About to cross the Wall- Jerusalem

When I was in South East Asia, in Nong Khai border of Thailand with Laos it took me 15 days to cross the Mekong. Every day I planned going and somehow stayed. After checking out about 10 times and back in  what became my second home in Asia, Mut Mee guest house, I one day woke up before dawn, packed all my things, paid and left before I could see or meet anyone. The thing is: for someone who loves crossing borders I get too attached to the people I meet.

So as I finally made my way back to Jerusalem I suddenly could not understand what was I doing so long in Tel Aviv. Some people find Jerusalem heavy, political etc. I don’t. Jerusalem is as incoherent as a place can be. Old and young children, religious and atheist. jews, muslims christians, Armenians and tourist that come for every kind of reason. As a total incoherent person myself i feel here at ease. It does not disturb me to cover myself, or to walk slowly when many dressed alike tourist all take their cameras to take pictures.  I just feel quite bewildered. I always look at the marked stones and think about how many legs carried there existential quests, religious certainties, mundane thoughts.  The stones are so marked by steps.

I arrived here last night just to spend one night because today I am finally crossing to the other side: to palestine. It took me a while to do it. And just like in Laos I am not sure exactly why. As I am about to get my bag and walk to Damascus Gate to take a bus into Ramallah I decided to stop here to write this.

My phone rings and it is Ahmad my couch surfing host in Ramallah. I am invited for a birthday party. I cant really contain my joy. Am I really going to see this? He tells me to let him know when I reach the check point. “you cant miss it” he explains me. I am sure it will all going to change now. But you know the reason i probably do take a while is because I need to know well in myself when is it that I am ready for change. I guess it is now.

Beyond the Mountain- Israel

When I traveled south east asia I became very close friends with Maya. For those who remember she was the Israeli who convinced me to go on an Elephant ride 🙂 Since we last saw each other in Thailand many things happened. She moved in with her boyfriend and her mom who was sick at the time died. I remember being in Laos when she wrote me a very moving email saying her mother had had metastasis and that she was watching daily her mother disappear. What can one say to that? I wrote what I could as far away we cannot always afford to be in silence.

 

So we met here. She came to pick me up. I walked in the street towards her, and when I was able to recognise her from afar I became so moved. Wow! You just never know who you might see again and who you might not. In this life of crossing borders you just never really know. But when life allows you to reencounter someone you were once really close to it is just so moving.

 

I hugged her. We walked to the car as she explained me we were driving north. Lior, her boyfriend, and her where looking to start a family and for that needed a bigger place. When she told me we were going north I did not exactly know what it meant.. In truth it did not really matter, I just wanted to spend time with her. We drove and I watched the landscape change. In Israel nothing is too far, and for Israeli terms we drove a lot. It became mountainous and more green! So beautiful it reminded me of Croatia and Greece. We were looking for a plot of land. The first place we stopped in was a development. It was beautiful you could see lots of trees and far away the sea.

 

Then we drove to another place. We drove up a mountain and got out of the car in a place that looked a bit esoteric. It was very high in a mountain. We waited for the man who was going to show us around. I looked and thought the area looked so beautiful. He took us to see this plot of land where you could see far in the distance green trees, and hills. Next to the plot of land was a house being built, we decided to take a look at it. It was beautiful. It had three floors. We stood in the terrace on the third floor looking the view. Suddenly a lady arrived. She was the owner of the house and she started to talk to Maya. As I could not understand I just remained looking the view. Maya suddenly became a bit whiter than normal. She turned to me and said ” do you see that hill in front of us? just behind it is Lebanon”. I was silent. But the lady realising our concern added something else in Hebrew. She walked away. I turned to Maya and asked what had she said. She explained Maya that these plots are so close to Lebanon that it is safe as the rockets and missiles would  go above them. Maya said that, laughed nervously and said ” I guess if Hezbollah comes we should offer them tea”

 

I really did not know what to say. I could see the Golan Heights and how beautiful it looks. I could understand a young couple cant afford a house in the centre of Israel. And I def have no idea  of how long can “peace” last for in this contested borders. How long these lands will remain Israel or not. I knew nothing. All I knew was that Maya stood next to me and said she wondered how her mother would feel, what would she think of her moving to a war zone. I held her hand in silence. This time I could afford to be silent. As when you are close you don’t need that many words.

Tzlil- Israel

Tzlil is 20.She is the girlfriend of one of my hosts. For a week I greeted her when i saw her. She did not really reply back. She seemed depressed I thought. Last night I was taken to a bar in Florentine, in Tel Aviv. It was a cool place. One of those that could have been anywhere in the world. It was chilled, and the people looked all different. I felt i could have been in Brazil. I sat next to Tzlil and all she did not say in the first week she blurted out in one night.

Tzlil is beautiful, and she is in the army. She was posted as an officer to the area close to the border of Egypt and Gaza. I asked her about it. And from the moment I asked her she spoke for about an hour non stop. She told me she was traumatised. That she saw many times Egyptians line up sudanese refugees and shoot them. She kept repeating it. “I  could not take it. I had to go away. It is so much violence from every corner, from everyone. You change. You see you friends changing in front of your eyes. They don’t thing they do. But they change.”

I asked her what she was doing there. She was teaching Hebrew to the Bedouins. Apparently the army has one group of Bedouin soldiers. She explained to me she was in charge to teach them to write and read in Hebrew. They could speak but not read. She told me about a man who once able to read he became really upset. I asked her why and she explained because all over it is written in Hebrew “death to arabs”. “haven’t  you seen it? ” . I explained I also could not read Hebrew.” It is.” she said it in hebrew translated it into english. She said all of this as if she was going to cry.

I asked her whether they spoke arabic. She looked at me puzzled by my ignorance and said ” of course, they are arabs, and bedouins, and israelis” why cant they all be all that? ” I who usually have so many questions was quiet. I heard her. All that she had to tell me. She was a mixture of traumatised, with depressed, with sad, with angry for having 2,5 years of her life taken away from her.

My eyes filled with tears. What could i possibly say? The Israeli South African next to us realising how intense was our conversation intervened “no politics girls. lets just enjoy the night”

I put my hand in hers as an act of compassion, of understanding. we abode by our fellow israelis desire. we looked at him, became silent, took one more sip of whatever we were drinking and we smiled. that is tel aviv.

A Parallel World- Tel Aviv

 

Today I left my friend to come stay with Yoram Bar Tal, who is also the brother of Dan Bar Tal a psychologist I have read lots of articles from. Yoram, is 60, he is a professor at Tel Aviv University. Yoram is also on coushurfing. He joined only a couple months ago but has been hosting nonstop. As he explained to me: he has time, and he enjoys people.

 

It was great to come here. And in one afternoon we already not only had great psychological conversations but we witnessed very interesting events. Once I told Yoram about my encounters with Palestinians he decided to take me to see the neighbourhood nearby the bust station in Tel Aviv. This neighbourhood is where mainly Sudanese illegal immigrants and Arabs live. We drove around, it was night and to be completely honest I did not think it looked so different than some neighbourhoods in the suburbs of Paris. We decided to park and take a walk.

 

It was really completely different from what I had seen of Tel Aviv before. To start, a junky immediately came to ask me if I wanted crack. I said I did not. He wanted my number. I attempted to say I did not have one here. In the end, I decided to give him my British number as he could not really understand my explanations. We walked away. Yoram was shocked no one had ever offered him drugs before. I was not.. I explained to him that when people looking like us come to a place looking like that it was usually for drugs.

 

Then we entered the main walking street of this place. It was a different world. First you could see that most shops were either for communication ( cell phones, and Internet cafes) beauty ( hair saloons) or food. The people were predominantly black. Beautiful features. We could not understand the languages. They were probably mainly Sudanese. Every now and then we saw an Arab looking like person. We were definitely aliens there. but no one bothered us at all.

 

When I entered a shop and walked around a boy came to talk to me in English. He never attempted to talk to me in Hebrew, though he could… that made me think that it is possibly unheard of Jewish people there. He was friendly. I said I was just looking, he told me he just talked to me bc he thought he could help.

 

We walked a bit more through this complete parallel word when we saw something really very strange: a man dressed in Jewish orthodox clothes. It was what looked like a Hasidic Jewish man walking from shop to shop rolling a little black bag. Yoram was appalled. What was he doing there? We came a bit closer and I could distinctly see this man taking money from a shop owner, and risking his name out of a list. He then opened his rolling suitcase which was full of some kind of jar, and put the money inside of it. Then he proceeded to the next shop.

 

I wanted to ask him. Ask the shop man but Yoram wisely asserted that it was not a good idea. We would be caught up in the middle of some kind of dodgy activity. No one seemed to mind the man. He was a total stranger there, but the confidence with which he walked demonstrated an enormous familiarity. We did not know what to think. was he selling protection? It felt like a parallel world. Where people are not really citizens, but yet they go about their lives normally. Apparently this is also Tel Aviv.

First meeting with Palestinians

 

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.

 

Love,