After War, December 26

By Joshua Leifer

It is winter in Bethlehem.
Snow melts off stone buildings.
Today, the shop-owners
feel generous and give free coffee.
Buses rush through the slush:
faded, purple, blue.
The city center is empty,
and Christian tourists
who come this time of year
are gone. I walk the streets
around the marketplace.
I can’t read the posters
on the city walls,
but I recognize the symbols.
I forgot to bring boots.

From the bus stop,
patches of snow resurrect
the thin trees of the city,
Beit Jala,
Beit Sahour,
Beit Safafa.
Across the street
lives a grandmother
who once lived in Jerusalem.
She was a young girl
when we forced her to leave.
She still remembers
the name of her old street,
the house with high ceilings.
A new family lives
in that house:
Oded and Zahava,
Ben and Michal.
I stayed with them
during Sukkot
two months earlier.

To get back to Jerusalem,
I go through Rachel’s Crossing.
The wall is as grey
as the smoke of Shabbos candles.  
Not far from where soldiers
point guns at children,
pilgrims pray
at the matriarch’s grave.
The army claimed
it needed to destroy
a neighborhood to keep
the faithful safe.

I once went
to a coexistence camp
in the West Bank,
between Jericho and Almog,
but there was no one
there from Ramallah
or Nablus
or Hebron
or Jenin.
It didn’t make sense,
Rami said, for them
to come meet with Jews
in a settlement.
And besides, he added,
their forefathers
had already tried
to talk with the Jews.
What would make
the Jews listen now?