As he came near Jerusalem and saw the city, Jesus wept over it saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace!’ (Luke 19.41)

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This trip is nearing the end. I’m now in Bethlehem for the Kairos Conference, and will fly home early Friday morning. I can’t decide how I feel about that. Part of my heart longs to be home, back to the familiar, back to dear Judy and Coleridge and Justin, back to celebrating Mass, back to smells and bells and carols.

But part of my heart is breaking at the thought of leaving here. I will miss the hospitality, the kindness, the courage, the resilience of all the people I’ve met. I will miss the coffee and the banter.

I spent this morning wandering up the Mount of Olives on my own. At the Tomb of Mary, a group of Palestinian men had gathered — taxi drivers, tour guides and hawkers selling tourist tat. One of them came up to me, and our conversation went something like this:

‘The entrance is here. Let me show you.’

‘No, thank you.’

‘Do you want a guide?’

‘No, thank you.’

‘Do you want to buy?’

‘No, thank you.’

I kept walking. And then he said, almost angrily, ’Did they teach you to always say “No, thank you” when you are on the Palestinian side?!’

I turned around, looked him in the eye and told him, ‘I have spent the past week on the Palestinian side. I have been to Ramallah, to Hebron, to the Bethlehem checkpoint.’

He softened. ‘Palestinians good?’

‘Yes, I like Palestinians very much.’

He grinned, said something in Arabic to his colleagues, and they all smiled and shook my hand as I passed by.

On my way back down, one of them approached me again.

‘You want a tour? You want to go to Bethlehem?’

‘No, thank you’, I smiled. ‘I’ve already been.’

‘You have beautiful eyes. Your smile is better than any money. But if you want, I am yours.’

I couldn’t help but laugh.

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Later, walking through the Muslim Quarter, I succumbed to an invitation to have coffee at a cafe. I was the only one there and started chatting with the man at the counter.

I inquired how business had been recently, whether the war had affected his trade.

‘Do you know what quarter you are in?’ he asked.

‘Yes, of course I do.’

‘We have tourists all the time passing by. But the guides, they tell them not to get lost. They tell them to watch out. They tell them this is the most dangerous part of the city. They tell them to fear the Palestinians. No one stops here. It is very hard for us.’

He then told me a story that has become all too familiar. Of land lost, family separated, dignity crushed.

‘Do you have hope for peace?’ I asked him.

‘No. I have no hope. You should stay and watch what they do to us. Don’t just listen to words. Words come from air only. Air has no substance. Look at actions. They are the truth. If they want peace, they could make peace. If we want peace, we could make peace. There will be no peace.’

A friend of his came in at that point, so I finished my coffee, asked them for a recommendation for a good falafel shop and left.

‘Please come back,’ the shopkeeper pleaded. ‘I have more to tell you. Thank you for listening.’

‘One day,’ I said. ‘One day very soon I will be back to hear the rest of your story.’

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