In the summer of 2009 as a journalist I attended a peace conference for Israelis and Palestinians put on by IPCRI (Israel-Palestine Centre for Research and Information) at Talitha Kumi Evangelical Lutheran School, above the town of Beit Jalla, adjacent to Bethlehem in the West Bank. The conference was scheduled for two days with one night stay on the campus, where all participants were to share a room with a member of the same sex, since single rooms were not available.
When I arrived I saw Hanna Seniora, a Palestinian Christian and Co-Chair of IPCRI in the lobby of the conference centre and began to interview him. We got to a point in the interview where Seniora was trying to convince me that PA President Mahmoud Abbas would soon call elections in the West Bank (of course, it’s more than five years later and he still hasn’t), and I was expressing my doubts and challenging him on this point. Seniora was also giving out room keys to arriving participants of the conference.
Just then, a Jewish Israeli woman who spoke Arabic came up to Seniora and began to insist on having her own room, since she explained she had sleep apnea and snored heavily and it would not be a comfortable situation for anyone having to room with her.
Seniora, who wanted to end the interview with me since I was challenging him about Abbas calling elections, looked at her and told her she had to share a room, and then looked over at me, and terminated the interview by saying and, “You will share a room with her.” He got up, gave her the key, and left, (never to return to the conference).
Sh*t, I thought to myself, I am going to have a sleepless night.
The two of us went to find our dormitory style room, and to my surprise, instead of finding and empty room with two single beds, we found a woman fast asleep on one bed, a single bed next to her, and lo and behold a third mattress lying on the floor.
Needless to say, I really wasn’t happy at the idea of sleeping on the floor, and neither was my sleep apnea snorer roommate.
Sh*t, I thought to myself that Seniora, really knows how to take revenge on me for challenging him about Abbas.
As the evening wore on, I sat in the lobby with a group of Israelis and Palestinians, in what was a rather fascinating conversation about the current political situation.
My roommate announced that we had three to a room, instead of two, and she really wanted her own room. Unfortunately for me, this announcement led to my receiving an invitation from a Gazan Palestinian man to sleep in his room, as well as one from a West Bank Palestinian from Tul Karem to sleep with him in his room, both of whom I politely rebuffed. In order to avoid having the Gazan walk me back to my room, I decided to just stay up in the lobby where there were people until he had finally gone. (I hadn’t realized until then that peace conferences were events for Palestinian men to hit on Jewish women.)
My roommate, in the meantime, managed to convince the Palestinian cook of the Talitha Kumi campus to find her a spare unoccupied room so she didn’t have to share a room. This happened at about 4 a.m., whereupon I decided to make my way back to my room, delighted with the idea that I would be able to sleep on the single bed rather than on the mattress on the floor. (The other woman who occupied the second dorm bed was still asleep, having slept through the entire conference that evening, such that I wasn’t really sure why she was even there !)
Exhausted, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
In the morning at breakfast, I began to feel itchy on my legs and noticed I had what looked like a bunch of red mosquito bites. Except that it’s unheard of to have mosquitos in the heat of August in the Holy Land.
That’s when I realized that there was only one explanation. I had slept with bed bugs–the only time in my life that I can think of where this had happened.
Needless to say, the conference didn’t bring about a peace deal or even a peace process. And I had actually paid good money to sleep with bed bugs. (I began to wonder if Seniora had known about the bed bugs when he assigned me my room.)
On my way out, I began thinking of what I would say when I saw my friends in Israel after the conference–and decided that when asked, I would just say that “I was willing to make painful compromises for peace –in fact I was even willing to sleep with bed bugs for peace.”