Everyone at the Spanish Embassy in Amman told me I could not leave the region without visiting Jerusalem. “It’s a sin not to go!”, someone said. Some time ago I had pledged myself to boycott Israel by not going to the places under their control — simply because I didn’t want to contribute to the occupation economically. But after being pressed by my colleagues I decided to give it a second thought. “It can’t be that bad, after all, my articles will have a bigger impact than the few shekels the Israeli government would get from my taxes”, I thought. Furthermore, the only way of sensing Palestine, its people and their identity is, ironically, to indirectly give money to the State of Israel. So I decided to go — not only to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah but also to Tel Aviv in order to be fair and get the full picture. Little did I know that this trip would end up with me being more conflicted than before. I arrived in Jerusalem searching for answers and came back incredibly confused. This is what happened.
This is meant to be a small reflection, so I’ll skip all the border crossing procedure from Amman, which in short entailed uncomfortable questions from Israeli officers, cruelty towards the Palestinians crossing the border and much more. Jerusalem was exactly how I imagined it, at least at first. The narrow streets of the Old Town were filled with people of different religions and ethnicities: Jews, Muslims, Coptic Orthodox, Armenians…In my opinion, taking a look at the people that walk the streets of Jerusalem (besides the disgusting groups of tourists) is even more interesting than the religious places themselves. Speaking of the “holy sites”, we tried to enter three separate days to Temple Mount and were rejected several times for different reasons by the Israeli soldiers. The Israeli forces patrol the streets of the old town with their intimidating rifles giving any non-Jew cold stares. They hide everywhere like an omnipresent eye which keeps the city safe and oppressed at the same time.
To be fair, I had read about the Israeli wall but I wasn’t expecting to find it a few kilometers away from Jerusalem, right at the entrance of Bethlehem. The horrendous construction is cruel. It extracts all the magic of the place through its concrete. There’s no checkpoint when crossing it — the Israelis don’t care about what you take inside the West Bank, they are only concerned with what exits the walls. After crossing the long hallway into Bethlehem, everything changes. I must say I did not have a great time in the biblical town. People were extremely rude and everyone wanted to take money from us. They sell their struggle, the wall and the Palestinian identity as a commodity to make a profit. “This is local price my friend, this is Arab price, buy this magnet of the Israeli wall, this is local Palestinian”, (while obviously trying to scam us). Ramallah was the exact opposite of what I experienced in Bethlehem, but as it was the first Palestinian-controlled city I had been after Tel Aviv, I was left completely puzzled as my expectations had been switched.
It was precisely in Tel Aviv where my inner fight started. We took the tram to the main train station. The new part of Jerusalem built by the Israelis looked like an average sunny European city and the train station was very convenient and modern. Everyone was eager to help and we managed to arrive in Tel Aviv for 6€ in just 40mins. I was ready to start complaining about the city — I wanted to get angry about everything on purpose so I could prove my point that Israel is bad in every sense. So far, I just couldn’t complain about anything. We were left in Tel Aviv without almost any transportation option (Shabat was starting) and without Internet to find any options to get to the places we wanted to visit. Nonetheless, everyone was willing to help and provided us everything we needed. In no time we were on a bus to Jaffa. The “old” part of Tel Aviv was astonishing. The vibe was just perfect — people in the streets enjoying life, dancing to music and eating out.
Everything worked as it should in the city. It’s like Barcelona but “premium”, my friend said. The streets were calm but full of positive energy at the same time. The supermarkets had all the Western products I was missing in Jordan and it felt like a blessing. We spent two hours swimming in one of the best beaches I’ve been to on the Mediterranean Sea. Everything was…perfect. When I realized this, I was left completely puzzled: “am I really enjoying Israel?…erm…Palestine?” How could this be? I had long tried to boycott everything which had to do with Tel Aviv or Israel and now I was having the time of my life floating at one of the city’s beaches. I felt bad, but at the same time I wanted to keep exploring Tel Aviv and enjoy the “incredible atmosphere”. It is just weird to find a city that feels like Europe in a region that is the exact opposite to Europe. It seemed like a small window to the continent after months working in Jordan.
It was then when everything clicked in my head. I am enjoying a European colony in the Middle East. The reason why millions of tourists and newcomers to Israel come here is precisely because of that, because it just works fine and looks a lot like Europe. Regardless of the political reasons one may have to defend Israel, it is undeniable that deep down there’s a will to defend this oasis of Western-style liberalism. Later that evening I reached the conclusion that I am the problem. If my subconscious is enjoying Tel Aviv and does not feel instantly repulsed by its history, then I am contributing to the Israeli rhetoric.
So what now? My political stances have not changed, however, I just feel I cannot “talk” anymore about it. I feel ashamed to have a great memory of Tel Aviv, however, should I even feel bad? I did not do anything wrong after all besides giving some tax revenue to the State of Israel, right? I guess I’ll have this debate with myself for a long time.
Thanks for reading!