Well, arriving in Israel this time was a whole new thing. First I was somehow already familiar with the place, and secondly I had a friend picking me up. I was however, interrogated by these two security men in the airport. They were tough, one had purple nails ( as in if it had been hurt). They were a million times more “violent” than last time. I was calm so they just eventually let me go. With a stamp in my passport which makes it impossible for me now to go to most Arabic neighbouring countries.
Outside my friend Alex waited for me. And it is really different to be picked up by a friend. His house mates and he work for a technology/computer firm called checkpoint.
I am still in Tel Aviv. And this first week I have spent meeting friends I have met last time, and I am trying to figure out what to do. I had some very interesting encounters. And every single one of them leaves me wondering how could this place ever be in peace? Tel Aviv is a bubble and has nothing to do with Israel. Shabbat is not observed “by the town”, which means there is transport running, bars are open, and normal life is going on.
People are incredibly beautiful. And now that I am pretty used to seeing young kids in machine guns I can philosophize about how easy it is to get “used to anything”. Differently than last time, I try not to speak Palestinian and religious issues anymore. Here in TA they all hate both. They might try to cover up slightly but eventually even the nicest person says the most outrageously racist thing. It is, of course, covered up with ” what could we do? Islam is a religion of hatred. And all of the sam harris, and dawkins talk.” I am a bit tired of it.
So, on my first day when I was walking around and decided to enjoy the sun in a square and a boy in his 20s came to speak to me in Hebrew I explained ( as I usually do that I could not speak). He could not speak English but decided to seat next to me. Eventually he decided to get a friend. His friend who could speak English better asked me the usual questions ” are you Jewish? How old are you? Are you married? Do you have children?” These sets of questions are always asked it does not matter whether they are Jewish or Palestinian, rich or poor, educated or non-educated. A 29 year old traveling alone seems to shock them all.
They were Palestinian citizens of Israel. Not that they identified as such, but eventually when a Sudanese boy joined us I realized they could not be Jewish. They were not. They were construction workers. Young. 20-25. They sat around me and were incredibly proud to show me they spoke English. Samir, explained to me he was the best in his class. He pointed at things and said their names in English. I asked them whether I could go to Ramallah on my own. They said yes “but not dressed like this ( i had an open sleeveless shirt). They are not like us there” he emphasized. The conversation was funny as they were not fluent at all. At some point they would even call a friend to tell me the questions in English. They wanted to know where I was from. Brazil did little to explain. Ronaldinho, the football player, as usual, did the trick.
My conversation was casual. Funny. inspiring. But then suddenly an older lady approached us and told them something I could not understand. They left. She stayed. She was a Jewish raging feminist, going to court to fight her brothers for her inheritance and concerned I should not speak to Palestinians. “They are not like us” she explained. I heard her. and rarely objected. her fears might be real but what they allow to be done is just plain bad.
I tried to tell her about an encounter I had in Paris. I was walking in a slightly dodgy neighborhood at night on my own. A boy approached me and said something rude in French. I pretended not to understand and instead asked for his name. Hassan. He changed entirely once I showed some interest on him as a human being. I asked where he was from, he rolled his eyes, and said it was from place many people dont like. I asked where that was. and he explained it was Algeria. I asked about the protests that were going on at the time. He was impressed I knew something about Algeria.
Is it difficult to be from Algeria ? I asked knowing fully well how hard it is for African and North Africans to live in France. He hesitated, as someone who was going to say no. but then he said ” yes. it is difficult here in france” then he retreated and said ” but we must focus in what is good, right?” I agreed.
“You know, you should not be walking here alone, someone unkind could come to you”
” well, i was lucky you are nice and kind and you are talking to me here, right?”
He smiled. He agreed and decided to walk me to the place. “Just to be safe”. I never saw Hassan again. As usual these encounters remind me injustice does breed anger, and there are loads of people walking angry around. I believe we should humanise encounters. Surely, it does not always work. People could be on drugs but generally from my travel experience people are kind when they are treated not as a menace but as people.
And so when the Jewish lady left and I was back again with the Palestinians I hesitated for a second. Was she right? Was i putting myself in unnecessary risk? The simple consideration of the thought made me realize how powerful is this in group out group thing. It made me realize that we cannot subside to fear of the unknown. there are risks of course, but the risk to leave isolated from the world around, from encountering and discovering that we have fear it is much more dangerous. And so I spent hours talking to them. Till i had to go. They invited me for tea, and said I was beautiful. That was it. When I said I had to go they bid me farewell.
My Israeli friends don’t even want to hear about. It is something they don’t want to deal with. When I called them Palestinians they felt angry. They are Israelis!( well, for those of you who are not so familiar Palestinian who live inside Israel and not in the occupied territories are known as arab israelis, or as Palestinians citizens of Israel. there is a huge debate over it. saying just arab israelis some argue is not to recognize their connection to Palestine). I tried to explain the political debate, and the whole thing of it. They would not hear. It did not affect how I feel about my friends, but it did make m realize once again that being from abroad makes you see things different.
The following day, two Swedes who are 19, and are friends with Alex ( my friend) came to stay with us. They have been volunteering for the past year in the West Bank. Again no one really wanted to hear about it . I did. And when we were left alone I asked all that I could. From Sweden to Palestine at 19. They seemed clearly affected by it. They explained me that the anger this side was stronger. That is obviously not an objective claim, but just how they say they feel. “You know, as good as things seem here in TA, it is not real. This place is out of this world. When we go back to the WB. Even though it is all poor, and a mess we feel home.” of course, Tel Aviv is real. Any place is real. But it is indeed a bubble. So as I laid in the beach yesterday I could really feel well. I of course had to push aside everything else. Negotiate what I focused on an not. And I guess that is something that people do here a lot. They negotiate their thoughts all the time.