Robert Hirschfield becomes de facto ambassador in a hostel where Palestinians, Israeli soldiers, Christian Pilgrims, and German journalists all come together.

I find myself waking up before dawn at the Faisal to beat the backpackers’ rush to the communal bathroom. The sexagenarian’s need for whatever solitude he can get.

As Lonely Planet says, the Faisal, across from Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, is a magnet for the low-end backpacker and pro-Palestinian zealot. A German journalist, with his own private room, makes the Faisal his permanent home, and eyes the rest of us as guests of dubious merit.

“I want a private room too,” I say to one of the hostel managers, a thickly-mustached Palestinian.

“You don’t need a private room,” he says. “You don’t have a girlfriend.”

A low-end journalist, I sleep with my piles of notes in one of the dorm rooms. The managers, who at night cook pots of rice for their guests, are interested in what I write about.

They don’t think non-violence will work, and they don’t think violence will work. They think I am naive. A point of view I find almost companionable.

“Palestinian nonviolence activists,” I say.

They cluck their tongues and shake their heads. They don’t think non-violence will work, and they don’t think violence will work. They think I am naive. A point of view I find almost companionable. It makes me feel right at home.

Shortly before I checked into the Faisal, an Israeli security team descended upon the hotel to whisk away members of the pro-Palestinian ISM (International Solidarity Movement.) The sole remaining ISM member responds to my questions as if he is Tony Soprano and I am the Feds. But I always get a smile and a bow from the Korean Christian pilgrim who sleeps in the bunk beside me with his two small sons.

Community Connection

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