Cycle of Nonviolence

Posted on May 23rd, 2011

My regular evening ride takes me past the Arab village of Jaaba. From Jaaba back to the Gush, the road is long and steep. There is no shade and when it’s hot out, it feels like the hill will never end. I ride the route partly because of the beautiful views as you climb along, but mostly because it is a great workout.

Sometimes I try and race against the big trucks which look like they will never make it up the hill. There is not that much traffic on the road, but what there is contains a mixture of Arab and Jew, cars, trucks, and donkeys. Sometimes I feel a little nervous when I am close to Jaaba, but not enough to make me change my route. I just try and pick up the speed when I get too close.

So last night, as I made the turn at Jaaba, an Arab kid on a bike came racing up to me and passed by. I had been riding at a casual speed, but I figured what the heck and took off after him. We stayed together until the bottom of the hill. That’s when I figured he would turn around and ride home while I tackled the ascent. He looked over at me and I said in Hebrew that he should ride with me up to Kfar Etzion, 3km away at the top of the hill. He stared back at me blankly so I just pointed. He grinned and took off.

I upped the speed and stayed about ten meters back. I was sure that he would crack since his bike is the kind that you can pick up for free by a dumpster. He was wearing jeans and sandals compared to my Louis Garneu bike shorts and shoes clipped into my pedals. I had a water backpack while he had nothing whatsoever. So I figured, hey — I can take this kid any day.

But then he sped up as we started on the first kilometer of the climb. I stayed behind, biding my time. How long could he keep this up. I was sure I could speed up and wave goodbye to him any time.

Second kilometer, he looked over his shoulder at me and gave me a wordless challenge. We both sped up.

Now I realized that the game was on. I had my honor at stake. I represented the Neve Daniel Bike Club. Forget that, it was now Israel vs Palestine and neither one of us was going to give an inch. I had started out the ride ready for a fun training session and wound up in the West Bank Olympics.

I started to pass but he shocked me by speeding up again. We were very close together at this point and I told him there was one kilometer to go. He had no idea what I was saying. We were both sweating, grunting, and trying to coax every bit of speed out of our bikes as we stood up on the pedals and hammered down. Wordlessly we pushed on, our bikes swaying from side to side under us as we both fought to be first up the hill.

I don’t think I have ever ridden this climb this fast.

But it still wasn’t fast enough.

A few hundred meters from the top I realized that I was not going to beat him.

But, you know, it was fine.

We both pulled over and found ourselves grinning. He didn’t speak any Hebrew but we still managed to introduce ourselves. We high-fived and I promised Ayoub that the next time, I was going to kick his ass. With a friendly pat on the back I rode back toward my yishuv while he turned and headed for his village.

Most of the world believes that there is a constant war going on between Arab and Jew out here. At some level, they might be right. But for a moment, the two of us were not Arab and Jew, Palestinian and Israeli. We were not debating the ’67 lines or who had the right to live where we do. No, for this brief moment, we were just two guys who love to bike through one of the most beautiful places in the world.

I hate the fact that there is so much separation out here between peoples that live so close together. I understand it and know that as long as the threat of war and terror hang over our heads, it is the way things have to be.

Yet when we do have these moments when we can see each other as regular people, whether it is buying yogurt in the supermarket or having a friendly bike race up a mountain, it makes me think that maybe one day, we can make peace.

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