I had no concept of what I would expect when I visited Israel at the beginning of February. I could say that I had no expectations regarding what I was to see and experience during my travels through the country, but I am of the belief that when individuals make that statement of not expecting, they are either- lying to themselves, do not understand their expectations, or haven’t thought about a situation or environment. ‘No thoughts’ was probably a closer description to the road that I had taken. I will admit that I had expectations. I usually have expectations of travel. We all have expectations. Expectations that are shaped by the environments we survive in. The environments of location, religion, family, friends, and other entities that influence us.
When asked in an email what it was that I wanted to do while in Israel by Itiel, the tour manager for Abraham Tours, I stared blankly back at my computer screen, my fingers patiently waiting for direction. I needed direction. I wanted direction. I wanted someone to tell me that this was what Israel was about. That this was what you must do. That this is who you must talk to. That this is what It, The Entire Country, is all is about. I wanted the whole entire accurate story so that I could convince others that had not visited the place that they must.
But the thing about Israel, a land mass (with occupied territories included) that is not much larger than the state of Vermont, is that it is impossible to boil the country down into simply one ideal, one experience, and one story. Israel’s personality and persona are both as diverse as the land that comprises the country and as varied as the people that inhabit it. I have never come across a more divergent place, full of a history that enriches and yet complicates, a people who live interdependently yet separate, and new ideals and thoughts which challenge old fights and archaic systems. Complicated, intriguing, contrasted, inviting, cold, fascinating, lovely, harsh, comfortable, hip, ancient, God loving, God hating- this country is difficult to make sense of, but a blessing to be a part of its culture, even if for a minute. It is nothing like you have been told, nothing like you have expected, and everything that has the potential to do what travel must do; make you ask more questions, explore new ways of thinking, and chip away at narrow-mindedness.
Faced with the task of writing about this place, I realize that this is the hardest writing assignment I have had since I became a travel writer and flight attendant blogger. Inevitably, I will share only a one-sided and limited view. My perspective is that of a 20-something, American female, who is at best, open, curious, and engaged, and at worse ignorant, spoiled, uniformed, and judgmental. Maybe the best that I can do when sharing Israel with you is to encourage you to go visit yourself, and remind you that one visit, one tour, and one moment in the world of experiential learning is not enough. Learning is an act that must never find an ending.
The first day in Israel, Celessa and I met a few other travelers in the lobby of Abraham Hostel to go on a tour of Palestine and The West Bank. I will admit that I had no concept of what I was to see, do, or experience. I should have known (but didn’t) that some people cannot go here and some cannot go there. I didn’t understand walls like some understand walls. I may have seen photos of places or heard the names of political figures, but didn’t relate it quickly to my own reality. What I did know prior to visiting is that I had been wanting to go to this country that is so rich in culture and history for more than a few years, and that I would be safe as a female traveler in the country.
The West Bank is an occupied territory, to which the simplest way to explain is that it is complicated. I was told the conflict isn’t actually about religions, it’s about land. But once again, it is complicated, an onion layered condition with many levels that contribute to how things are. The general feeling that I observed, from at least those who I was around, was that strife, division, and judgements based on a race or upbringing wasn’t what was prominent or accepted. What I heard during every day that I was in Israel was those that lived by the motto; “I choose to live in love and not hate. I refuse to believe that I am more than another person, because I was born different. I don’t care if you are Jewish, Arab, Israeli, Muslim…if you are a nice person, it’s ok.” What I felt was a curiosity and an openness to new people and new ideas. To things that were different. The most prominent aspect of the day I spent in The West Bank is the stark reality that if you strip away the layers of what people do, what people say, what people look like, and where people live, we are all just people. And a smile translates into any language and sneaks around many borders.
From Ramallah to Jericho, Bethlehem and more, we visited sights that transported us back to Biblical times. I had guessed that these places would awaken a spiritual response in myself, but they didn’t. It was The Wall of Separation, with graffiti pleading for peace and crying out hope was what made me fall into a space of reverence.
Then there was Banksy, someone who I am now increasingly fascinated by and interested in. Banksy fights borders in his own way, anonymously and yet being recognized as one of the world’s most influential people. He paints a story in places where division is the biggest chapter, maybe in the hopes that we all will wake and find a way to live in the area that is ‘together.’ Because there is Section A where only you can be, and Section C where only I can be, but together, there is another space where we can hopefully find harmony; working and living together, accepting our differences and appreciating our similarities.
To love, we don’t need to be the same
Together businesses are made stronger, people do a greater good, and positive change is more powerful. I saw it in the business owners in who that have created more opportunities for Independent travelers to experience what has previously been only available for more wealthy individuals. I saw it in the way these men and women are mentoring others so that more can be done in the country than if they worked alone. I experienced it in the generosity, inviting nature, and smiles and laughter that I was thankful to be showered with.
Yes, there are walls. There are walls in many places. In this world, there will always be boundaries that we live by, either because we have not cared to venture past them or because boundaries make us “feel” safe. Boundaries- yes, they serve a purpose, but while some boundaries make one-side safe, it puts another in danger.
There are always two sides to any wall.
Photo from http://www.banksy.co.uk/menu.asp
It is very important for you to take the time to visit places like Israel on your own to understand and experience for yourself. Never once did I feel unsafe while in Israel or hatred or malice from any side. It’s a vibrant and welcoming country with many kind locals and travelers alike. Many thanks to Tourist Israel and Abraham Tours who gave both Celessa and I the opportunity to see so much of the wonderful country. Being a flight attendant doesn’t give one as much opportunity to explore outside of a certain type of on-the-go existence, so I cannot advocate enough the importance to take the time to venture out past the career travel and see more of this amazing world.