We didn’t mean to drive through the West Bank. My mom and I had left Jerusalem late that May morning, winding our way down the city’s vertiginous hills toward our next destination, the Sea of Galilee. The GPS offered two routes: one, packed with weekend traffic, that snaked through the western part of the country, and another, speedier option to the east. We chose the latter. About an hour in, long after we’d become the only car on the road, we found ourselves gazing out the dusty windows of our rental at one of the most bitterly contested places on earth and realized the magnitude of our error. The two of us had sparred throughout this trip, trading barbs over the existence of God and what time to eat lunch; now we found ourselves on a real battleground. We pulled off at the next rest stop to recalibrate. It was an oasis all of its own, surrounded by nothing but the undulating lunar landscape, and yet was host to the uncanniest cross section of humanity. For a few shekels, Arab men offered camel rides to Orthodox boys, whose pe’ot bounced as they mounted the dromedary. Shifty salesmen hocked fake Bedouin rugs out of a dank back room from boxes stamped loudly with the words “Made in China.” Cartons of fresh dates stood stacked on tile floors; a juice machine droned lazily nearby, as if sleepy from the heat. In the end, despite my protests, my mom did buy one of the counterfeit rugs; she always chooses to see the good in people. I realize only now that it’s irrelevant whether the rug was fake.
This article appeared in the August/September 2020 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.