Recently, I was driving in the West Bank on the way to Alon Shevut when I saw a hitchhiker and pulled over. I asked the man where he was going and I couldn’t quite understand his response. So I told him where I was going and he confirmed that we were driving right by where he was headed.
Hitchhiking — or tremping as its known here — is pretty common and, although three boys were killed by a Hamas terrorist who offered them a ride in the West Bank last summer, it hasn’t stopped Israelis from tremping. As politically incorrect as it sounds, though, you mostly give rides to your own kind.
On this day, I accidentally and unknowingly gave a ride to an Arab trempist. It was a mistake, I would not do it again (especially in the West Bank), but I’m glad I did.
It was a short trip — 10 minutes at the most — and, until minute nine, I didn’t even realize he wasn’t Jewish. Sure, his Hebrew was more guttural, but it didn’t sound all that different from Sephardic Jews here in Israel. I asked him what he did, he said he worked in construction, I told him I worked in Internet and we discussed some of the positives and negatives of our jobs. Then our conversation moved into family, I told him I had three kids, he told me he had five, and even a few grandchildren.
“Grandchildren?” I asked, “but you look so young.”
“Well,” he responded, “it’s like the Haredim (the ultra-Orthodox) by you.”
Awkward pause, I come up with my escape plan just in case this guy gets any ideas, realize how silly that is, and then take a deep breath and get back to our conversation. He motions to me where to pull over by a small Arab village, he shakes my hand and gets out of the car with a smile-filled thank you.
There is so much trust that needs to be built in Israel. I’m positive that it’s conversations like this one — where we recognize common ground — that need to happen more often if this country will ever have peace. If only there were more safe opportunities.