I stepped on the Encounter bus and sat down next to Jim, from Westchester. The day before I had just finished a 10 day trip to Israel and the West Bank with Rabbis for Human Rights. That had been my first trip into the reality of the Occupation and I was still reeling from what I’d seen. Jim had just completed a 10 day bike ride through Israel. He still had his endorphins flowing.
We started to talk and I told Jim that I was from Boulder. “Boulder!” he exclaimed. “I bet you would love the bike ride I’ve just been on – let me tell you about it – you might want to sign up for next year.”
“Bike ride,” I thought angrily to myself. “How the hell can he be doing a bike ride – doesn’t he know what’s going on in this country? Who has time for bike rides?”
I simmered. Jim kept talking. We saw The Wall and Jim mentioned how important it was for security. “Security?” I interrupted. “If the wall was about security, Israel should have built it on the green line. The Wall is about a land grab.” Jim looked at me strangely. Like maybe I was from another planet. Then I said, ”And by the way, as we drive around the West Bank, take a look at the tell-tale signs of the water situation. Israel controls the water here. You’ll see settlements with green lawns and swimming pools while the Palestinians aren’t getting minimum per person requirements. They don’t even have running water every day. “At his point a friend of Jim’s, sitting in a seat in front of us turned around. “I think you need to listen to other points of view,” he said to me.
The communications agreement I’d signed just hours before — the agreement that I’d made to listen to others with an open mind and an open heart — that was history. I was furious. I had just spent a good part of the last week in the West Bank and I knew what was going on. What the hell did these guys know after their fancy bike ride?
The situation went from bad to worse. At lunch with our Palestinian families, I asked one man why he thought the Israelis were rationing water – exactly the kind of question I was not supposed to ask as it demanded that he speak for others, rather than just for himself. In our small groups, I continued to simmer and then I began to feel isolated. What was I even doing on this trip?
And then, as the day continued, something began to shift and I stopped having to hold on so tight. I met another participant with experiences similar to mine and we gave each other support. Melissa, of course, knew all along what might happen and she had placed the two of us in the same Palestinian home for the evening. I talked a little more to Jim and found out that he was actually a pretty good guy. I started to let go of my identity as “the only one who knew” and space started to open for me to listen to others and feel compassion for their struggles with the issues at hand.
As our two day Encounter trip came to an end, I walked over to Jim to apologize for coming on so strong when I’d first met him – allowing no space to hear where he was coming from. But before I could say a word, Jim said. “You know, when I first met you on the bus I thought you were a total lefty nut case. But now that I’ve been here, I know just what you’re talking about.”
That’s Encounter. Minds open. Hearts expand. And everything we were so afraid of in the other begins to fade away.