I have been to Israel and Palestine over a month ago and I haven’t been able to get over it yet. I keep reading books about it, I just watched another 36 hours series (me, the same person that cannot commit to watching a movie) as it seems these topics are just stuck in my mind.
I went by coincidence. I never thought I would visit Israel, but I wanted to spend 3 weeks in the middle east and my research suggested I’d start the trip from there. I booked a cheap flight to Tel Aviv, did some inner work to overcome my bias, and landed in the promised land.
The reasons why I never really wanted to go to Israel are the same as everyone’s reasons not to go. Israel is a criminal state, that has its foundations set in violence and terror. The people living there are either actively supporting this brutality or living their lives completely oblivious of what is happening right next door. This is what I thought (I still do). And I am aware that the statement about the foundations of Israel being violence and terror is not taking into consideration the neverending suffering of the Jews. The Jews have been persecuted for hundreds of years, way earlier than the Holocaust, and it is true that they never really had their place in the world. But this, obviously, does not mean that the Jews should be allowed to throw stones at Palestinians. I shouldn’t have to explain that, but it goes without saying that I shouldn’t be authorized, just because you made my life impossible, to make someone else’s (the Palestinian’s) life impossible in revenge.
When I say they are oblivious to the atrocities committed against the Palestinians, in some cases it is not even something that they choose or are even aware of. It’s a systemic division strongly endorsed by the government. All the narrative around the Palestinians is something carried on by the government to increase hate. The fact, for example, that the Israelis are not authorized to enter Palestinian territories contributes to seeing “the other” as non-human and builds bigger imaginary walls.
Also, all this environment of systemic hate and violence is perpetuated by the constant threat of their police (police are a plague everywhere but police in Israel are a fucking nightmare).
Add to that the absurd consequences of going there, especially the fact that if you have been to Israel, basically no other country in the middle east will allow you entry.
Why would anyone go?
The high-tech hub & postcard-worthy Tel Aviv
Minutes after landing in Tel Aviv, I had my first sweet encounter with the Israeli police. Israel does not stamp your passport anymore, because otherwise, as said, no other country will allow you entry (this is how nice Israel is to the neighbors) but to make sure, (as I was heading to their biggest enemy Lebanon, a week after) I kindly reiterated I did not want my passport stamped. The policebitch that was at the control got somehow triggered by my request and decided to make room for her giant ego by trying to scare me. “Why are you even asking me this/Are you planning to go to Iran” followed by a lot of irrelevant questions. Finally she let me go and I spent the following 4 hours trying to get to my hostel, as I had clearly wrong directions, until I got to the point that someone in the street started insulting me for no reason and I had to escape into a nearby bar. Not a great start of the trip.
However, the two following days were much better. I scampered around the beautiful coastline of Tel Aviv on a scooter, spent time on the beach, roamed around the old Jaffa, and ate my body weight in hummus. I also experienced the first bits of Israeli “hospitality”, when I was treated to a full meal at a restaurant by a stranger for no reason, without even exchanging a word with me. It happened again the days after, and even on the plane. I realized sometimes when they are about to pay for their meal, they treat also the person sitting next to them. A bit like the “suspended coffee” they brag about in Napoli, but more expensive.
Everything is written in Hebrew everywhere (obviously) (and some Arabic too) so for a language passionate (read: freak) like me, it was quite stimulating. I may or may not have taken a few Hebrew lessons on Duolingo while I was there.
Anyway, Tel Aviv was delightful, a lot looking like Barcelona, but pricey and with crystal clear seawater.
West Bank alias Palestine territories
As everyone knows, the Palestinian live a shitty life, in poor conditions, and they are secluded in some territories where they cannot leave because the Israeli government decided so.
I had made a plan to go to these Palestinian territories on two different days, one In Jericho, Ramallah, and Bethlehem, and the other day in Hebron. Hebron didn’t happen, because when I was about to go there were new conflicts in Hebron (aka the police killed, again, a Palestinian guy, and of course, the Palestinian were not too happy about it) so the access was restricted. I did go to the other part though and it was probably the most interesting day of the trip.
Logistically, it is a bit hard to go there by yourself (there are buses but can take a long time) so I took an organized “day trip” at my hostel – I took a few of those in the following days as well as without a car it’s otherwise impossible to see many places.
A Palestinian guide was supposed to stay with us for the entire day, but as we started off in Tel Aviv, and Palestinians are not allowed to exist in Tel Aviv, we started off with just a driver, and the Palestinian guide jumped on the bus only when we crossed the Palestinian border (same at the end of the day, he got off before the “border”.) The first stop was the Qasr al-Yahud baptismal site, that is where Jesus was baptized. Maybe for religious people, it is a memorable place, but for me, it was just a dirty river full of weirdos that wanted to get “baptized” as well in those nasty waters.
After that, we went to Jericho, the oldest city in the world as they say, with interesting ruins. In there I got my first camel photo of the trip, if you are wondering. The guide remarked a few times that Jericho is quite a peaceful city and nothing ever really happens, but as I came back I saw on this Eye on Palestine Instagram page that these days people were killed there too.
The following stop was Ramallah, which I found to be a little chaotic, lot of nice food (had the best dates) and lovely people. I felt safe really. More than in Jerusalem for sure.
Then it was the time of Bethlehem, where the Nativity church takes all the tourism and it’s overall a fascinating place to see. What I liked more about Bethlehem and probably of the entire day was the Wall. It’s a Wall that separates the West Bank from the Israeli territories and it’s completely covered with gorgeous graffiti. It’s quite an emotional experience going through all of it and it’s something you will remember. Right next to the Wall, there is a Banksy museum (one of the graffiti is made by Banksy) that completes the experience with more info to make sure you leave crying.
Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea of Israel
I tried to put in also a bit of nature-filled days, so I went to check out Masada, Ein Gedi, and the renowned Dead Sea. Masada is an ancient fortification on top of the Judean desert, quite impressive, and quite crowded too, that you can reach by walking or by cable car (I went by cable car and came back walking).
The Ein Gedi National park has the same views of the desert as Masada and it is quite a pleasant hike.
The Dead sea is something you wanna do if you are in the region as it’s completely different from any other sea you have seen before. It is not beautiful, I wouldn’t even say pretty, but floating there is quite an interesting experience as you float a lot. Just don’t swallow the water or you die, and try not to wet your lips or eyes with it either. I am a Dead Sea expert right now as I have visited both the Israeli side and the Jordanian one so I know.
In my overall obsession for this country and this region and this trip, Jerusalem has probably played the biggest part. I don’t think I have ever seen a place like this. Of course not in terms of beauty. It is such an impressive, thought-provoking place that it can completely absorb you. It is unbelievable how you can see heavily armed civilians and ultra-orthodox Jews and Arabs just trying to survive that live next to each other, in a city that is also quite packed with tourists. Anthropologically, it’s inconceivable. Yet it’s there and seems it will always be like this. In “the place where all the religions were born”, the tension is tangible, you always have the feeling a bomb is about to explode, but everyone goes on with their life and looks only at their small microcosm. It’s crazy.
The Ultra-Orthodox Jews
The weird specie of Ultra-Orthodox Jews had caught my attention a long time ago already. I have read extensively about them as their lifestyle is completely out of the world. They live on their own planet, they do not look at “secular people” (us) as they reject anything related to modernity. It is a lot of people, also. We are talking about 1.3 million people just in Israel (out of 9 million) and 2.5 worldwide. We are talking about people that make an average of 8 kids per family, do not pay taxes, are incredibly ignorant, and live completely spaced out from anything that happens in the real world.
They have thousands of strict rules that they follow religiously, some of them being:
- Men do not work, they just study the Torah
- Women do some work, within their community
- Marriages are arranged by the families, they do not know the person they will marry
- On the wedding night, women shave their heads and will never show their natural hair again in their life, so they hide their heads with a wig, usually quite expensive
- Their clothing choices are really specific, and genuinely look weird to us (like the payots and the big huts)
- They cannot have anything modern, so no phones, tv, and, God forbids, the Internet
- they cannot touch anything electronic, especially on Shabbat
- They don’t drive
- They make tons of kids
- They do not mix with anyone, not even with other groups within the ultra-orthodox community
I couldn’t help but go on a guided tour with an ex ultra-orthodox that decided to leave the community and explained everything about their life and this shit is even crazier than I thought.
The curious fact is that most of them live in Jerusalem, so you always see them everywhere, living in their own world, completely abstracted by anything else. I constantly felt like I was in a movie when roaming the street of Jerusalem, and mostly it was because of them.
What I have done in Jerusalem
The Western Wall was probably the most impressive thing I have seen in Jerusalem. Per se, it is nothing special, but the meaning of it and the emotions of the people around it make it special. All the monuments in the city center have a charm that goes beyond description.
Sometimes, the experience is spoiled by the fucking motherfuckers policemen, because they try to make life impossible for everyone crossing their path. They would bump at you and shout “what do you want” whenever you are doing the smallest thing as crossing the street. In these situations, while I was there, I have always been helped by the Arabs.
The Mount of Olives has also been a stunning place to see. On the way there, I remember being lost in the Islamic cemetery (also slightly scared) and then going uphill until the mount, passing through the Jewish cemetery as well. I usually think spirituality is bullshit but that place has something magical.
In my days in Jerusalem I mainly soaked in the city and the history, tried to stay alive, and ate all the delicious stuff they have (like the knaffeh).
One day I went to this Gazelle park right outside the city and it was the weirdest place ever. Right next to this highway, there are a few gazelles roaming free.
Jerusalem is a place that is stuck in my head. It’s hard to believe it really exists.
I could now write dozens of posts quickly with Chat GPT. The screenshot below is the reason why I will never do it:
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