As a Minnesota native living in the occupied Palestinian territories, I consider myself fortunate: I have easy access to visit some of the most significant historical and religious sites on the planet, and I spend my weekends hiking over ground that offers glorious vistas and exudes a sacred energy unlike any other place I have visited.
At the same time, I live in the midst of war. In order to travel more than 10 miles from my home, I must pass through an elaborate system of checkpoints to reach destinations that many of my friends and neighbors cannot visit due to permit restrictions. I have seen Israeli soldiers shooting at Palestinian teenagers throwing stones and ultraconservative settlers roaming the hills with weapons. And I have watched with my family as a rocket fired from Gaza exploded in the sea while we ate our lunch on the beach in Tel Aviv. Each day is a new possibility that I will have to again pack my grab bag with essentials in case of emergency and the need to evacuate.
I visited an archaeological museum recently in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was a beautiful day for touring, mid-60s even in late January. Flowers blossomed amongst the ruins of houses and temples that stood more than 2,000 years ago. I spent the afternoon exploring the remains of Roman streets and peering down the mouths of ancient cisterns. The beauty and historical weight of the place was so captivating that, for a moment, I could almost put aside the conflict surrounding me and immerse myself in the past.
As I turned a corner, I met a group of Israeli tourists, several of whom were carrying semi-automatic rifles slung across their backs. They sat casually on the giant stones that had once been market stalls, listening intently to the tour guide and cradling their weapons in their arms, Or they stood in small groups, taking pictures and joking with their mates. People here live in such fear of each other that they bring weapons of war to a museum. Yet most of the people I meet-whether Israeli or Palestinian-wish for an end to the conflict and want only peace and security for themselves and their families.
As the threat of war makes every tomorrow uncertain, there is a constant reminder to live in the now. I find that I must make my own peace every day, celebrate the mundane and remember to be thankful for the blessings I have in my life.
Sarah Auten grew up in Roseville, Minn., and currently works in Ramallah, Palestine, on a youth employment project.