Israel and Palestina: One conflict and many facets of wrong

Palästina

They say, when you don’t know how to start a text, just start by being honest. As if that was so easy. Well, then let me be honest now. This text is one of the most difficult ones that I ever had to write, maybe the most difficult of all of them so far. Because there is so much that I want to say which i cannot find the right words for. Because I have the feeling that I am choking on all these emotions and that no matter what words I am going to use they will just end up being pathetic. Because words are sometimes just not enough to express yourself and to describe things. Because words are limited.

 

In addition to that, I already know that i can only loose with this text anyway. No matter what I say, I will step on somebody’s toes because there are just too many sides of this story, too many opinions, interpretations and personal versions, ideas and facts. If you intented to combine all of those in one text you find yourself rather writing a book than an article.

 

Jaffa

Jaffa

Let’s start with the facts though. In december 2017 I visited Israel, planning to see Israel, Westbank and if possible also Jordan. When I made that decision I could not have been expecting that it was possibly the worst timing to go there as only a couple of days before my departure US president Trump announced that he will recognize Jerusalem as the offical capital of Israel and move the US american embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

 

He held on to that decision even though the international community warned him several times urgently to not increase the conflict in the Middle East by doing so. And that was when the chaos started again, at least in the european media, but that is a topic of it’s own anyway. Rocks were thrown, riots in the streets were shown and missiles were shot from Gaza again.

 

So much for the european media, because, as I have learned, when european TV gives the impression as if hell was breaking loose in the Middle East, specifically Israel, over there things usually continue like normal. In fact it is not the case that after the announcement whole city quarters were on fire and the status of war was declared officially. Instead rivalling groups were fighting each other in maybe one particular street and television crews recorded whatever suited their programm while just one block away kids were playing in the next park.

 

Palästina

Palästina

That’s a thing in general. It almost seems impossible to do some proper research about Israel, Palestina and the conflict as neutral information is very scarce. If you care about information that was not brain-washed from one side or the other you will find yourself out on a limb. Certainly you should not consider CNN or Al-Jazeera as neutral, reliable sources in this case. But let’s not act like it was actually possible to avoid brain-washing when it comes to this specific topic because when you enter the country of Israel it only gets worse.

 

In Israel stories usually do not have two sides only … they have plenty. And one is just a legit as the other.

 

There is Israel and there is Tel Aviv


There are not many ways to enter Israel with an airplane. In the south there is Eilat where you can mostly learn something but probably nothing new about hotel skyscrapers and there is Tel Aviv. And just right at the arrival it already became clear that they are bringing out the big guns here (yep, that one was actually intended).

 

Because once the visitor has left the airplane and follows the gangway into the terminal they will be overwhelmed by human tragedies. So you might actually find yourself facing a larger than life poster of a crying boy wearing a Kippa combined with the question in capital letters if the jewish people have not already suffered enough during the years. Obviously the subtile tone of voice is not the most prefered one here.

 

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

On the way into the city I had to learn that no matter how western Tel Aviv actually might appear it is still the Middle East. Very much indeed. Especially when it comes to public transport. And it was not because of Shabbat that shuts down the entire country anyway but just for the fact that something needed to be repaired by somebody somewhere. And that the motivation of the bus driver who took over since the train was not working only lasted till one random crossroad somewhere semi-close to the city centre.

 

Unfortunately asking for the way in the train station closeby was not much of an option as whoever wants to enter will have their entire luggage and themselves scanned for weapons, bombs etc. which does require a bit of patience on a Friday as a lot of young people with machine guns dangling from their shoulders are standing in line to go home to their families.

 

In the meantime the sun was burning down on me like it was not december, the city was noisey and the traffic keeped rushing by. On the way further into the cities there were plenty of cafés, a chilled and relaxed weekend atmosphere, couples on the street, gardens bursting with flowers and yeah, there were even little birdies singing.

 

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv could be in Italy, Spain or maybe in Turkey. At least in a country with a lot of sun, a beach and a mediterranean lifestyle. That way Tel Aviv is hardly comparable with the rest of Israel even though there are still plenty of security checks when entering a shopping mall or a bus terminal. Because the city sits – unlike the rest of the country – safe and cozy under it’s Iron Dome and won’t be harmed once another friendly air-mail from Gaza arrives. Which makes it very easy to forget that only around 100 km away there is chaos.

 

Life in sectors in Hebron

„Hebron is hardcore“. That was the reaction from an Israeli person – let’s give him the fictional name Tomer – once I explained the next destination of my travels. How hardcore it was really going to be, i honestly had no idea.

 

 

Disclaimer: What is described as „fireworks“ from the person in the background, is obviously not fireworks.

Just a short briefing first: Hebron is located in Westbank and was divided into several sectors (H1 and H2) after the Oslo agreement. In one of the sectors a muslim Palistinian majority is located, in the other one there is a jewish Israeli majority and access to each others sectors is strictly forbidden. And just to make sure that nobody comes up with some bad ideas there are checkpoints with turnstiles, heavily armed soldiers that would ask surly where you are intending to go and what’s your business there as well as empty, lifeless and entrenched streets that are used as buffer zones between the sectors.

 

„Don’t you worry, the bus is bullet-proof“, I was kindly informed by a slightly bored bus driver once he noticed my shocked facial expression by the sight of bullet holes next to the luggage compartment of the bus heading for Hebron. I am convinced he had the best intentions to calm me down, unfortunately it did not really do the job. Because I am simply not used to the possibility that the vehicle I am sitting in could actually be attacked with small arms or worse. The other passengers on the other hand were totally unimpressed, dozed off or were texting along on WhatsApp.

 

From the first moment that I arrived in Hebron one thing was very clear: Nobody voluntarily decides to get involved with this, unless it is really unavoidable. And that was probably also one of the first moments when I started to wonder why I did not just stay at the beach in Tel Aviv drinking pomegranate juice. But instead of sand and beach I voluntarily signed up for concrete, walls, patroles, fences and lifeless streets.

 

 

I was moving along wide streets with no living soul in sight seeing nothing but destroyed and collapsed buildings, burn marks on house walls and the grey sky above me. Tear gas from those sectors that are forbidden for civilians floated in the air and made my throat itch.

 

IDF-Soldat in Hebron

On the fascades of the barricaded houses there was political graffiti, cats strayed the streets and between all the grey of ruins and walls there was a Israeli boy enjoying himself on a hoverboard. Next to him an Israeli soldier, maybe 18 years old, heavily armed, following the kid with his eyes, giving him a longing look as he probably also just wished to ride along instead.

 

If i hadn’t already felt totally numb inside from all what I have seen around here, the extent of this conflict that has affected and keeps on limiting so many lifes, just the sight of this simple scenary would probably have broken my heart. Because – of course – i do not believe that this kid that somebody has put in a uniform is a psyched up killer, but just a normal boy that – like all the boys of his age all around the world – probably only wishes to go home, kiss his girlfriend and play soccer with his friends. But unfortunately, no chance there, because of war and terror. The fact that he will probably be damaged for the rest of his life by what he has seen and was forced to do can presumably be filed as the usual collateral damage.

 

Check-Point 300 in Bethlehem

Have you ever been to an airport? Most probably. And therefore you also know how checkpoints look like, right? There you will find one more or less motivated agent barely checking your ID or your passport, maybe looking at you to compare the picture, maybe ask you where you are planning to go. But in the end they will just nod half-heartedly and you can pass. That transaction might take 5 seconds of your time. Well, that’s how europeans picture a checkpoint…

 

Bethlehem

And then there are checkpoints in Israel. In Bethlehem there is even more than one. One that is used by the tourists in those mini-vans on their guided day-tours. And there is checkpoint 300 which I used. Together with all the Palestinians. I have to admitt that there have been signs that this was maybe not a good idea after all. One was a very concerned and highly confused look that I got from the female bus driver that asked me three times if I was really sure that I wanted to take an arabic bus to Checkpoint 300. I was sure.

 

Until I stepped out of the bus with all the other passengers disbelievingly staring up a grey gigantic construction so high that it actually blocked the sinking afternoon sun. I can still recall that sensation of those cynical-resigned looks that the other passengers gave me like they were saying „welcome to our world, little european girl.“

To reach Bethlehem I had to pass one ramp, one large concrete field, four turnstiles, two passport and luggage checks, two fences and another ramp, every single step, just the slightest movement observed by cameras and soldiers. Once that’s done the way to the city centre continues alongside the wall to the religious sights. Which I never reached. Because sometimes all that it takes for the world to be thrown into turmoil is a turn to the left around the next street corner.

 

On my right side there were 15 soldiers with guns at ready, on my left side 5 Palestinians throwing rocks and at my feet tear gas grenades werde exploding. I did not even have time to cover my face or to get a proper grip of the scenary. So all I did instead was step back in total disbelief of what i just saw, as it came as close to war as it does for peace-spoiled, naive europeans. For me it was an exceptional state of bewilderment and shock, for the locals it is just daily life.

 

Escalation in Jerusalem

Jerusalem is the place that three world religions claim as their holy city. And since the old town is quite tiny clashes are almost unavoidable. The Wailing Wall is located right beneath the al Aqsa mosque, so that people who are looking for trouble will definitely manage to find it there. The old town is surrounded by a historical wall which has several entrance gates. One is for the muslim population, named Damascus Gate. After the political statement of president Trump there was a group of young muslim women protesting on a Friday afternoon when I just returned from Bethlehem.

 

Though I could not understand their words it seemed rather like a peaceful protest to me. Still it was clear that something was about to happen. Roughly 90 armed police men, police horses, dogs and plenty of international television crews surrounded the scenary until the situation finally escalated in a violent clearance of the square. Though my choice of words might be unemotional, i will leave it to the following video I recorded to give an impression of what happened there.

 

 

 

Please be sure that I am fully aware of the fact that the woman was exaggerating since she knew that a lot of cameras were recording the situation. Still the behaviour of the authorities here is not necessarily what I’d call a de-escalation.

 

The differences in East-Jerusalem

East Jerusalem

East Jerusalem

Ir Amim translates to city of nations oder city of people. That organisation offers guided tours targeting not the famous sights of Jerusalem but specifically the parts of the city that are not necessarily pleasant to see. The purpose is to uncover the differences between Israeli settlements in the eastern part of the city and Palestinian quarters. In the Israeli parts the picture of perfectly neat american suburbs comes into mind. Clean streets, not even one single piece of paper on the ground, public parks with playgrounds next to gyms next to new modern buildings.

 

Just a few metres away where the Palestinians are located you will not even find street lights and the garbage piles up on the street. Schools and hospitals are nowhere to be seen as the majority of hospitals is located in the western part of Jerusalem, read: behind the wall and the checkpoints.

 

The true meaning of borders

I have to admitt I only had a very vague idea of how life in Israel would been, mostly based on the fact that I (like every other european person) do not care about borders. Because they barely exist in my daily life. I cross borders like I cross streets. I can travel within Europe without asking anybody’s permission, my nationality does not affect my freedom in a negative way and I just ignore borders like they didn’t exist.

 

Checkpoint Hebron

Checkpoint Hebron

Because the borders that I grew up with mostly consisted of a sign on the side of the road that stated the name of the other country and the tempo limits on the highway. These days a message on my phone usually informs me that I just entered another country because there would not even be a fence inbetween. One tree Belgium, next tree Netherlands. In Israel borders consist of walls, fences, many questions and suspicion.

 

Not only is there a five metre high wall that cuts the country in half there are also large signs at the border of every Palestinian area that gives a solid warnung to Israelis that entering here might be dangerous for their lifes.

 

Hebron

This unfreedom does not only apply to Palestinians but to Israelis as well. An Israeli person that wants to leave the country has to catch a flight or a boat as they cannot cross the land border. Just quickly taking the car to jump over the border to visit the pyramids next door is off limits. A Palestinian who lives in Hebron for example and wants to visit his family in Gaza has to drive to Jordan‘s capital Amman first, fly to Egypt and has to enter Gaza from there, if he does not own the required permissions to cross Israel.

 

Even though his point of origin and his point of destination are actually located in the same country. Therefor the separation is omni-present, at least for those who did not learn to just live with it.

 

And when it was actually possible to separate two groups from each other in such a rigorous way that they almost have no points of contact left, naturally it is easy to blame the other one for all the evil deeds and present them as the enemy. Certainly the ruthless, brute, blood-thirsty opponent can be depict behind that safe wall because nobody actually has the chance to just quickly go there and doublecheck if all of this is true.

Bethlehem

 

Interestingly this „safe“ wall is not even fully closed. There are several locations where people can go in and out unchecked. And if I happen to know about this it is for certain that the local Palestinian population knows even more. Beside that the majority of the people that live behind that wall have never been involved with terroristic attacks.

 

The fact that no more busses have been blown up since the wall existed is simply based on Israel having undercover agents in radical Palestinian groups that give out a warning if something was about to happen.

 

But from an Israeli point of view there is no need to actually question the purpose of the wall (and the entire system) as it actually seems to do it’s job pretty well.

 

Religion or just the argument who has the cooler imaginary friend

It seems that the go-to arguments in this conflict are mostly religion-based which I cannot really relate to since I am not a believer. From my point of view and probably also from the point of view from any other non-religious person there are just two groups fighting who actually has the cooler imaginary friend. Therefor statements like „the Holy book XXY says that this country belongs to us“ translate to me like „my imaginary friend told me that this is mine“.

 

But that’s exactly what’s happening there. Religion is mixed up with politics is mixed up with emotions since undeniably on both sides everybody has a tragic story to tell. On the Israeli side I spoke to people who lost their highschool friends when busses where blown up during the second Intifada and on the Palestinian side I met a woman whose newborn was shot in her arms from an Israeli sniper.

 

I understand that it is hardly possible to deal with a situation in a neutral, impersonal and factual way when you had to suffer through grief, frustration, anger, rage, pain and fear. But still a continuation of the situation as it is now can not seriously be an option, can it? Unless you just keep on fighting until there is nobody left on both sides. That probably is a solution, maybe also an effective one, but not a very good one from my personal point of view.

 

Palästina

If I had to describe the whole conflict with just one word I would probably choose the word tragedy, because that’s exactly what it is. Even though I have been reassured multiple times by the local population on both sides that (unlike europeans probably picture it) Palestinians and Israelis do not spend all their days constantly thinking about the conflict. Still, that does not make it less of a tragedy for me. Because I just cannot stop thinking about all that potential of (young) lifes on both sides that is gratuitously wasted for the sake of pride and stubbornness. And since every loss of a life does only cause more anger, hate and pain, this is just endless. Some people might believe that this is for the greater good, but I refuse to believe that there is such a thing like a greater good if it is based on the suffering of your own people.

 

IDF-Soldat

I am not used to living with the daily concern and constant threat that a missile will hit the city I am staying in or that somebody might get killed during a knife attack at the next bus stop. And honestly, I also do not want to be used to that. Because during this trip, which has been the most exhausting one from all the trips so far, everything inside of me renegaded. And that’s not only based on the fact that I have a problem with authorities and do not deal very well with the fact that somebody claims certain rights for themselves just because they happen to wear a uniform, carry a weapon and consider themselves a member of the right religion. More it was like something from inside of me was constantly shouting into my own ear: „This is wrong!“ WRONG. Impuissance in capital letters.

 

So many times I heard the argument that started with that typical excusive introduction „yes, but“. „Yes, but the jewish people have been persecuted and suppressed over centuries.“ True, no doubt about that, but unfortunately two times wrong is not equal to right. For me it is just another facet of wrong.

 

Many facets of wrong

And even though I might have chosen my side in this conflict it does not mean that this is an anti-Israel-text. It is not. It is an anti-injustice-text. Because in this conflict, as far as I see it, it is impossible to find this one bad guy that can be blamed. Since it is already going on for way too long, there are just too many groups that actually benefit from the conflict and there are too many personal interests that are impossible to compromise.

 

Nonetheless from my point of view this cannot be accepted as an justification. What is wrong, stays wrong, even though something bad might have happened in the past. Immoral and questionable does not turn into legit, just because the goverment considers it the right thing to do.

 

Palästina

Palästina

On both sides there is propaganda. I can confirm that because several times I have been the one that both sides dragged on to pull me over to their personal and obviously right version of the truth. But what’s even more important is that on both sides there are also smart and brave people that are capable to see through instilled suspicion, antipathies, propaganda and religious extremes and that are capable and willing to think and see for themselves.

 

Especially among the younger generation on both sides of the conflict there are people that are willing to see and to understand that something does not necessarily have to be right just because it has been existing and going on for decades.

That it is inevitable to find a solution for this mess and that this solution is called rapprochement. Nobody expects symbolic actions with people tearfully hugging each other, walls being torn down and peace doves flying above the scenary … certainly not.

 

But every journey starts with the first step. And fortunately there are NGO’s like the parents circle where Israeli and Palestinian families that have lost a family member through the conflict meet each other. They will most probably blame each other in the beginning, shout, cry and hate, but after a while they will hopefully become aware of the fact that they are just in the same messed up situation. And that it might actually be a good idea to work together to make sure that their children do not have to grow up in a situation like the current one.

Street Art in Tel Aviv

Street Art in Tel Aviv

 

Equally laudable is the work of the NGO named Breaking the Silence that gives the opportunity to join ex-IDF-soldiers on a tour through the occupied areas to share their point of view about the conflict and their insights what needs to be done to improve the situation.

 

On neither side, not from an Israeli nor a Palestinian, did I ever hear statements like: „War? Yes, really enjoying that one. Definitely supporting it.“ Of course not. What all of them said instead was: „All I want is to live in peace. I just want my family to be safe.“

At least in that context there seems to be consensus. And that’s a start, isn’t it?

 

Conclusion of my trip to Israel

It certainly was not a pleasant trip and I honestly admitt that it happened more than once that I just asked myself why the hell I cannot just stay at the beach in Tel Aviv and enjoy the sun and the warmth.

 

The answer is as simple as it is logical: Because i cant. It just seemed impossible, though sometimes I honestly wished it was different. I cannot turn a blind eye like Israelis and Palestinians have been doing it for decades. I cannot pretend that everything is fine while the world is falling into pieces so badly that it actually haunted me at night. Which it really did since after that trip I suffered from quite some nightmares for weeks.

 

Hebron

Hebron

I cannot just settle for the fact that in some parts of the world it is considered normal to walk around the corner and find yourself between soldiers with tear gas and people throwing rocks. And I refuse to believe that it is the right way to remove a group of young women (of no matter what religion) from a square with the full force of police men, horses and dogs.

 

And that’s exactly why I keep forcing myself to go there to this unpleasant spot far out of the comfort zone, to see for myself, to ask questions and hopefully to understand what is still totally over my head. Because that way I will eventually get the chance to receive and deliver important information. Because that’s exactly what’s needed: information, so you can start to think for yourself.

 

And then maybe start to make things better.

 

And even if this text does not change anything at all, it still does make a difference for me: Because at least I have tried.

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Larissa Fürstin

Larissa heißt eigentlich anders und ist bei Globesurfer die Person für die unbequemen Wahrheiten, (politischen) Konflikte und Probleme auf Reisen. Schließlich bedeutet Reisen nicht nur Sonne, Strand und Erholung, sondern auch, die Welt so zu sehen, wie sie wirklich ist, anstatt so, wie man sie gerne hätte.

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