Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Israel: A Land Full of Surprises

Arriving in Tel Aviv last Wednesday, I was not prepared for the secular and wonderful nature of the city. It was truly modern, thriving, full of wonderful people (and food), and the beach was by far the best that I have ever visited. Furthermore, the different races, cultures and ethnicities lived more or less side by side with no visible tension between them. Jerusalem a few days later, however, was even more of a shock to my preconceived notions. I had expected a pious and conservative city, but did not expect to see the level of separation and tension between Jews and Arabs so evidently. Upon our initial tour of the Hebrew University campus we were told at one point, regarding an Arab village that was overlooked by the campus, that it was a dangerous area. When we inquired further, the person remarked that they had never been there and that they had never spoken to anyone from there. This was one of the first things that struck me as deeply troubling.
An Arab village overlooked by the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University
Another troubling aspect of our trip came on our drive to the Dead Sea. I had not realized that we would be driving directly through the West Bank to the Dead Sea but once we got on the highway, I began to notice where we were. Palestinian makeshift houses and villages lined the highway, truly living in squalor. Most unsettling to me were the Israeli settlements that lined the hills along the way, almost ominously seeming to watch over their Palestinian counterparts.
An Israeli settlement atop a hill on the road from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea
A Palestinian makeshift village along the same road
The Old City of Jerusalem presented a somewhat more positive image, as even though each religion has its own enclave, I witnessed much more public interaction between the many different peoples who live there. Some stark realities exist within Israel and the West Bank, and I am sure I have only begun to learn about them.

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