An American in Palestine

BETHLEHEM, the West Bank—Near one of the largest Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank, a shop sells postcards with photographs of the separation wall. In one of the pictures, the English phrase “TO EXIST IS TO RESIST” is painted on the Wall.

Just a kilometer away, in downtown Bethlehem, we watch tourists pour out of buses. They are Christian pilgrims, here to visit religious sites like the Milk Grotto, where a drop of milk that fell from the Virgin Mary’s breast turned an entire cave white. We walk into a small store in the downtown market, or souk. The store’s name in English is simply “Nativity Shop”: it is located near the Nativity Church, on the land where Jesus was born. The church is now a major tourist site, at least for those who don’t mind going through a checkpoint to get here.

The owner of the shop is a friend of a friend, so we linger to talk to him about his business, the city, and the weather. He asks me my religion. Cautioned not to tell Palestinians that I am Jewish, I say, “I’m just American.” But here in the Holy Land, religion is of utmost importance; the shop owner presses me for an answer. Eventually, I admit that I am Jewish.

His face breaks into a grin. Handing me a cup of Nescafé, he informs me, “Jewish people are always so shy! If I didn’t want Jews in my shop, I would not sell these!”—he dangles some Magen David charms in front of my face—“or these!”—he shows me some small metal Menorahs.

Later that day, we run into the shop owner again in a restaurant. He pulls me over to the table where he is sitting with two older men in suits, maybe having a business conversation. “This girl,” he asks them, pointing at me, “What do you think she is? Italian? Something else?” “Italian,” nods one. “I don’t know,” says the other.

Leaning back, the store owner shares a smile with me and laughs, pleased. “No! She is American.”

Sandra Y. L. Korn ’14, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is a history of science and studies of women, gender, and sexuality joint concentrator in Eliot House.

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