Thursday night is a pleasant evening of goodbyes and promises to visit (Vienna). By the time we wake up Friday everyone is already at work and I set to packing. I’m full of nostalgia already and each time I walk to the dining hall, or the packing house, or the minimart I’m filled with “this is my last”s. At lunch Aviv comes to say goodbye and asks us about our plans. When she finds out Boris and I are planning on visiting Ramalla and Bethlehem she—likes all Israelis—looks aghast. She warns me to be very careful and not to tell anyone I’m Jewish and advises me not to go. Every time I apply reason to the situation and come to the conclusion that it is perfectly safe an Israeli instills a fresh wave of fear in me. Israelis have been brought up to fear Palestine—and for good reason because as an Israeli citizen they surely would not be welcome—but they vastly overestimate the daily dangers and misunderstand average Palestinians. Its these kinds of stereotypes and misunderstandings that enable generations of conflict and otherization and why I feel so strongly that I need to see the “other side”. But still, it’s hard not to be a little nervous when people are telling me lynching stories and they genuinely believe it.
I figured we’d be heading down to the central bus station around 1 or 1:30 for our 2:15 bus but Boris tells me that last time he went to Jerusalem he caught the 444 bus right outside the kibbutz. I’m a little weary of this plan because I have my doubts that it will actually stop for us on the side of the road but he assures me it will. At 2 we’re standing on the the side of the road with our big bags on and trying not to sweat too much. As the 444 approaches we enthusiastically wave it down and to my short lasting relief it pulls over only to inform us that there’s no room. Great. Now we have to wait for the 5 bus and we won’t get in til 10 or so. I’m a little annoyed with Boris and can’t help but feel like it’s a total waste of a day and of a night’s hostel fee but I know it’s not his fault because I— even if reluctantly— consented to both the 2 oclock and the waiting by the roadside plan.
We debate between going back to the kibbutz for an hour or two or just heading straight to the bus station. We decide that going back would feel too weird and we’d rather move forward even if slowly. We catch a cab to the central bus station and once we get there the lady adds on another 20 shekel for the fact that we have bags in the trunk but we’re too tired and annoyed to protest. While in line to get tickets Boris has the idea to get the 3:30 bus to Tel Aviv and then catch a bus from there to Jerusalem. It will cost about 10 shekel more but might save us 30 minutes or an hour, and most of all, it will get us on the road faster.
We get into Jerusalem at 930, check into our hostel, and head out for a walk. We end up at Jersualem’s nicest beer bar—Glen Bar— which has 10 or so beers on tap, and none of them Goldstar. It’s far too expensive but I need to have at least one real Israeli beer while I’m here and I end up picking a porter brewed in the Negev. Halfway through a goofy guy dressed in a cowboy costume waddles up to us and asks us which one of us ordered the Negev. He then tells us that he’s a rep from the brewery and that I’ve just earned myself a free beer for my good decision making before plopping down a bottle of amber ale on the bar. It’s nice to have one’s good choices recognized and rewarded.
I’m up at 9 for breakfast but Boris isn’t ready to leave until 11:30. He takes a long time getting ready for anything and enjoys lounding around in the mornings. Normally I’m the same but when I’m traveling I hate wasting time. We spend the whole day in the Old City, walking aimlessly down the narrow streets, through the Arab shuk, past patrols of soldiers armed for riots. We see Dome on the Rock, The Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall, and this really cool abbey called the Dormition Abbey.
It’s very hot out and after a day of walking in the sun we both really need a break. We return to the hostel and spend a couple hours doing our own thing. I read A Storm of Swords on the rooftop while Boris uses his computer. We head back out just after sundown and are corralled into a bar along the main Jaffa drag. Normally I hate when bar promoters aggressively grab you off the street and refuse out of principle but this guy’s offer was too good. 15 shekels for a pint of Goldstar and free nargilah thrown in. We stick around for a pint before heading off again. After a bit of wondering we end up back at Glen Bar and this time I go for an IPA. While we sit outside and people watch an older orthodox Jew asks if he can share our table. We get to talking. Aaron is a professor of psychology at a medical school in Bristol, UK and he spends his summers with his family in Jerusalem. By the time he leaves we’ve covered mid-east politics, spirituality, and the meaning of life. Talking to him has been one of our favorite experiences in Jerusalem so far. We end the night with a few more episodes of Community before calling it quits around 2.
We checkout at 10:30 and leave our big backpacks in the hostel’s storage room before heading back into the Old City. First stop of the day is the Tower of David which I really enjoy because it’s the first place we’ve been that actually explains some of the history of the city (and the view isn’t bad either). We’ve got a lot of time to kill and we’re kind of done with old churches so I drop in for a haircut from an arab barber in the old city, straight razor and everything before headed to a coffee shop for some air conditioning. At 5 we head out the Damascus gate and emerge into East Jerusalem the Muslim side of town.
Even as we wait in line for the 18 bus to Ramalla we’re greeted enthusiastically by some 20 something Palestinians who give us their place in line while chatting with Boris about football. On the bus we meet a self-described activist from Australia who immediately turns the conversation to Marx and general condemnations of the US. To get to Ramalla we leave East Jerusalem and pass unchecked through the Qalandia checkpoint under signs that read: “Warning. It is illegal and dangerous to the health of any Israeli citizen to enter the territories of the Palestinian Authority”. Ramalla is the most prosperous and liberal city in the West Bank and looks no different than any city in Israel other than that all the signs are in Arabic instead of Hebrew. There aren’t that many westerners in sight so we stand out pretty plainly. Calls of “Welcome!” and “Where from?” follow us through the streets. The city is large and sprawls across hills lit red in the sunset. Almost all of Ramalla is closed down because Friday is the Muslim day of rest but we wander aimlessly for an hour or so before Boris’ friend Tom gets back in town. We meet him and a few of his roommates at modern cafe near their apartment called the Jasmine. They’re all Brits volunteering as English teachers through a British civil service program. They have a really nice apartment in a nice neighborhood with two couches in the living room for us to crash on.
Tom is very anti-Israel and grills me about why I would possibly want to do free labor on a kibbutz and support Israel’s human rights abuses and what not and although I don’t have that many good answers for the human rights abuses I hold my own and the conversation turns away from the heavy stuff. They have a wide range of views ranging from avidly anti-Israel to mildly pro-Palestinian. They’re all good guys though and after we get back to their apartment we spend the night talking mid-east politics, false dichotomies, and especially Syria. One of his roommates, Moodg, is Muslim and he asks me a lot of questions about Judaism. He’s a really interesting guy and I enjoy talking with him a lot. By the end of the night they’ve convinced us not to go to Bethlehem. Tom wants us to go to Hebron to see the occupation in its full force but we decide to go to Jericho to see the monastery atop Mt. Temptation.
We catch a shared taxi or servise in the morning to Jericho. A couple of guys on the bus can tell we’re kind of lost as to what to do and show us through an open hand full of shekels how much the bus costs. Jericho is a pretty poor agricultural town on the northern tip of the Dead Sea. To get there we drive along the security wall for awhile which is topped with layers of barbed wire and adorned with graffiti murals of Arafat interrupted intermittently by heavily armored guard towers. It is HOT and the long hot walk up Mt. Temptation doesn’t make it feel any less hot. Boris is interested in the religious history but I’m in it for the mountain monastery over the palm fields. We both agree it reminds us of the monastery from Batman Begins. There’s a cave inside where Jesus was supposedly tempted and by luck one of the monks is opening the gate as we pass and invites us in. We pass through the main shrine and climb down a small tunnel into an even smaller cave where (Russian) pilgrims have stuffed the walls with prayers like the Western Wall. There’s also a restaurant on top near the monastery and we pause for a refreshing but insanely overpriced cup of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice before heading back down.
The ride between Jericho and Ramalla is a scene straight out of the bible. A woman atop a donkey leads a flock of sheep over hills of Canaan. Back in Ramalla I nap for a couple hours on their couch before Moodg takes us out to his favorite falafel spot. 5 shekel! Everything here is so much cheaper, it’s about what I thought Israel would cost. I’m determined to try Palestine’s only locally brewed beer, Taybeh, so Boris and I head out to a bar called Bait Aneeseh—House of Anis. I’ve got to say it’s better than Goldstar. The Taybeh brewery isn’t too far and I wish we had though to take a brewery tour at some point. Bait Aneeseh is a pretty upscale place and could be a hookah lounge anywhere back home. Most of my West Bank experience has been pretty bougie so on the one hand I’ve gotten a pretty unrepresentative view of Palestine, but on the other hand, it has been very valuable to have my expectations shattered. What better to remind me how much in common we all have?
In the morning we get a frustratingly slow start and leave with Moog around noon to grab the 18 bus back to Jersualem. Moog is headed into Jerusalem to buy presents for his family. He says between all his siblings, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, and cousins he has to get 26 gifts! I got my Dad some toothpaste for his birthday. Some son I am. All the brits have warned us about the border crossing at Qalandia. They say it’s entirely unpredictable. Sometimes the bus passes right through, other times everyone has to get off and wait for 3 hours. I’m a little nervous but mostly excited to see what happens. At Qalandia the young men get off the bus to pass through the security point without being asked, they’ve done this enough times. The older men and the women and children stay on to see how it goes. Moodg, Boris, and I stay on too. When the bus pulls up two heavily armed Israeli soldiers get on. The one in front looks around and then points at us in turn, “Ahad, steim, shalosh”. He motions us off the bus, glances as our passports, and then sends us through the security checkpoint on foot. We pass single file through a metal cage with a turnstyle. On the other end we feed our bags through a xray machine manned by two Israeli soldiers behind thick bomb-proof plexiglass. We hold our passports up to the window for the two extremely bored soldiers to scrutinize but they hardly even look at them as they wave us on. The bus is waiting for us on the other side of the checkpoint and we’re back in the Old City by 1:30.
We enter the Damascus gate with Moodg and walk with him until we hit a fork. We say our goodbyes as he heads left while we go right until the Jaffa Gate, leaving the Old City for good. Back at the hostel we pick up our packs and leave behind our waste before headed to the central bus station. We’re not on our bus til 3 and while the ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem only took 45 minutes, this ride takes over an hour and a half. Boris and I say our goodbyes at the bus station and I head off to find my bus to Ramat HaSharon. Somethings different about Tel Aviv this time around, it’s incredibly humid. I’ve got both my backpacks on, I have no idea what bus I’m looking for or where the stop is, and I’m quickly becoming cranky. I’m tired and sick of Israel. It’s hot, and expensive, and I feel so morally ambiguous about being here. I just want to go home. Eventually I pick up enough wifi outside of a McDonald’s to double check where I need to be going. To my surprise I’ve actually navigated myself within a couple of blocks of where I need to be. When I get to the bus stop I’m afraid I’ve missed my bus when it doesn’t show up on time but 10 minutes later it pulls up and I’m on my way to Ramat HaSharon.
As I walk up to Gundar Avraham 7 and ring the doorbell I feel an immense sense of relief. Having a welcoming home base is such a luxury. A shower, clean clothes, and open fridge. These are the finer things in life. Unfortunately, Nala the family dog was admitted to the hospital today for kidney failure, so Doreet is in pretty poor spirits. When Tzafrir and Liat get home we hop in the car and drive the 5 minutes to visit Nala. She’s a pretty sad sight but she’s definitely glad to see us all and even remembers me (I got her her favorite Buba after all). One of the vets asks Doreet where we are from. When Doreet answers Ramat HaSharon the vet is surprised. I hear the word kibbutz in the conversation and then Liat Tzafrir and Doreet all laugh. Liat explains to me that the vet thought we were all from a kibbutz because she was from a kibbutz herself and she was sure I was a kibbutznik. 2 months and I’m mistaken for a kibbutznik.
In the morning I hear my Dad’s voice in the kitchen as I head downstairs for breakfast. It’s good to see him even though he can barely stay awake from his long trip. We walk around Ramat HaSharon and then take a bus to the Bait Hatfutsot— the Disapora Museum. The museum chronicles the various routes and developments of Jews around the world originating from the 6th century BCE diaspora from Israel. From an anthropological perspective it’s very interesting to note the ways in which the Jewish people changed and adapted to the various cultures and countries they settled in and inevitably were expelled from again. Jews have crisscrossed all over Europe and the Middle East as various rulers have alternated between welcoming, persecuting, tolerating, and expelling them over time. There were also some really cool models of synagogues from all over the world including from small diaspora groups of Jews in India and China. My two favorite are the Warsaw synagogue which was destroyed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (which I wrote a paper on last term) and the Prague synagogue which is the oldest continuously operating synagogue in Europe.
Back outside the humidity is really taking its toll. It’s 15 degrees cooler here than in Eilot but I think it’s harder to bare. My Dad is realizing how hot it really is and is already making plans B and C if hiking for a week proves to be unfeasible. We’re planning on heading north tomorrow morning to stay at his old kibbutz, Naot Mordechai, for two days before starting our trek.
The Katz’s treat us to a delicious dinner at a nearby restaurant and then my Dad heads up to bed. He can’t keep his eyes open any more and to be honest I barely can either but If I don’t finish this blog now I’ll be 10 days behind instead of 5. The longer I wait to write the worse the post is because I’m just writing lists of events rather than narratives. So much detail is already missing but I’m too tired to delve in any deeper
Tomorrow begins yet another chapter of my Israel adventure.