Lessons on Middle East peace taught in ambushed bus

I dropped to the floor in horror and utter disbelief. The bus quaked with the will of the surging masses. Angry cries were punctuated with fists pounding the bus' sides, feet battering the bus' roof, and rocks shattering the windows above me.

With my head tucked to the floor under my arms' protection, my mind thundered with a desperate barrage of thoughts . . . of the fury of my attackers . . . of my fellow passengers, who somehow seemed defiant even while pressed to the filthy floor of a city bus . . . of feeling hopelessly trapped . . . of the reactions of my family and friends when David Brinkley calmly told of the unfortunate American college student viciously caught in the Mideast conflict while aboard a Jerusalem bus . . .

Thankfully, my life did not culminate with a 20-second news clip complete with my stunning high school graduation picture splattered across America. I watched from the floor as the bus driver and a soldier who happened to be riding on the bus forced the bus door open. One of them reached out and shot twice into the air. What seemed an eternity later, the cries subsided and the bus slowly began to drive on. In this battle, the battered bus was to be the only casualty as the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis lurched painfully on.

Later, when the grips of outrage and fear finally released me to more rational thought, I could only wonder how people can live like this. I remembered my amusement at the warnings I had heard about going jogging near the Palestinian villages that cradled the university. I remembered how, when traveling in certain Arab areas and asked about our origins, my friends and I would chuckle as we lied about our Jewish roots and, in the interest of safety, told people we were Mormon (a story strangely made believable by the Mormon school located near the university.) I remembered how I had laughed when, upon arriving at my ancient study abroad destination five months earlier, I saw my dorm room check-in sheet had a space to fill in if I was assigned a gas mask. And I recalled how I had scoffed at the warnings about bus #23.

And I realized that it just wasn't funny.

I realized that dangers like these are a fact of life for millions of people. And I knew it was wrong. But in a region where complacency equals extinction, where peace seems the stuff of fairy tales and where children on both sides of the struggle learn about their neighbors only in terms of the dangers they present, this seemed to be the only way of life. And as hard as I tried, the remembered sounds of rocks breaking glass made it almost impossible for me to imagine life here any other way.

Enter two guys: Yitzhak and Yasser. They hate each other. They have for years. But Yasser's running out of money and Yitzhak wants to pay up on an old campaign promise. So they decide to try something new. They send people to Norway to hammer things out. They make some concessions and promise to try and be more tolerant. Then they write nice letters to each other. They shake hands at the White House. Poof. The world changes. Crazy stuff.

But decades of malice don't just dissolve into the White House lawn. So where does it leave us? The opposition is still busy opposing and the terrorists are still busy terrorizing. Hard-liners on both sides desperately cry out against what they consider an epic miscalculation. Questions fly about the stability of Rabin's government coalition and about the true power of a financially weakened PLO. And not even the staunchest pacifist can say for sure if this whole idea will really work.

Yet somehow, things are different. Somehow, after almost 30 years of bloodstained enmity between these people, a simple handshake changes everything. Israelis and Palestinians no longer need to represent a diametric that leads only to war. In the tiny space opened by a breathtaking handshake appeared something unseen in the Middle Eastern conflict since the Camp David Accords, something considered taboo by many of the region's inhabitants, but something desperately needed in that weary land. In that space was a compromise and with compromise, a hope for peace.

My time in Israel did not give me all the answers. In fact, the things I saw and the lessons I learned often left me full of doubts. But one truth pierces through all the confusion, a truth I learned in the unlikely classroom of a Jerusalem bus overrun by an angry mob: This land needs peace. In terms of Israeli security or Palestinian surrender, many people consider the price of peace far too great. But two guys, Yitzhak and Yasser, have decided to give it a chance.

No, I don't think a simple handshake is enough to get me back on bus #23 anytime soon. But that's okay. Because until the events of this week, I never even dreamed that peace could become a reality in that stormy place. And at least now, amidst all the passions and the furies that surely rage on, there rests a small, sharp glimmer of hope.

Wendy Rosenberg is a Trinity senior.


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