We thought it was important to specify that the article written below reflects purely personal feelings and impressions, and are therefore necessarily partial. Furthermore, in only two weeks, we can of course not give you an exhaustive account of such a complex situation. That being said, it seems important to us to insist that it is just our opinion and that we are open to hearing others. Indeed, as you will easily understand by reading more of our blog and following our work, we are for peace, harmony and dialogue between peoples. And to be perfectly honest, we are in favor of a two-state solution, against the separation fence and the settlements. Have a good read…
Despite all expectations, or at least mine (Stephanie), traveling in Israel is an adventure in many respects. While I knew before traveling there that the political situation is particularly complex, I wasn’t expecting to be submerged by so many emotions. It’s one think to read, see and hear about it in the media, it’s quite another to observe on the ground, with your own eyes, what is going on. You see situations on the fly, slices of life, conversations, points of view… to feel awe, a certain fascination, joy, fulfilment, insouciance, benevolence, respect, but also discomfort, incomprehension, powerlessness, coldness, fear, hate. These are things you feel anywhere in a life, but here all those emotions came condensed. Israel is fascinating and Israel has to be lived.
I went there with no apprehension, but with desire and impatience. I went there with no preconceived notions, and was ready to take in what I could. I wasn’t disappointed, I left there more curious and with a great desire to know more. I’m left hungry for more in short: I saw bits of a country bustling with life and tension. I’ll have to dig deeper and come back: there is so much to see to try and understand.
Israel fascinated and overwhelmed me.
There I saw the hate in a little girl’s eyes when we ended up by mistake in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, only to live just one hour later a moment of grace on the Mount of Olives at sunset, when the sounds of muezzins and church bells resonated in unison. At the same time, before our eyes stood the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock behind the biggest cemetery in the city and most likely the biggest Jewish cemetery in the world. It is said that between 70 000 and 150 000 people are buried there, some for over 3 000 years.
Also in Jerusalem, we saw young muslim boys playing football in a courtyard overlooking the Wailing Wall, while hundreds of jews massed there to pray with fervor, before leaving walking backwards, so as not to turn their back on Judaism’s most sacred site. Just a few blocks away, Christians from around the world prayed with no less fervor over Jesus’ tomb. Walking in these hallowed streets, in the old city, one can see when looking up, fences forming a ceiling over some streets, littered with trash and rocks. Apparently, these were thrown there by one community when another passes through…
Running into a procession of monks in these streets is overwhelming, I felt shivers run all the way up my spine, so powerful was this procession and everything it evoked. Hearing latin prayers resonate in the muslim quarter, along the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus is said to have borne his cross, you can hardly remain indifferent. Especially when after a few more steps down the street, you run into the faithful coming back from Friday prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque.
Land of contrasts
It isn’t a coincidence that we started our journey in Israel: the foundations of our civilization are there, alive and kicking, and transport you through time. You feel very small, but undeniably, you feel truly part of humanity in all its complexity and multiplicity, gathered and coexisting there.
Two days after we came through Jerusalem, a shooting shaked the city to its core. When I heard the news, I felt that same incomprehension, that same powerlessness that came over me, that crawled over me at Rosh Hanikra, at the Lebanese border. Sealed off, guarded by the military, without being able to see what is going on just a few meters on the other side, without being able to get to close to the gate. Yet at the same place lies one of Israel’s major tourist attractions, the Rosh Hanikra caves by the sea, with a cable lift and a restaurant, while down below just a few hundred meters away, we could see Israelis carelessly and joyfully bathing in the Mediterranean while an Israeli navy cruiser patrolled the shore. I was experiencing all of this, without fully grasping it all, but feeling its intensity. I was discovering the Holy Land, taming this land of contrasts.
Many barriers and walls have been built, there are some questions I didn’t dare to ask, for fear of offending out of my own ignorance… But I had seen too many walls since I had arrived to create more with taboos. I saw enough walls in the settlements we went through, enough walls along the roads we drove on, enough refuse thrown from the other side. I saw too many conflicts throughout history in the museums and ruins, and the checkpoints we passed through reminded me of how many are still current, not even counting the shock when I saw the Jerusalem road sign burnt, when we mistakenly found ourselves in zone A (managed fully by the Palestinian Authority) in the West Bank.
Breaking down barriers
I needed to let myself be submerged by the immense beauty of this country, the richness of the cultures that inhabit it, the generosity of the people we met, and the deliciousness of middle-eastern cuisine. I needed to relish the smiles of the young kids encouraging us to drive in Nazareth’s tiny winding streets, and who were laughing at the sight of this little French woman who didn’t dare to go the wrong way down a one-way street. I felt the need to feel the power of the Sun and of history during a sunrise at the Masada fortress.
It’s there also that I saw citizens singing for peace in Tel Aviv, in the street and on the beach. There that I stopped in front of pacifist and colored murals in several languages in the old city of Akko. There that I was fascinated by a city like Tel Aviv transformed during Yom Kippur, with an infinite calm and joie de vivre.
And it’s in Pondicherry, India, that I can finally come back on this experience and these emotions, on the rooftop of a house in the Muslim quarter, hearing the muezzin’s call just a few meters away. Around us, the French quarter and the Hindu quarter. I guess I love these mixes, this coexistence, which give a particular shade to a place’s soul, and give way to a rainbow of emotions.
The world is beautiful, so let’s go see it, despite our differences, to better understand it. Trying is already a big step towards a better version of ourselves and of others.
To find out about the rest of our trip in Israel, check out our other articles!