When people ask about my Israel trip

“When I say, ‘I went to reconnect with family’ I mean, ‘I’m not joining your crusade.'”

WHEN PEOPLE ASK about my Israel trip, I have to choose my words carefully.

      I walked around deserted streets on Shabbat evenings, befriended stray cats, stared at huge jellyfish washed up on the shore.
      An Apache helicopter flew over a miniature Coca Cola factory.
      A 17 year old boy in a daishiki who slept on the beach because his father brought home nightly mistresses bluffed his way through an earnest cover of “Hallelujah.”

The usual travel vocabulary of micro-snapshots feels vapid and inadequate. The word “Israel” resonates with more political weight than I am comfortable with. It sends my anarchist friend on a rant about oppression and the injustice of settlements in Palestinian territories. It causes my aunt to swallow her civil dinner tone along with another gulp of wine and rail against Obama’s lack of support, or double standards in journalism. On both occasions, I nod politely, feeling guilty.

I take the journalist’s fifth – plead vague objectiveness. In actuality, I don’t know what’s more irresponsible – pretending that a twenty day trip has made me informed enough to take a definitive stance on a complicated and polarizing political issue, or pretending that I can take a trip through hotly contested land which a significant part of my family calls home and remain a detached observer.

Two recent articles come to mind. In one, an Italian man arrives in Falluja as a tourist, on a guilelessly apolitical mission to see a new country. In another, an American college student on break from classes and in search of an extreme vacation flies to Libya to join up with the rebels. Was I any better than the former? Conversely, were my peers who, dissatisfied with the lack of struggle in their lives and inflamed by the idea of “authentic conflict,” traveled to Israel to build settlements for either side any different from the latter?

    Yael lay back in the bus seat with his feet up. He was in his last year as an Israeli Defense Force soldier. He was also a promoter at a nightclub. He had friends who died in suicide bombing attacks. He had an expensive watch and a new iPhone. Yael put his faith in Yahweh and the IDF’s intelligence division: both knew about things before they happened and both promised protection. This was especially important because Yael believed his country would be at war within the next year.
    We shared headphones and listened to a reggae song that was a current hit on Radio Galgalatz. “Time is short here,” he translated, “and much work exists on the way.” The desert unfurled outside the window. We passed a town whose residents expected Katyusha rockets the way Boston expected rain. “And when he comes,” Yael translated, pointing to the sky, “he always comes on time.”

    At the wailing wall, women in shawls rocked back and forth. Girls looked around nervously, then looked back at their prayer books. Many cried. Some whispered, chanted, wrapped their voices around vowels I didn’t understand.

    People came here to wail and hope and wedge countless tightly wrapped pieces of paper inside the wall, ink seeping into the rock face so that their prayers would become a part of something bigger, so that a bigger force might take them into account for the continuous creation of the world. If the kingdom of heaven was a democracy, were these women casting their ballots?
    Warm Mediterranean waves threw me towards the shore and I cut my leg on a rock. A submarine sat watchful on the horizon.

When people say, “the personal is political” they mean, “a place is never just a place.” When a guide says, “look at the beauty of the desert” he means, “and help us preserve it and understand that it is ours.” When I say, “I went to reconnect with family” I mean, “I’m not joining your crusade. Sorry I’m not sorry.”

    It turned out that my Israeli cousin and I have lived parallel lives halfway across the world without knowing anything about each other. Her ringtone was Bob Dylan’s “Tambourine Man.” We had identical Chagall prints hanging in our hallways. For a year after her army service, she lived in a bummer house in the Tel Aviv ghetto, wore vintage dresses, tried to be an actress. Now we were both working at arts journalism – music for me, theater for her. She took me to an exhibition of rock n’ roll photography. We sang “Karma Police” at dawn as we walk up the five flights of stairs to her flat, after a night of dancing.

    The kibbutz where my Israeli relatives lived for two years reminded me of the bungalow colonies where I used to spend my summers, especially at twilight. A scruffy dog followed us up the path, nuzzling my hand. Four teenagers sat at a table drinking bottles of Goldstar beer and talking about burlesque. My uncle pointed to a nearby field – the site of his brief shepherd career. “Herding sheep was never my intention,” he explained, “but I didn’t want to deal with the kibbutzniks. Sheep were far more reasonable.”

It is easier when I tell people I went to Tel Aviv – their eyes light up mischievously, they ask me about the nightlife.

    Hordes of revelers danced their way down Rothschild Street, reminiscent of SXSW or a Friday night in Williamsburg. The similarity ended when we find ourselves beside a van of Rabbi Nachman followers – Hasidim in white skullcaps breaking it down on top of a party van to a techno remix of the Numa Numa song. “Rabbi Nachman, Nachman Meuman. Nahman Meuman. Rabbi Nachman Meuman.” We danced along with the gleeful crowd, then ducked into an underground dubstep club.

    People still danced and drank and laughed, only their eyes burned a little brighter and everyone seemed to drive a little faster.
    In the Negev desert in the dark, where the sky was peppered with millions of stars, the lights of a Humvee were visible from many miles away. I lay back in the cool sand and waited for something poignant to come to me, but as usual, found only snapshots and stories.

Back home, it is the same. I did learn a lot about the conflicts, but my perceptions of Israel are above all colored with the warmth of family happiness, the conversations with the people I met, the taste of thick hummus and dark Turkish coffee, and the impossible hues of Mediterranean light.

I don’t connect with holy but I connect with home. I don’t connect with war but I connect with survival. I don’t connect with politics but I try to connect with people.

    Efi Eyel, raised Franz Iglitski in a past life, told his story in the auditorium of Yad Vashem. While many used the Holocaust to essentialize identity, Eyel took the chance to change his name and take control of his narrative. “God was a warrior,” said Eyel, pausing. “In time, he became an artist.”

Latest health advice

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Entry rules in response to coronavirus (COVID-19)

Entry and borders

Israel is in full lockdown from 8 January 2021. During this time international travel is prohibited with some exceptions.

The Israeli authorities have announced that with effect from 23 December, foreign nationals will not be permitted to enter unless they are citizens of Israel, with some limited exemptions. If you’re eligible for entry, you will need to complete an entry form. All travellers will be required to quarantine for 14 days. This may be shortened to 10 days upon the completion of two negative coronavirus tests (one upon arrival and one after 9 days). The minimum time required between the two tests is at least 24 hours.

You should submit all requests for permission to enter Israel directly to the Israeli Embassy in London.

Check Israeli Population and Immigration Authority pages and the dedicated COVID-19 Air Transport website for full details. Further restrictions may be introduced at short notice.

Land crossings

Restrictions also apply at land crossings between Israel and Jordan, and between the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Jordan:

  • The Allenby/King Hussein Bridge Crossing between the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Jordan is closed in both directions
  • Dual British/Palestinian nationals in the OPTs may exceptionally be able to cross but will need to coordinate with the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to obtain the necessary permission
  • The Jordan River / Sheikh Hussein and Yitzhak Rabin/ Wadi Arraba crossings between Jordan and Israel are closed in both directions

You may face delays or restrictions at Israeli controlled checkpoints around the West Bank, including when attempting to leave the West Bank. See Coronavirus


Transiting via Israeli airports in order to travel on to other destinations is not currently permitted.

Testing on arrival

Upon arrival at the airport, your temperature will be taken. You must be able to prove you can enter isolation at home or another available dwelling in full compliance with the isolation guidance. If you are unable to do so, you will be sent to a state-sponsored hotel for isolation.

You must not use public transport to travel to your dwelling, except a single-passenger taxi, provided you sit in the back of the taxi with the windows open. Family members arriving together may travel together as long as everyone sits in the back.

Quarantine requirements

From 23 December, all international travellers will be required to complete quarantine.

Testing on departure

Your temperature will be taken in order to allow your entry into the airport on departure. Only passengers will be allowed into the airport. You must complete an exit form prior to departure.

Traveler Health Form

A travel enforcement operation at airports across the state helps ensure travelers are following the state's travel restrictions. As part of the enforcement operation, enforcement teams are stationed at airports statewide to meet arriving aircrafts at gates and greet disembarking passengers to request proof of completion of the State Department of Health traveler form, which is available online, distributed to passengers by airlines prior to, and upon boarding or disembarking flights to New York State, and distributed at tables in airports.
All out-of-state travelers must complete the form upon entering New York. Travelers who leave the airport without completing the form will be subject to a $10,000 fine and may be brought to a hearing and ordered to complete mandatory quarantine. Travelers coming to New York through other means of transport, including trains and cars, must fill out the form online.

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