The first time anyone ever pointed a machine gun at me, I was in the West Bank, on my way to a small village called Dar Sala. A group of us were visiting Israel and Palestine and this particular day we were travelling in a van to a small school outside of Bethlehem to observe a training in active non-violence organized by the Fatah Youth Organization.
Our small group was staying that the Bethlehem Hotel, just down the block from Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. That morning we met at the offices of a local peace organization where we were picked up by a local taxi. There were seven of us, including the driver travelling in an old van. To reach our destination we had to, at one point to cross a “flying” checkpoint setup by the Israeli Defense Force. We came over the rise of a hill and could see a line of cars stopped, and at the front of the line a military jeep with a 50 caliber machine gun mounted on the back. There were 3 or 4 soldiers standing around checking id’s from the drivers and passengers of the cars in front of us.
For some reason, still unknown to me, the driver of our van decided that he did not want to wait in this line of cars and pulled the van into the oncoming traffic lane and proceeded to speed up as he raced towards the checkpoint. As you might imagine, this go the attention of the soldiers who immediately began yelling for him to stop and raised their weapons, including the massive machine gun on the back of the jeep.
After racing towards the checkpoint for 200 yards or so the driver begin to slow down and pulled slowly to the front of the line to speak to several, very irate soldiers. We were sitting in the back of the van listening to the exchange and I noticed that we were still in the sights of the .50 cal. When the soldiers asked for everyone’s passports things got even more complicated. Here I was, in a van, on a road outside of Bethlehem, my passport has been taken and there are machine guns aimed at me. In addition, I was actually on the ground working with groups looking for peaceful, non-violent solutions to the conflict between Israel and Palestine but we were not supposed to be there.
Finally, after several long minutes, one of the soldiers climbed into the front passenger seat of the van and asked us who we were, where we were going and what we were going to do. We said that we were visiting holy sites, which I guess is technically true if you believe that, anywhere people are struggling for justice, freedom and peace is holy.
After 20 minues of questions, and waiting for the entire line of cars we had passed to get throught the checkpoint, our passports were returned and we continued on our way. In my journal for that day 6/3/2005 I wrote myself a note: (getting in trouble in the taxi).