On the Road from Bethlehem, Danger is in the Eye of the Beholder

By Mohammed Al-Shawaf, KF9 Palestine A Blown Tire on the Way to Hebron Nidal Re-Opens His Store in Yataa


I’ve been in Palestine for one week and have feared for my life.  Have I reinforced the stereotype yet?  It might be surprising to learn that the only times I have actually felt scared here have been dodging reckless drivers, not bullets.

But that’s me.  On my first day in the field I learned an important lesson: risks are calculated and danger is in the eye of the beholder.

I witnessed the first example of this rule on the way to Hebron, the West Bank’s largest city. I accompanied Ryada’s collection officer so that I could visit three Kiva borrowers. Leaving Bethlehem, our car was cut off by a semi-truck and we were forced to swerve into a divider to avoid colliding with the truck. Although we were fine, the left wheel of the car was shot, foreshadowing what I thought would be the end of my first field day before it started.

But you don’t know Ryada’s collection officer.  He jumped out of the car, quickly assessed the damage and calmly walked to the trunk where he pulled out the spare tire and jack and went to work.  Five minutes later, we were back on the road to Hebron.

Had this event happened to me on my own, I would have been hopelessly stranded.  Lacking familiarity with the area, a firm grasp of the language and any skills whatsoever when it comes to changing a tire, I could think of few worse scenarios.  

But danger is a relative entity.  Two of the Kiva borrowers I visited that day had also been dealing with the specter of danger, but of a completely different nature. In two areas of Hebron called Yataa and Saeer, what began as a dispute between families has since escalated into intermittent skirmishes in both towns.

When I arrived in Hebron, I was informed that we wouldn’t be visiting one of the Kiva borrowers for this very reason.  Nidal, a carpet store owner in Yataa, had closed his shop for the last two days out of fear that his business would be damaged by the fighting.  This was an unfortunate situation, the branch manager remarked, because Nidal is a stellar client and has a great business reputation in town.  But just before we left the office to visit another Kiva borrower (Raed, an auto store owner from Saeer navigating similar uncertainty), Nidal contacted the branch.  He would re-open the shop for my visit.

Nidal was in great spirits when we arrived.  He spoke about his loan, posed for pictures and insisted he serve us a drink before we left.  If I hadn’t been told about the context of our visit, I wouldn’t have known that Nidal’s business has faced tumultuous times and that lately, he’s made more vital calculations than profits and losses.

My Kiva fellowship gives me the chance to write about people like Nidal.  But as close as I am to his story, I won’t know what it’s like to live through it.  As an American working for an international organization, I don’t make the same calculations, nor experience the same fear.

Is Palestine safe?  It depends who you ask.

Note: This story has been modified from its original publication.  Obtaining permission to write about certain individual(s) is a requirement I take very seriously. This generally straightforward process, however, can become muddled and lead to mistakes when a language barrier is present.  That is what happened here.  I have apologized to the individual(s) involved and will take extra precautions to make sure this event does not happen in the future. 


Mohammed Al-Shawaf is serving as a Kiva Fellow with Ryada and FATENtwo new field partners based in Ramallah (West Bank).

Follow Mohammed’s experiences in Palestine on Twitter @moshawaf

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