. Through the help of an Arabic-speaking friend I asked how old the boy was, if the herd belonged to him, and where he lived. The boy remained still, answering quickly; the goats were his father’s, they lived nearby and he was tasked to graze them. I inquired if he attended school. My friend translated, turned to me and shook his head, indicating that the boy did not. For 10 days in Israel, I had discovered its land, people, language and lifestyle.
But on the last day of my trip I encountered the face of the West Bank. A young farmer’s son destined one day to become a farmer’s father.
I only witnessed a moment of this 12-year-old boy’s life, a monotonous chore at that, but it was a solemn reminder that Israel is not alone in the Middle East. He watched without interrupting as my group collectively photographed his livestock, standing slightly too close. Even without a translator, I could understand that this did not bother him nor did he bother us. For a brief moment in the desert a group of Americans, Israelis and an Arab all coexisted in a Promised Land.