A Complicated Place
The Bethlehem taxi driver that for 14 years has been unable to visit Jerusalem.
The young American girl that cannot wait to join the Israeli army and the European pro-Palestine aid workers.
The Israeli Defence Force and their checkpoints.
The illegal settlers in the middle of Hebron and a guy from New Jersey as their spokesperson.
The expensive tomb of Arafat in the middle of Ramallah.
The kids throwing rocks at cars during Sabbath.
The gay parties and the nightlife of Tel Aviv.
On one side or the other there are reasons: Everyone believes to be right in this constant narrative of victimisation. Approaching this complicated land in a “naive” way seemed like the only option as everyone is an expert in the “promised” land.
Framing it is impossible.
“The nonbelievers need the believers. They are desperate to have someone believe. But show me a saint. Give me one hair from the body of a saint.
This is why we are here. A tiny minority. To embody old things, old beliefs. The devil, the angels, heaven, hell. If we did not pretend to believe these things, the world would collapse.”
I am more confident than ever in my atheism.
Natural, manmade, religious, cultural and political: they are everywhere and they are there to stay.
One example for all is the existence of two separate checkpoints to access the same building in Hebron. When accessing the Israeli side you enter the Cave of the Patriarchs and you get asked if you are a Muslim. If you go through the Palestinian checkpoint you get asked whether you are Jewish and what you access is the Ibrahim Mosque.
In the middle of the building is the tomb of Abraham, separated by gates and bulletproof windows.
The fact that walls are so central to Judaism is quite ironic.
Divided, densely inhabited, dotted by white cities surrounded by hills, deserts, mountains and seas.
The land is not only politically fragmented at an Israeli vs West Bank level: the Oslo accords further partitioned the West Bank in three zones: A,B and C based on the level of self governance granted to the Palestinians.
Zone A, the only one under both the government and military control of the Palestinian Authority, only represents 3% of the total West Bank.
Israel keeps having full security and civil control over the vast majority of the remaining territories.
Hebron, a holy city for both Judaism and Islam, is one of the symbols of the Isareli Palestinian conflict and a tense place. Here 500 hundred illegal ultra orthodox Jewish settlers live in the middle of a 280.000 inhabitants city rather than creating the usual settlements on the outskirts of the urban area.
They are apparently guarded by approximately 1500 Israeli soldiers, 3 for each settler.
With areas of the city completely forbidden to the muslim inhabitants, abandoned streets, nets to avoid settlers throwing rubbish on the muslim population and the presence of heavily guarded checkpoints to move from one place to another, here hatred is palpable.
Hebron is simply madness.
A peaceful city in a tumultuous region, Tel Aviv is sometimes referred to as “the bubble”.
Politics and religious issues seem to suddenly disappear in this secular Middle Eastern party town where, apart from the occasional guy walking around with an assault rifle, even soldiers (usually an ubiquitous presence) seem to have disappeared.
Arriving in Tel Aviv is almost like entering another dimension.
The Jewish Birthright trips are sort of “indoctrinatory” guided tours of Israel dedicated to mainly US citizens of Jewish decent. Through the help of private donors participants get an all inclusive trip, including a return flight to US, meals, transports, accommodation and a couple of soldiers as security.
Participants are given a tour of the most important Israeli historical and cultural sites: obviously any visit to the West Bank is not taken in consideration and the political point of view is strictly Israeli (depending on the company organising it views can be more or less conservative).
The majority of tourists I met were young North Americans:
Most of them participated to a birthright tour.
Many of them will do aliyah and go back to Israel.
Some of them will join the IDF.
In a land where people going around with assault rifles are a common sight, where security issues are a constant topic and where religious confrontation is a given, life nonetheless goes on as usual. On one side and the other.